Nation still has racial progress to achieve
New Castle News / New Castle, Pa.
It’s been 50 years since the historic March on Washington.
The march — remembered to this day in large part because of a moving and powerful speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — was a poignant and peaceful call for racial equality and programs to end poverty.
So today, a half-century later, the question is being asked: How much have we progressed from that era, and how much farther do we have to go?
The answer, if one is honest, is a mixed bag. Obviously, there have been tremendous gains in the realm of racial equality in this country. That’s particularly true when it comes to the law. Racial segregation is no longer legal. The law is now a tool to promote equality, when in the past, it often posed as a barrier.
And it’s no small matter that America now has a black president. Such an occurrence would have been unthinkable in 1963.
But race in America is hardly a problem of the past. Statistically, black Americans continue to lag in virtually all economic data compared to whites. There are also gaps when it comes to education, housing and other areas considered crucial for social and economic well being.
And then there is the matter of crime. Black-on-black violence — particularly among young black men — is an epidemic in this country. It is fueled by the drug trade and a subculture that seemingly rejects the value of education and lawful conduct, and many young blacks find themselves living in a world where gang violence and short life spans are conditions to be expected.
What’s to blame for this? You can find all sorts of answers, many of them ideologically driven from the left and right. Still, they may have their aspects of truth. In many ways, government programs have lessened the need for community involvement and accountability. Throwing money at a problem does not solve it.
On the other hand, there remains a gulf between the races in America. And so long as problems within black neighborhoods are viewed as something separate from the nation as a whole, they will persist.
Ironically, while President Obama may be well positioned to understand the problems of race in America, he has been unable to do much about it. Obama’s status as the nation’s first black president makes it difficult for him to tackle race matters head-on.
But they need to be tackled in some fashion — and not just by a president. All Americans have a role in issues of race. That means refusing to pretend problems don’t exist or that they are someone else’s responsibility.
It also means rejecting those of various colors and political persuasions who find benefit in playing the blame game and avoiding accountability.
The next phase in achieving Martin Luther King’s dream must consist of a positive and constructive racial engagement in America. It will be achieved with honesty and humility, not finger pointing and denial.
The Record-Eagle / Traverse City, Mich.
The debate (if it can be elevated to that distinction) over President Obama's proposal to tie future federal financial aid for colleges and universities to a broad new government rating system is instructive -- but not of how to make a college education more affordable or what’s best for students.
Instead, it tells us more than we want to know about the dysfunction that is the federal government, the sorry state of our oh-so-partisan politics and the higher education industry. None of it is good.
Obama's stated goal, to keep down college costs, is worthy. But the way his proposal would go about that is classic federal government: give points for not just affordability but a host of other "goals" that may reward schools for things that aren't necessarily part of the equation -- average student loan debt, graduation rates and the average earnings of graduates.
The words were barely out of Obama's mouth when Republicans weighed in. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Obama wanted to take "a good idea for one state and (force) all 6,000 institutions of higher education to do the exact same thing ..." The proposal does no such thing, but the claim laid the foundation for a bigger stretch: That Obama wants to turn "Washington into a sort of national school board ..." a claim straight out of the "government is too big" GOP playbook.
For colleges and universities, the proposal could mean millions of federal aid dollars -- an issue much too important to actually take a stand. Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, a lobbyist for colleges and universities in Washington, commented but said absolutely nothing.
"This is extraordinarily complicated stuff, and it's not clear we have the complete data or accurate data," she said. What’s higher ed without data?
An Obama proposal that has gotten little notice probably should get more: create a $1 billion college "Race to the Top" competition to reward states for significant policy changes while containing tuition costs.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that amid all the back and forth, the people not heard from -- or represented -- were students. And it shouldn't be surprising that discussion of the affordability crisis that threatens higher ed got drowned, again, in politics and babble. In the meantime, families will keep looking for ways to give their children a chance at a degree, and students will take on more and more debt.