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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The real answer to affirmative action

    The Arizona Civil Rights Initiative has swept over the desert like an unexpected monsoon.

    To some, it’s a prayer come true; to others, it’s a disaster.

    To the bill’s supporters, the initiative – which would forbid the state from either discriminating against or in favor of certain individuals because of their race, sex or national origin – is a step toward a “”color-blind”” America. To the bill’s opponents, in Associated Students of the University of Arizonae Sen. Dustin Cox’s words, the initiative would “”institutionalize racism in Arizona.””

    The bill is indeed problematic, simply because its vague wording would allow virtually every program for women or minorities to be challenged. After all, to “”discriminate”” can mean nearly anything, good or bad.

    Still, it’s heartening to see a genuine debate over the Civil Rights Initiative, because the question it poses is genuine. The conservative attack on affirmative action is popular for a reason, and the reason is simply that the policy, whatever its benefits, is fundamentally unfair. As many of affirmative action’s opponents have pointed out, the policy does indeed violate Martin Luther King’s famous admonition to judge people on the “”content of their character,”” not their skin color.

    Liberal defenses of the policy always ring false because they rest on the argument that special privilege may be safely granted to certain citizens but not to others. Affirmative action is anti-republican because it teaches us that citizens are not united by their common stake in the country, but by their race. Whatever the benefits of affirmative action, this is essentially a destructive message.

    Yet affirmative action came about for a reason. The reason was simply that African-Americans had been robbed and cheated of their rightful place in the republic for centuries, and that something had to be done to rectify that ancient crime. That and that alone is why the policy enjoys such sanctity now. Yet affirmative action was always a temporary solution to the problem of racism at best, and a stop-gap at worst. Its very nature is testament to that; we need it, its supporters say, because “”inequality still exists.””

    But it is foolish to persist with a stop-gap policy when one might attack the problem at its root. When a temporary solution is mistaken for an actual solution, we can be sure that the real solution involves something most people don’t want to talk about.

    Why, after all, do students enter the country’s universities on such a woefully unequal level? For no other reason than the dismal state of our public schools. After all, if all schools were created equal, all students would enter college on an equal level, and there would be no need for affirmative action.

    Of course, all schools aren’t created equal. Our schools rot in neglect, suffer from overcrowded classrooms and outdated materials and produce students who know little and care less about the world. Every significant problem in America, in fact, from low voter turnout to urban violence, could be traced back to its roots in our education system.

    When people talk about this problem, however, they don’t often blame the education system at all. They tend to put the blame on the students themselves, which is rather like blaming German soldiers for World War II.

    In a recent column in The Washington Post, for example, George Will claimed that “”fractured families”” were the real cause of poor education, and that pouring more funds into schools would be as helpful as pouring them down a drainpipe.

    Will’s “”conservative”” critique, which blames students for not being “”good enough”” to survive our dismal education system and hence suggests that no solution at all is possible, is simply the flip side of the usual argument – that we must force our students to be “”good enough”” through standardized testing and “”higher accountability.”” This is the philosophy behind President Bush’s draconian No Child Left Behind policies.

    Of course, those leading the current assault on affirmative action have no interest in fixing public schools. They seek only to obliterate a minor “”problem”” which came about only to fight a far vaster problem, a problem which would disappear altogether if only we had the courage and the clarity to see the solution.

    That solution is twofold. We must first abolish the education system that brought about this crisis and return virtually all control over schools to local communities. Bureaucratic meddling in education is the problem, not the answer.

    Second, we must vastly increase funding for our newly liberated schools – the kind of funds we freely rain on our military whenever a foreign crisis so much as hiccups. These funds must not come with bureaucratic strings attached; we should, for once, entrust local communities to know what to do with them.

    This scheme will no doubt sound foolish or “”utopian”” to many liberals, who see nothing utopian about the unlikely notion that racial quotas will abolish racism. It will also infuriate conservatives who would prefer to take away our public schools altogether and leave our children to the mercy of the “”free market.””

    But it is the only way. When our public schools become the schools they were meant to be, affirmative action will cease to be for the simple reason that it will no longer be necessary.

    Justyn Dillingham is a senior majoring in history and political science and is the arts editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at

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