June 24, 2003
The hot weather has returned to the East, and
its hard enough staying awake and alert without reading the prose
of the U.S. Supreme Court. Led by Justice Sandra Day OConnor, the
Court has now, to nobodys surprise, equivocated grandiloquently on
the touchy topic of affirmative action.
I wish the subject could be
discussed in plain language, without recourse to stupefying terms like
diverse educational environment, holistic, compelling
governmental interest, potential diversity contributions,
heterogeneous society, and so forth. For Petes sake,
were talking about college kids!
Justice OConnor alleges
loftily, Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic
groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one
nation, indivisible, is to be realized. No kidding? But of course the
Court is supposed to be applying the U.S. Constitution, not the Pledge of
Allegiance, from which the phrase one nation, indivisible is taken.
Such mushy rhetoric is typical of
the Court. Its rulings emanate less from the text of the Constitution than
from the justices feelings about such slogans as diversity,
racial discrimination, underrepresented minorities,
inclusion, color-blind, and racial preferences. The
liberals have their pet clichßs; the conservatives have theirs.
But its not the job of
courts to decide what kind of society should exist, or whose
dream is to be realized. As the philosopher
Michael Oakeshott warns, The conjunction of ruling and dreaming
generates tyranny. Free men have their own purposes. The state has
no business imposing its purposes on them. Especially in the name of
Why is diversity
even an interesting goal? When I was in college, the student body, though
predominantly white, was diverse in all sorts of ways. Im sure an
all-black student body would be pretty diverse too, since everyone is
different. Diversity is hard to prevent.
Of course were now
discussing a special sort of prescribed diversity, the dream of liberal
ideology. It actually sounds pretty monotonous. Why, in this context, does
nobody ever speak of variety rather than
diversity? Just what educational benefits
are supposed to stem from making diversity an end in itself?
I never noticed that my own
education was particularly enhanced by the diversity, in any sense, racial
or otherwise, of my fellow students. I learned from my professors and the
books I read. Other students had fairly little to teach me, and I know I had
little to teach them. Thats why we were students. We
werent there to make contributions to the
educational environment. We were there to learn. Has
something changed since then?
I know this is crushingly
obvious, but it seems to be lost on jurists and educators who suppose that
fine-tuning admissions policies is, or could ever be, the road to utopia.
Their inflated view of their own role stems from an inflated idea of
education itself, or rather a conception of education that is both grandiose
OConnor speaks of
education as producing civic leaders. Sounds like the sort of
nonsense you hear in commencement speeches, where the graduating class,
in the presence of their proud parents, is said to consist of the
leaders of tomorrow. Maybe civic leaders are one byproduct of
education, but about the last thing I wanted to be was a civic leader. And
President Bush is living proof that you can become a civic leader even if
you spend most of your college years at beer parties.
Nothing against beer parties,
mind you, but a stroll across any college campus should quickly cure
anyone of the notion that a university is a sort of stud farm for civic
leaders. No doubt some college students harbor such dark ambitions (Bill
Clinton comes to mind), but most kids have more modest purposes, such as
making money after they graduate. They dont view college as a
steppingstone to the throne. That sort of agenda is extraneous to
education. It isnt what propels the average youngster to study
Plato, computer science, or remedial English, as the case may be.
All this wrangling would be
unnecessary if education were private. Every college could set its own
standards for its own reasons. It would enjoy the fruits of both private
property and freedom of association, without the state telling it what to
do. The result could be summed up in a single word: diversity.