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The Failure of Busing


By Peter J. Ferrara

LAST WEEK Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ordered even more busing for Boston's schools next year, doubling the number of students to be bused. Unfortunately, Garrity chose to ignore the many sound objections brought against busing during its disastrous trial this past year. Instead, he has maintained a closed-minded position along with those busing advocates who insist on labelling all opponents to busing as racists.

For example, busing advocates have never answered questions like what right does the state have to force someone to be bused against his will, to sacrifice the interests of any individual to a vague social plan, to allocate people among schools like colored tiddlywinks to fulfill some arbitrary quota? This allocation, sacrifice and use of force implies that the lives of the children belong to the state to be used as it determines.

But each person's life belongs to himself, not the state, and the state has no right to force someone to be bused anywhere against his will. Each person has the right to do what he wants with his own life, including the free choice of which school he should attend. In the case of a young child the parent has the right to make this choice. Forced busing is an obvious violation of each person's right to be free from aggression and the initiation of the use of force.

It is really no surprise that a scheme based on force has been confronted with force and violence by its victims. Parents have many understandable reasons for opposing busing. Many have chosen their homes largely on the basis of the quality of the nearby school, taking advantage of a chance to exercise some freedom of choice in their child's education. But busing denies them this opportunity: it denies them their right to choose and seek, the best education possible for their children.

Parents also justifiably fear the effect of busing on their children's education and the harm, discomfort or inconvenience it may cause. They also disapprove of their children being used like laboratory equipment in vague sociological experiments. They send their children to school for an education and don't like to see them used for anything else. After all, to a parent, his child is not easily replaceable like a broken test tube.

It is little wonder, then, that parents, whose consent has never even been asked, sometimes have reacted violently when busing is imposed on them by force. The violence and rebellion that has accompanied busing in Boston is a natural feature of a plan based on force.

It is a shame that busing advocates cannot see what blind support for such a program has caused them to become. In response to the strife caused by busing, many supporters have called for more force. What kind of liberal asks for troops and tanks to impose this plan on an unwilling public? Is busing so important that its advocates are willing to impose a police state to see it enforced?

One wonders also whatever happened to the left's ardent support for democracy. In the Florida presidential primary in March 1972, 74 per cent voted against busing in a referendum included on the ballot. This matches what the public opinion polls have been saying for years. It is clear that the people do not support forced busing. What is becoming more clear is that the people have no control over the state.

Another problem with busing is its use of quotas based on race. It seems a strange cure for racism to make race the basis for assigning children to their schools. The result is not to make racial differences the same as any other individual differences, but to make them the basis for the way people are treated. This seems to be the opposite of the result desired by all opposed to racism. Is it any wonder, then, that busing, which is implicitly racist, has not increased racial acceptance in Boston, but rather increased racial prejudice among some victims?

RACIAL AND ETHNIC quotas are arbitrary. In many cases determining whether someone is a Mexican-American, a white or a black can only be done through arbitrary official definitions. Questions like what is a Spanish surname, and how does the state classify someone who has one white and one black parent, can only have arbitrarily legal answers. The necessity of having legally established racial definitions and assigning these labels to people is another Nazi-like trait of quota systems.

Racial and ethnic quotas are unworkable as well. To be consistent and fair, any quota system should have quotas for each minority group in the population. Why shouldn't the interests of Italians, Buddhists, and short people to be protected as much as those of anyone else? A fair quota system would be unworkable, however, because of the almost infinite number of "minority groups" based on any of thousands of individual characteristics and their combination.

Racial and ethnic quotas are not only arbitrary and unworkable, they are wrong, wrong in school assignments, hiring, or membership in any organization. Quotas cause people to be treated differently on the basis of their race, with the effect of excluding people from many positions because of their race. Furthermore, quotas completely overlook merit where it should be the basis for consideration. If a disproportionate number of Jews study and work enough to become doctors, then a disproportionate number of Jews should be doctors.

Schools should ignore racial distinctions and jobs should be filled by the most qualified people. It certain groups are chronically underqualified. then it is necessary to identify why and change the institutions responsible. Playing around with numbers doesn't solve the problem: it merely puts unqualified people into jobs and discriminates unfairly against those who have earned them.

The effect of busing on education is another problem. The simple economic costs are clearly detrimental. Estimates of this year's busing costs in Boston range from $15 million to $45 million. This money could have gone toward the real improvement of the schools. The remoteness of a more distant school also has many negative effects. It makes it more difficult for students to attend off-hours extra-curricular activities, to stay after school for extra help, and to use special school facilities such as libraries or computers. The local control of parents over education is also weakened by a more distant school. The extended bus ride itself can be at best troublesome and at worst dangerous.

In the Indiana Law Review, vol. 6, 1973. Jeffrey J. Leach reviews the latest evidence on the educational effects of busing. One pro-busing argument is that exposing black and minority students to "middle class culture" creates an environment more conducive to intellectual development. Black student attendance at a predominantly black and lower-class school is supposed to lower self-esteem and confidence and cause inferiority feelings. But their attendance at a predominantly white middle-class school is supposed to improve academic performance and have positive psychological effects.

LEACH FINDS that the latest evidence does not support this argument. On the basis of studies done in ten cities, five prominent sociologists found that busing did not improve the academic achievement of black children. Leach reports that recent studies also find that the psychological impact of busing is more likely to be negative rather than positive. The sudden change to a more demanding, competitive environment with higher academic standards lowers academic motivation and self-esteem. This is especially true when the receiving community is hostile to busing. The studies indicate black students suffer substantial psychological damage when busing is accompanied by ridicule, violence and boycotts.

In addition, the pattern in most cities has been to close predominantly black schools with many black personnel and bus the students to white schools. This suggests to students that black institutions and personnel are inferior to white ones and, as black columnist William Raspberry writes, "essays to black children that they are somehow improved by the presence of whites." This humiliating experience, Raspberry says, suggests to black children that there is something wrong with them that only whites can cure. The humiliation causes feelings of inferiority and has negative psychological effects.

The entire "middle-class culture" argument, like most pro-busing theories, is intolerably humiliating and condescending to minorities and implicitly racist. It seems to say that poor black kids need to be exposed to neat bright white kids bursting with learning ability. But given good schools and teachers, there is no reason why minority children can't do as well, even when they are in the majority, as white kids in similar circumstances. Those who say they can't belong in the same camp as Shockley and his bunch and should be treated the same way.

The degrading theme of many pro-busing arguments has been a major reason for the sporadic support for busing from the black community. Raspberry, Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality, and a National Black Convention in 1972 have all taken stands opposed to busing. The most progressive blacks realize that busing students from one bad school to another, as in Boston, doesn't help anyone. The educational effect of busing, on the whole, seems to be detrimental to both black and white children.

Another argument for busing is that it will improve racial harmony. Leach finds, however, that "busing for racial integration has produced little or no improvement in race relations. In fact, the results appear to be to the contrary." It is no surprise that the use of force has failed to achieve harmony.

In fact, busing is often counterproductive in its goal of achieving integration. Forced busing has quite often caused white parents to move to the suburbs or put their children in private schools, increasing segregation. In Boston, realtors have reported increased sales by white homeowners in the last year. The U.S. Office of Civil Rights reports Boston has lost 15 per cent of its white students this year.

When busing is not counter productive it is often superficial in its practical effects. The Human Rights Commission reported late last year that after ten years of busing to achieve integration, James Madison High School in Brooklyn remains internally segregated. Black and white students don't eat, play, talk, study or gather together. Students in Berkeley, California, testified before a Senate committee in 1971 that there was minimal interracial contact after three years of cross-town busing. One high school's student body president reported whites would not attend school dances or eat lunch with blacks. He said that the only time the races were integrated was when they had to pass each other in the hallways between classes.

LEACH'S STUDY shows that the latest evidence fails to support the fundamental assumptions on which busing advocates have relied. Overall, the effect of busing seems to be quite negative "in light of the tremendous social, political, and economic costs being paid for busing, the absence of any consistent educational gains, the deleterious psychological impact upon black children, and the increased polarization of the races." These shortcomings, in addition to busing's superficial and counterproductive nature, the use of force it involves, and its reliance on implicitly racist quotas and educational theories, compel one to reject busing as a means of achieving racial harmony and improving education.

Judge Garrity's justification for busing is that the Boston school committee broke the law by discriminating against minorities in the past. But this is strange reasoning. Usually when a law is broken the courts punish the person who broke it. In this case, according to Garrity, the lawbreakers are the members of the Boston school committee. But they are not the ones being bused! Busing punishes the public, parents and students, whom Garrity did not find guilty of breaking the law. Garrity's busing order has little to do with the crime. Rather he seems to have gleefully seized on the school committee's past actions as an excuse to impose a program he deems desirable. If he found illegal practices he should have ordered them stopped and punished those responsible, not taken custody of Boston's school children.

What can be done then to break down racial barriers and improve education? Professor Milton Friedman has advanced a voucher proposal, under which every parent would receive the average amount of tax dollars spent on his child, say $1000, in voucher form. He could then use this voucher to send his child to any school, public or private, he chose. This plan would benefit mostly the poor, who would have a chance to escape decrepit inner city schools. The plan would greatly improve education as schools become subject to the demands of the market place. Friedman writes, "Private schools of all kinds would spring up to meet the demand. Public schools would either have to meet the competition or close their doors." The plan would increase the range of choice, respect rights, and allow peaceful integration.

The validity of these arguments is strengthened by the unquestionable failure of busing in Boston this year. Boycotts, violence, and fear have wasted a whole school year for many students. Bitterness, frustration, and hatred caused by busing have increased racial prejudice, not eliminated it. Millions of dollars have been spent for these results, money that could have helped education. If Garrity insists that this insanity is the law, then the law should be changed. That change would be the first step for the American people in regaining control over a government originally founded to protect the people from aggression, but that is now the chief aggressor.

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