Archive for May, 2008

ACLU: Working for the common bad

Friday, May 30th, 2008
Six months ago, a Wake County middle school principal, seeking to head off escalating trouble between black and Hispanic seventh-graders, ordered both groups into the school auditorium for separate talks in which she made clear that misbehavior would not be tolerated. Whatever the principal said apparently worked: Tensions were defused, order was restored and authority was established.The American Civil Liberties Union wants to make sure that never happens again.The ACLU, on behalf of two parents, this week filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, asking it to do what the school system declined to do — namely, to acknowledge “that the decision to target their children for discipline based on race and ethnicity was made in error and [offer] assurance that it won’t happen again.”

I’ve long admired the ACLU for its willingness to defend the rights of even the most reprehensible souls among us. It’s important and necessary work. But the organization has had its share of clunkers, and this case is one of them. The ACLU seemingly doesn’t understand, or care, that gathering students in an auditorium for a talk from the principal is neither punishment nor discipline. It’s education. It’s teaching them that boundaries are in place, and that actions will have consequences.

How does that become a federal case?

The ACLU has inadvertently provided a peek into the inner workings of the culture of victimization. Its lawyers would have school principals be willfully blind to specific tensions, and instead treat any small, containable trouble as a school-wide problem. Because to do otherwise would be to run the risk that a student might be made to feel that he or she is individually and specifically expected to behave.

And of course, that kind of oppression can’t be tolerated.