Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thoughts on Differences and Education

I was pondering out treatment of race and sexuality.  At my church, a
standard part of the announcements process welcomes visitors explaining
(paraphrased) that this community welcomes people of all genders, sexual
preferences and affections, race, and all other things that make us different
from one another.  And while I recognize that there are people who view
transgendered and/or homosexual people as having made a choice rather than
living out a biological destiny and that affects their ability to view those
things as "acceptable", in the end these are all just differences.  While
there is still work to do in gender equality, it is interesting to me to
listen to some of these discussions about race or sexuality and the rights
that should be afforded and the quotas and things we can use to try and create
diverse student bodies and replace the word race or sexuality with gender and
imagine the reaction.  If there were a school district that was somehow
ninety five percent boys, wouldn't everyone agree that busing to create a
better gender balance was a good idea for all of the students? 

On the flip side of that is the Kamehameha schools in Hawaii.  The
Kamehameha schools were founded as a result of a bequest that asked for
schools to be founded to promote education of and for native Hawaiian
students.  (I realize Hawaiians are often the forgotten tribe in this
country so let me digress to remind you that: the teaching and speaking of
Hawaiian was forbidden for many years, the US government overthrew the
legitimate Hawaiian government for fear Hawai'i might align with Britain, the
Hawaiians were only granted reservation land in the 1990's.) These schools do
also accept people without Hawaiian origins, but give preference to those who
can demonstrate any native background (no matter how far back, as long as you have papers).

A case has been making its way through the court systems, Doe v. Kamehameha
Schools, with a student who was otherwise qualified but denied a spot since
the year he applied there were more native students who were accepted than
spaces*. (While this certainly isn't the only driving factor here, I should
mention that tuition for this well-regarded private school is about
$6,000.)  The suit states that this is a racially prejudicial application
system.  Now to nutshell it a bit, the current court view (in general)
seems to be leaning towards an acceptance of race as one of several
considerations, but not as a sole factor.  Except - as far as I can tell
- with regards to historically black schools.  The rulings have gone back
and forth a bit on this case, but some of the rulings have mentioned the legal
standing for schools that show preference to groups that have experienced
"socio-economic and educational disadvantages"*.

To tie this back to the thoughts that started this, I was applying to college
during the VMI and Citadel brou-hahas.  (A student with a gender neutral
name applied and was accepted to the Citadel, and then it turned out she was a
girl!)  Well, the upshot of the case was that since the Citadel (I don't
think VMA was directly involved, it was just they realized their situation was
analogous) received federal money that were not allowed to continue with a
prejudicial admissions policy, so they had to either stop taking federal
monies or accept qualified females or form a parallel institution that offered
equivalent instruction to females.  (They went with option two). 
What interests me with the Kamehmeha case, is that the school does not receive
federal or state monies.  So, if we follow the closest analogous case
that I am aware of from a gender perspective - we're all good.  And
people seem to accept that while public education will not have gender
divides, it is acceptable in private institutions.  And as far as I am
aware no one is challenging the right for traditionally black institutions to
remain predominately black.  It would be interesting to see what would
happen if someone tried to start a school for homosexuals (to educate them,
not 'retrain' them.)

* The student has applied four times, the other three the student was not
accepted for reasons other than lack of space for non-native students.