Urban minorities and, increasingly, less-educated whites suffer from chaotic families and dislocations occasioned by low achievement, high unemployment, and poor socialization. As Brad Wilcox and Don Peck have recently noted, even the white middle class has fractured into segments defined by education. An alarming fault line has emerged between white college graduates and those without a degree, with the latter increasingly resembling high school dropouts in their rising rates of financial distress, family disintegration, single parenting, partner conflict, and behaviorally troubled children. Well-off, better-educated suburbanites, despite embracing the ethos of tolerance and diversity, mostly stick to the 1950s script. Their lives are characterized by family stability, low rates of criminality, and a devotion to work and schooling. Despite the depredations of popular culture, their standards of decorum remain relatively strict and they do a good job of socializing their children.Advocates of pooling recognize the phenomenon, yet are reluctant to grasp the likely consequences.
In the end, [Virginia law professor James] Ryan cannot avoid confronting the fact that, as developmental psychologist Richard Nisbett states in Intelligence and How to Get It, “lower ses [socioeconomic status] children are more likely to have behavior problems, which are disruptive to one degree or another for all who have to deal with such children.” And indeed Ryan does concede, albeit skittishly, that disadvantaged students are more likely to hold dysfunctional attitudes or display disruptive behaviors. He refers, for example, to black adolescents’ “opposition to conventional middle class white values,” and to the problems of dealing with “loud, obnoxious, poorly behaved, low income African American students.” But Ryan knows that frank talk of such behavioral deficits indulges stereotypes and fits uneasily with the liberal zeitgeist. Not surprisingly, his approach to the topic is riddled with mea culpas, disclaimers, contradictions, and evasions. He simultaneously deplores the “prejudice” against urban schools as expressed in “stereotypical assumptions about urban minorities” and relies on those very stereotypes — and the functional superiority of the bourgeois folkways that characterize predominantly white suburban schools — to justify his income integration project.The article notes that well-off parents who want good academic outcomes for their children will self-segregate, either by moving house or paying private school tuitions. Thus the private response to a public policy.
Left unsaid, though, is the root cause of social separation. As long as there are Thinking People who view convention as a social construction, rather than an evolutionarily stable strategy, and Trendy People who celebrate transgressiveness for its own sake, and in spite of possible cost, there will be no policy to achieve integration of the common schools on the basis of wealth or income. On the other hand, there might be some potential for common schools, even in tough neighborhoods, to inculcate bourgeois values, that is, once administrators and social theorists get over their identity-politics tics.