With the unveiling of President Clinton's race initiative and the introduction of the Civil Rights Act of 1997, affirmative action is once again on the national public policy agenda. The call for a national dialogue on race will perforce include a debate about the Civil Rights Act, which would prohibit the federal government from granting preferences based on race or sex in connection with federal contracts, employment, programs or activities.
When the battle over affirmative action last raged in 1995, one of the casualties was the Federal Communications Commission's minority preference tax certificate program under which sellers of broadcast or cable facilities could defer indefinitely capital gains realized on their sale to minority-controlled entities. The FCC's tax certificate program was instrumental in increasing minority ownership of radio and television stations from less than one percent in 1978 to nearly 3 percent by the time of its repeal. It remains to be seen which, if any, federal affirmative action programs will fall by the wayside this time around.
In his commencement address at the University of California at San Diego, President Clinton lamented the precipitous drop in minority law school enrollments. He noted that the same will likely happen in undergraduate education and raised the specter of the resegregation of higher education.
A way out of the box of low academic achievement and noncompetitive SAT scores that contribute to the need for preferential college admissions policies is to raise academic standards and maintain a high quality curriculum and instructional program at the elementary and secondary school levels. Rather than point accusatory fingers at those who oppose racial preferences, we should hold public and school officials, teachers, parents and students themselves accountable for higher levels of achievement.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the answer is not to circle the wagons in a futile attempt to preserve dysfunctional and divisive policies. Instead, we should prepare teachers to harness the incredible potential of technology to fundamentally transform teaching and learning in our nations classrooms, particularly in inner-city schools where so many economically and socially disadvantaged students are trapped.
With leadership and vision, we can take a big step toward reducing inequality in our schools so that everyone will have an opportunity to compete and share in the American dream. The effective integration of education technology in the classroom is essential to providing a quality education for all students.
As one who grew up in the inner city and attended factory-age public schools in New York City, I know first-hand that access to a quality education is a way out of the cycles of poverty. Access to teachers who set high standards and had high expectations, as well as access to good public libraries, empowered me to bridge the educational gap so that in 10 years I went from a child standing in the welfare line to a young adult standing in the registration line at Stanford Law School.
The opportunities for information-age children are unimagined. Students who have meaningful access to the Internet will be able to bridge the educational and economic gap as they experience the joy of learning. Students who attend high quality schools and who are plugged into the Internet will be better motivated to learn, their horizons will be broadened, and by their own achievements they will be able to affirmatively remove barriers to opportunity and fully participate in the global economy.
Access to high-quality education and strict enforcement of nondiscrimination laws are the surest ways out of the box of remediation and resentment.
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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