The U.S. Supreme Court expressed its renewed interest in affirmative action by hearing arguments Wednesday in a University of Texas case involving a white female applicant named Abigail Fisher who says she was denied admission in 2008 because of a race-conscious policy.
Governments and businesses use race, gender, ethnicity, age, color and national origin in all manners of affairs. They do it because various laws say they must, which is why we have all those little boxes to check on applications for education, employment, housing, loans, et cetera.
It all adds up to a quagmire of laws that prohibit discrimination on one hand and call for quotas to level various playing fields on the other.
In the 1960s, James Meredith became a pivotal symbol for constitutional and civil rights when, after serving in the Air Force, he tested the resolve of race-based politics at the University of Mississippi, which denied him admission because he was black.
On Wednesday, just before the high court's deliberations in the Fisher case, one of Mr. Meredith's sons stated that academic standing should take precedence in college admissions.
"My father was able to integrate the University of Mississippi 50 years ago this month because he had academically earned his place among the student body," said John Meredith, a spokesman for D.C.-based Project 21, a network of black conservatives. "It is unconscionable that an institution of higher learning in America today would be forced to admit candidates who have not earned their place among the student body. I look forward to the court ending any practice that would force a school to admit anyone other than the best academic candidate."
Now those can be construed as fighting words because as recently as 2003, the high court ruled in another affirmative-action case that race can stand among many factors regarding college admissions.
But here's the real rub: Governments and businesses largely discriminate because they and other entities are run by human beings who, of course, bring their own positive and negative biases with them to the workplace.
The laws try to upend those personal biases, which, in turn, are exploited by those check boxes.
Get rid of the check boxes, and who knows?
Biased for good reasons: While lawyers verbally sparred before the Supreme Court, unity was on display at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Northwest Washington, where an organization called Fight for Children announced it was investing $10 million and five years to finance a dream of its late founder, Joe Robert Jr.
Focusing squarely on children's early education, the money includes a new initiative called Joe's Champs (named for you know who). This aspect of the overall program will get $1.6 million of the money to focus on the city's neediest children in its poorest neighborhoods and "complement and enhance the ambitious school reform efforts already underway in the District of Columbia" by training teachers and supporting principals, said Fight for Children President and CEO Michela English at a news conference.
One of the biggest supporters of Joe's Champs is the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, whose ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba, called Robert a "visionary and friend," having founded both Fight for Children and Fight Night in 1990. Robert died in December.
"There is no better way to honor him than to help even more kids get a great start in life," Mr. Al Otaiba said.
Joe's Champs also will bring other professionals, such as copyright and trademark lawyer Kesso Diallo, into the classroom.
A first-year teacher, Ms. Diallo said Joe's Champs will help narrow the 30 million word gap between affluent and low-income children.
"A 30 million word gap turns into a salary gap and a life span gap," she said.
Principals begin training in the spring, and teachers follow in the summer.
Many of our wee ones need a hearty hand up and out of circumstances beyond their control, and sharpened minds so they can follow straight and narrow academic paths.
Lord knows that what's been in place for the past two decades hasn't gotten the job done.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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