|White ladies' signs read: "We want equal & segregated schools"|
It's run up the flag pole at a time when corporate-style "reform" has come under attack from civil rights groups and teacher unions, and appear to be losing their cachet, even within the Democratic Party establishment.
Cunningham tries to come off as a tormented soul, torn between his personal and "pragmatic" side, the latter arguing that ending poverty and integration are just too "politically difficult and financially expensive" and therefore, instead of spending hundreds of billions more to reduce poverty and reduce segregation, we should just "double down on our efforts to improve schools."
At a recent DFER-sponsored forum at the DNC, Cunningham laid out his anti-deseg line in an obvious attempt to influence Clinton's education agenda. He answered a question about school integration this way:
"Maybe the fight's not worth it. It's a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it's been a long fight, we've had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great.There nothing original in Cunningham's comments. If they strike you as a throwback to Plessy v. Ferguson and the separate-but-equal doctrine, you're definitely on to something. As we learned back then, when it comes to schooling, separate is never equal. Following the Brown v. Board decision in 1954, the difficulty and protracted nature of the struggle against de facto segregation and poverty has caused some to throw in the towel.
Cunningham is basically echoing the call of his boss at the D.O.E., former Sec. of Education Arne Duncan. It was he who tried to put the kibosh on a Justice Dept. civil right suit against the state of Louisiana, which would have blocked expansion of the state's school voucher system.
When asked about the suit being pushed by his fellow cabinet member, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, Duncan said he was opposed to "forced integration," echoing the language of the old southern segregationists. The suit was then dropped, to the applause of segregationists.
Current battles are going on in states like N.C. where privately-run charter schools are being used to promote re-segregation and evade civil right law. The Voting Rights Act itself has been dismembered by a conservative-led Supreme Court in 2013. And now, the new K-12 Education law, ESSA, has shifted much more authority back to the states and away from federal oversight, setting the stage for even more school deseg efforts.
It's in this context then, that Cunningham's "pragmatic" call to abandon the cause of school desegregation is all the more pernicious.