Conflict and Class Integration in Wake County, NC

Explicit, forced racial integration of the public schools is almost completely a thing of the past, buried in part by broad distaste for it among Americans of all races who had grown tired of the conflict, coercion, and plain inconvenience it often caused, as well as numerous Supreme Court rulings sharply curtailing it. But coerced integration has not gone away: Proponents of engineering racial integration have turned to income as the basis for assigning kids to schools, with the goal of achieving greater socio-economic – and, in the process, racial – balance.

To listen to some proponents of coerced integration by class, this new focus is a clear social and educational success. To illustrate the success, in All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice, Century Foundation scholar Richard Kahlenberg highlights Wake County, North Carolina, among a few other places.  Here’s his conclusion on Wake County as of about 2000, when school board candidates campaigning for “neighborhood schools” – meaning school assignment based on geography instead of racial or economic mix – were roundly defeated:

Wake County citizens knew firsthand that racial integration in the schools had worked, and now they were at the forefront in promoting a bold new version in the twenty-first century.

Apparently, much has changed in ten years: Today, the Wake County school district seems to be almost in the midst of a civil war as a new majority attempts to return the district to neighborhood schooling. Indeed, just yesterday a board meeting descended into bedlam – as previous meetings have – as protestors and school board members on all sides fought one another over the effort to return to neighborhood schooling.

What’s the lesson here? The same one we should learn every time Americans fight – and they fight a lot – over their public schools: Lots of people want myriad different things for their kids – racial diversity, schools near their homes, specific curricular focuses – and government schooling simply cannot give it to all of them. That is why if we ever want real, lasting peace in education we must end government schooling and move to a system of universal educational freedom. It’s the only way that all people can pursue the education they want without having to impose it in on everyone else.