Monday, July 23, 2007

A Color Line in Cambridge?

Just read an interesting article about the struggles that public schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts are having with achieving racial integration by attempting to use economic status rather than race as a variable. Here's a taste of the article:

"Even the best social engineering ideas get circumvented by people," said Scott Blaufuss, a stay-at-home father in Cambridge. "People tend to vote with their feet. If they don't like it, they leave."

Student achievement has risen in most schools, and schools' percentage of low-income families now range between 28 percent and 62 percent, better reflecting the district average. But white families have left many schools that received more low-income students.

"Some schools are predominantly minority and some people aren't looking for that," said Kenneth E. Reeves, Cambridge mayor and chairman of the school committee. "By the time some touring parents hit the classrooms, they are ready to go. There is a kind of tipping point." (Read the whole article here)

If, as the article seems to suggest, white middle class parents are choosing to move their children out of schools with large numbers of minority or lower class children, then perhaps Cambridge is not the bastion of liberalism that many believe it to be. Commitment to principle is a challenge for all people to some degree or another, so I do not wish to pass judgment on these parents for making choices they believe are in the best interests of their children. I will eventually face similar choices and my wife and I will have to prayerfully wrestle with them. It does however illustrate an oft repeated spiritual truth found in the Baha'i Writings:

"What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless. The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice. If actions took the place of words, the world's misery would very soon be changed into comfort. If I love you, I need not continually speak of my love -- you will know without any words. On the other hand if I love you not, that also will you know -- and you would not believe me, were I to tell you in a thousand words, that I loved you. People make much profession of goodness, multiplying fine words because they wish to be thought greater and better than their fellows, seeking fame in the eyes of the world. My hope for you is that you will ever avoid tyranny and oppression; that you will work without ceasing till justice reigns in every land, that you will keep your hearts pure and your hands free from unrighteousness."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 16)

Baha'u'llah put's it this way:

"Say: Beware, O people of Baha, lest ye walk in the ways of them whose words differ from their deeds. Strive that ye may be enabled to manifest to the peoples of the earth the signs of God, and to mirror forth His commandments. Let your acts be a guide unto all mankind, for the professions of most men, be they high or low, differ from their conduct. It is through your deeds that ye can distinguish yourselves from others."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 305)

It is easy to make grand professions of a belief in racial equality, to go to the annual Martin Luther King Day breakfast or even to publicly vent righteous anger at this or that racial injustice. It's the quiet moments of moral reasoning that are the hard ones, deciding where to live, where to send the kids to school, who those kids will or will not be allowed to date, who we invite to break bread at our dinner tables.

Another thing that I rarely hear in the discussion of the merits of integration, is the benefit to white children. Until a child joins the workforce full time, most of their waking hours are spent in school or at school related activities. If that child does not spend that time learning to form meaningful relationships across the color line based on unity and equality, when and where are they going to learn it? This cannot be learned reading books or watching public television. We are failing the white children of America by not preparing them to participate effectively in a global society in which the vast majority of human beings are black and brown. Integration has never just been about children of color and it is only our spiritual blindness that leads us to believe otherwise.