Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sometimes I do OK

I wrote this for one of my classes a couple of weeks ago. I'm not sure I actually believe the ideas that I'm putting forth but it made for a good paper.

I got an A.

Tribalism seems to be a fact of human nature. Research such as the Dollar Game shows again and again that folks trust their own type more than other types. This would not be a problem, except that lack of exposure to other types causes ignorance and ignorance causes unfair discrimination. Since types are often determined by visual cues such as race, systemic unfair discrimination is especially intense for members of traditionally oppressed races. Given that our society is not starting from scratch in terms of power and capital, determining the correct policy solutions to the systemic racial unfairness that exists is of paramount importance.

Glenn Loury suggests that the state should be fostering cross-group intimate interaction on the premise that preferences are derivative of experience. If we can force people to abandon their own type in social settings, we can shift their preferences toward fairness in other settings, such as the marketplace. Brown v. Board of Ed. of Topeka, Kansas and Affirmative Action programs share this underlying belief. However, Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and Paul Torelli have shown that for many minority students, success in social settings and market settings might be mutually exclusive if academic success if viewed as a proxy for ultimate market success. Fryer and Torelli call this a “two-audience signaling quandary: signals that beget labor market success are signals that induce peer rejection.” This indicates that cross-group intimate interaction will not benefit academically successful minority students individually, since they do not have as much intimate interaction to begin with. This trade-off is particularly alarming since sociological research has shown that success in life is also reliant upon social capital, which comes from having a large, stable community with contacts that have access to resources. A policy solution must be found that allows minority students to succeed in school while also building a community of contacts that provide experiences with other types, as well as access to resources. I believe that policy solution will involve integrated neighborhoods with the option of segregated schools.

In Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and Paul Torelli’s paper “An Empirical Analysis of ‘Acting White’,” they use the unique structure of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to study the correlation of popularity to success in school. Their major finding in that a large racial gap exists. White students have an entirely upward slope when GPAs are regressed on a popularity index while black and latino students suffer a drop-off of popularity when their grades rise higher than average. It is important to remember that the results can also be read that less popular minority students get better grades than their more popular racial counterparts: causality has not been established.

Interestingly, the study also finds that minority students in private schools and segregated schools do not experience this gap as much as public school students in integrated schools.
In fact, in predominantly black schools, popularity and academic success are positively correlated, paralleling results of white students in all schools. While it is plausible to cite selection bias for the private school students, students in public, segregated schools are overwhelmingly in that situation as a result of ghettoization. These schools usually have fewer resources and are found in high-crime, high-poverty areas. Yet, minority students who do well in these schools are also popular, unlike minority students in schools that reflect national racial demographics, where only unpopular students are successful.

How do we reconcile Fryer and Torelli’s finding that segregated educational environments house students with more balanced lives with the assertion of Loury and others that the path to equality runs through integration? We must reform our current system to incentivize integrated neighborhoods while giving students and their families the option of segregated schooling.

There is precedent for segregated education. Recent decades have allowed for gender segregation in modern schools: the Chicago Public Schools have the Young Women’s Leadership Charter High School and the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men. These schools’ selective populations are based on similar research that shows that students often do better when grouped according to the accident of their birth with regards to gender. Recently, CPS considered a school that would create safe spaces for GLTBQ youth to learn. As long as precautions are taken that the no stigma be attached to attending these schools and that resources available to them were equal to other schools in the district, there is reason to believe that such schools would offer real benefit to minority students who want to do well in school while remaining popular. CPS has been moving toward a system of student choice for all of its high schools for years on the premise that different students need different environments. Adding racially safe schools to the strategy should not be that much of a stretch.

However, if the school district is no longer being used to forward society’s goals to eradicate prejudice, this end must be achieved another way. If we institute tax incentives or lump sum transfers for people to live in integrated areas, this might be achieved. An integrated area might be defined as one in which no race is represented by more than 50% of families. Rather than a centralized solution that attempts to manipulate or control citizen’s choices regarding housing, financial incentives continue to allow market forces to function. Zones that would receive these rewards would begin receiving rewards once the optimal levels of integration has been reached or may receive intermediate rewards for movement in the right direction. By defining zones using integration levels rather than by targeting certain areas and making them more appealing to white buyers and renters, policy-makers avoid reinforcing the current perceived hierarchical valuation of the races. Decisions are made for financial rather than altruistic reasons. It is very likely that the struggles of communities that attempt to integrate economic classes might be avoided completely if families are encouraged to sort by race while staying within economic brackets.

Once neighborhoods become integrated, children of all races have access to increased social capital that both minority and white families can contribute to. In his paper, “The Neighborhood Context of Investing in Children: Facilitating Mechanisms and Undermining Risks” (2000), Robert J. Sampson writes that social capital is created “when the structure of relations between persons that facilitates action make possible the achievement of certain ends that in its absence would not be possible.” The variety of experiences, knowledge and connections that families of all colors bring to a community can only increase the chances of children to succeed. The generations of citizens that come out of these neighborhoods will be that much closer to Glenn Loury’s vision of preferences that do not oppress any genetically or culturally distinct group, which will render the original findings of the Dollar Game research obsolete.

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