Busing opposition is not racist

School busing is in the news as a result of the first presidential debate (“There’s a Reason We Don’t Say ‘Integration’ Anymore” The New York Times, Jul. 9). Once again those who criticize busing are depicted as racists.  I don’t agree.

In the late 1970s, the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for my entire 28-year career, began forced busing after court attempts to block it failed.  Although most parents were not fans of the policy, they were willing to give it a chance in the interest of fairness.  But it soon became evident that students who were bused in brought with them huge deficits in academic achievement and socialization.

Teachers were forced to jettison lesson plans that had worked so well in the past to design new ones to meet the needs and interests of bused-in students.  Parents complained that the quality of instruction suffered to the point that their children were bored to tears.  As a result, they began to pull their children out and enroll them in private or religious schools.

At no time did I see evidence that their decision was racially motivated.  They just were concerned that their children were being shortchanged.  I don’t blame them.  How many parents are willing to sacrifice their children’s education on the altar of ideology?  Recognizing the strength of the opposition, the Legislature in 1979 placed on the ballot Proposition 1, which effectively ended forced busing.

The district subsequently stepped up its efforts to promote its magnet schools.  It instituted a program known as Permits With Transportation.  The program has had notable academic success, although it has not achieved its goal of complete integration.  I still think magnet programs deserve far greater emphasis as a reasonable compromise.

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4 Replies to “Busing opposition is not racist”

  1. Many parents and homeowners who opposed court-ordered busing did so due to racism. But, the majority of the busing opponents were, as you say, motivated by rational concerns rather than racism. My impression is that black parents — inner-city as well as suburban — were about evenly divided re busing; presumably, the black parents who opposed busing did so for rational reasons rather than racism.

    From a political perspective, the Dem presidential candidates are walking through an entirely avoidable minefield when they focus media and voter attention on court-ordered busing. The overwhelming majority of white working-class voters and suburban voters strongly oppose court-ordered busing. Perhaps the Dem presidential candidates think they have to be pro-court-ordered-busing in order to win the votes of the black voters who play a large role in Dem primaries. But, even if that were true (and I very much doubt it, since at most a plurality of blacks support court-ordered busing), by painting themselves as pro-court-ordered-busing, the Dems would give the Republicans a powerful issue to use against the Dems in the general election — and not just the presidential election, but also the Senate, House, and state elections. The Republicans could easily generate TV video ads of tough-looking mostly black kids getting off a school bus and hassling preppy-looking white kids with a voiceover warning the voters that electing Dems means court-ordered busing into their schools. Way more effective than the Willie Horton ad + it would largely be true.


  2. Labor Lawyer: Opposition to busing by white parents is reflexively depicted as racist. But there are limits to what even the most enlightened parents will tolerate when busing harms instruction. I saw that at the same high school where I spent my entire 28-year teaching career. Most students became bored when their teachers had to redesign lessons to meet the huge deficits that bused-in students brought with them. As a result, parents pulled their children out and enrolled them in private schools. It had nothing to do with racism. Instead, it had everything to do with standards. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a column by Jason Riley, who happens to be black, in which he decries the charge of racism.


  3. There is also the rarely-mentioned but always-present issue of suburban property values. If a suburban school system becomes subject to court-ordered busing (inner-city kids into the suburban schools and/or suburban kids out to the inner-city schools), the property values in the suburban school system will take a serious hit — due to rational and/or racist fears that the court-ordered busing will adversely impact the quality of education for the kids living in the suburban school system. And, all the suburban homeowners will be harmed by a fall in property values, not just the homeowners with kids. That’s a huge number of voters.


  4. Labor Lawyer: That is also quite true. When busing began in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a pharmacy located near a middle school, saw a sharp increase in shoplifting as students entered the premises. It got so bad that the owner finally had to lock the entrance door rather than try to apprehend shoplifters and call the police. Homeowners near the pharmacy reported students trespassing on their property. This had nothing to do with them being racist. They were merely trying to protect themselves.


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