Monday, June 29, 2009

New Haven Firefighters: What's the Real Lesson of the Court's Decision?

In a major reverse-discrimination case, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that white New Haven, Conn., firefighters were discriminated against when the city threw out a promotion test because not enough minorities did well on it...The 5-4 ruling overturns an appeals court decision by Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.... High Court Rules For Connecticut White Firefighters, Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, 6/29/09

As a decision on a specific case where the Court of Appeals decision had blared a terrible message -- your ethnic background matters more than your competence, the ruling by the Supreme Court was a good reversal of a specific wrong, but did not, as Justice Scalia noted in his supporting vote, address the fundamental, Constitutional issue of equal protection under the law.

But an unspoken question was a lot louder to the writer. Why, in a developed country, and in a city where almost two thirds of the citizens are African-American or other minorities, did the public school system in New Haven fail to deliver graduates capable of studying for and passing the test administered to prospective firefighters?

The writer knows a few educators. On the issue of why minorities fail, or do poorly, in public schools these instructors fall into two categories: those who blame the students and their families; and those who criticize the schools. Those who blame students and families are invariably on the political left. Parents, they say, suffering under economic privation, are unable to provide the benefits of middle class living to their children and, thus, the children don't have the background required. The argument is utterly fatuous, and it's suggestive to note that the same rate of failure, especially for boys, occurs in some school districts in Westchester County. A peculiar similarity emerges. Both the poor district schools and the rich district schools operate under a pedagogy that is alien to most children and to boys in particular.

It would be worth studying the pedagogy used as basis to educate the minority applicants to the New Haven fire department. When you teach students that their life's objectives are to get along and feel good, you're not producing graduates, but smiley-faced workers for Mickey D's.


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