Nothing illustrates the bankruptcy of the modern civil rights movement more starkly than its war against school disciplinary standards. Because black students are suspended from school at rates several times higher than their white counterparts, school jurisdictions are under pressure to relax disciplinary standards. A number have done so. The Maryland State Board of Education is set to follow this trend.
The war on disciplinary standards is part of a wider war waged by the modern civil rights movement against standards that blacks struggle more than non-blacks to meet. Such standards include certain employment criteria — e.g., tests and criminal background checks — as well as some criminal laws — e.g. prohibitions against possessing certain narcotics.
But the war on school disciplinary standards is particularly perverse. Education remains the pathway to success for minority group members, and education is undermined when unruly students disrupt the process. Thus, black students and their parents have a strong interest in the maintenance of classroom discipline. It’s disgraceful that civil rights leaders subordinate that interest to their self-serving desire to claim victim status for blacks.
No basis exists for inferring victim status from racial disparities in school suspension rates. For one thing, much of the discipline in question is meted out by black teachers and administrators. Surely, they are not basing their decisions on race.
In any event, there is nothing unnatural about the disparities. One would expect a disproportionate amount of disciplinary problems from students raised in homes without a father, homes in which a parent is absent due to incarceration, homes in which one or more parent is addicted to drugs, or homes in which the mother is extremely young. Some, if not all, of these phenomena prevail disproportionately in black homes.
And there’s a final paradox to this story. It turns out that relaxing disciplinary standards is not likely to reduce racial disparities in suspension rates; rather it likely will increase them. As my friend Jim Scanlan explains, lowering cutoffs — be it on a test score or some other selection device — tends to reduce relative differences in “success” rates, but also tends to increase relative differences in “failure” rates. Suspension from school represents failure.
The civil rights movement that marched on Washington 50 years ago this month sought a society in which blacks could obtain society’s benefits and prizes under the same set of standards as whites. Today’s civil rights movement seeks to bulldoze standards that stand in the way of equal distribution of society’s benefits and prizes to blacks.
But a nation, like an individual, will be only as virtuous and successful as its ability to set and attain high standards of conduct and achievement. To be sure, standards are not set in stone; there may be good cause to change or even discard some of them. But the inability of a particular group to meet a standard to the same degree as another group does not constitute good cause.