What I Learned in Debate

10:33 AM

A concept about race and education I came across at debate camp that I thought was interesting...and that I can't take a stance on.

Over a month ago, during the summer, I attended my district's debate camp. As policy debaters (come on now...just Google it), we talk about one topic deeply for the entirety of the school year: education. I was excited to dive into this subject, as I am infinitely more passionate about it than last years' topic, U.S. relations with China. At camp, we learned the basics about our "resolution", which is the goal each debate team is trying to reach. Our resolution for education was to find a way in which to increase federal funding and regulation for secondary and high schools across the U.S. Now, within this "resolution" exists many plans to achieve it in the best way; increasing farm-to-table school lunches, sex education, or school racial integration. 

The last plan is where the concept that intrigued me so much comes in. 

Essentially, the school integration plan sets out to increase racial diversity in schools. Sounds like a good plan, right? Adapting children early on to an environment with different cultures and perspectives makes them open minded, right? Maybe not so. The negative argument against that gave me a different point of view at the effectiveness of social reform, rather than social rebuilding. By that, I mean that the negative argument attacks the fact that the school integration plan is working within the confines of our society, a society inherently set up against people of color.

The foundation of American history, and many events following it, are built on the backs of people of color. Early Americans tapped into the Atlantic slave trade for free labor to build their plantation economies on. The Spanish conquered South America, and their people, to profit off of their mountains of gold and silver. Andrew Jackson dislocated millions of Native Americans to use their land. Chinese immigrants died working on the railroad systems, and countless Irish and Jewish migrants worked in industrial factories during the early 20th century. Today, Latin American workers flood the United States to take jobs in agriculture, domestic service, landscaping, janitorial services, and other low-skill jobs essential to the flourishing of our economy. The use of people of color for American prosperity, whether they were brought against their will or not, also has a streak of exploitation and racism. 

This inferior treatment at nonwhite races, for biological or societal "reasons", has been ingrained into the structure of our nation even before it became one. This racism is much more than name calling and dirty looks. It's not allowing minorities to acquire property, a fundamental U.S. right. (Fact: the reason for "ghettos", or cultural meccas, like Chinatown, is partly because of this.) In the olden days, this prevented many minorities from voting. The voting issue, however, was rampant until the 1960s-- townhouses would reject registration forms. Voting is yet another fundamental U.S. right. This racism merged into a pattern of segregation, and the isolation of minorities and hatred of them became one and the same. Libraries and schools were underfunded in these minority-based cities, a trend still seen today. Students of color have trouble finding the resources to get an education at home, and to look for better ones elsewhere.

This is where the school integration plan comes in. Relocating minority students to "better" (naturally, whiter) schools to increase their education and diversity works within the very system that oppresses them. It invites them to racial targeting, from outward hatred to micro-aggression. It promotes the idea that poor minority kids must be smart and worthy, or they will be left behind. It only results in a few token scholars, and entire communities left behind. It is the very opposite of what we should be doing. The opposing side argues that instead of this plan, we should increase funding and regulation of schools in poor areas brimming with students of color. Giving every child equal access to better education better predisposes them to get out of poverty. Rebuilding underfunded communities brings prosperity. The negative plan invites creating black, Hispanic, etc. spaces instead of conforming to a white-based society. 

I was, and still am not, exactly sure where I personally stand with this way of thinking. In some ways, rebuilding ethnic communities invites more isolationism from mainstream, white America. Though American society is made against minorities, it still exists-- and is not unavoidable. Would not such plans invite more culture shocks, and hostilities, when the two must encounter? Or, would rebuilding ethnic communities into prosperous zones dissolve these hostilities, the ones that brand minorities as useless and un-American? Or, is it too late to dissolve these hatreds, furthering the need for the investment in separate communities? Many questions plague me. Sometimes, social justice seems too easy. Pass a couple of laws, unlearn a couple of behaviors, and we are all good and fair! That is not necessarily how it works. There are deeper problems to ponder, because reforming only the surface's social problems ignores the problematic society that lays underneath, the society which was built around such social problems in benefit of others. One must work in a way that make the best of a bad society, or destroy it completely. For most, that is not such an appealing option. So, what do we do? I might sound all over the place right now, but that really is where it all goes back to: what do we do? What do you think?

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