Race to the bottom

Liam Julian

A seminal problem with No Child Left Behind was that law's focus on race, not just because an overwhelming, overriding focus on race is bad, which it is, but because NCLB's racial categories?black, white, Hispanic, etc.?always seemed overbroad and largely unworkable. Dad's from Chile and Mom's from Italy. Who am I? Dad's ancestors came over on a slave ship and Mom's came over on a Boeing. Who am I? That sort of thing. And now here comes the New York Times with a story on the trouble.?This is?how bad it's gotten:

Under Department of Education requirements that take effect this year, for instance, any student like Ms. L?pez-Mullins who acknowledges even partial Hispanic ethnicity will, regardless of race, be reported to federal officials only as Hispanic. And students of non-Hispanic mixed parentage who choose more than one race will be placed in a ?two or more races? category, a catchall that detractors describe as inadequately detailed. A child of black and American Indian parents, for example, would be in the same category as, say, a child of white and Asian parents.

Ms. L?pez-Mullins, 20, is actually, according to the Times, of ?Peruvian, Chinese, Irish, Shawnee and Cherokee descent.? Which to the Department of Education makes her . . . Hispanic. The Times notes that ?new standards for kindergarten through 12th grades and higher education will probably increase the nationwide student population of Hispanics, and could erase some ?black' students who will now be counted as Hispanic or as multiracial.? One day you're black, the next day you're Hispanic. Who knows what you'll be tomorrow. But this sort of racial classification is necessary, we're told, because it is the only way the nation can judge whether or not a certain race is being ?left behind.?

But seriously. When these types of categorizations change from one year to the next it's a clear indication that they are, at base, meaningless. Black, a word that encompasses?the newly-arrived?Zambian immigrant and the great-great-grandchild of Low Country slaves, becomes Hispanic?at the?push of a bureaucrat's pen?and one is supposed to believe that?such labels convey?real information? Furthermore, this is a problem that will only intensify as the years pass and the United States becomes ever more mingled. It is time to begin to move away from these outdated classifications. Time to start to allow ?race? to drift naturally into our rearview mirrors, where it is trying so hard to go.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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