Commentary Magazine

Busing, the Courts, and the Politics of Integration

To the Editor:

As one of the attorneys for the NAACP in the recent San Francisco school desegregation case, I was shocked at the inaccuracies in Nathan Glazer’s “Is Busing Necessary?” [March]. . . . The factual errors by Mr. Glazer are as follows:

  1. That San Francisco has a “larger measure of integration probably than most Northern cities” is a statement I cannot comprehend. At the time our suit was filed, in June 1970, 80 per cent of the black elementary-school children in San Francisco attended 27 schools—out of a total of 102—whose enrollment was from 47.3-per-cent to 96.8-per-cent black. I hope that Mr. Glazer will provide some statistical evidence to support his claim.
  2. The desegregation case filed by the NAACP eight years ago, and defended by Mayor Alioto as a private attorney, has as much to do with the present case filed in 1970 as Plessy v. Ferguson had to do with Brown v. Board of Education. Eight years is a long time. During the interval the law has evolved so as to recognize that public officials may violate the Constitution by subtle and indirect means. No longer is it necessary for complaining parties to prove that a board of education met, moved, and formally resolved to segregate children. It has long been a rule of law that a person—including a public official—is responsible for the natural and probable consequences of his actions. Cases dealing with fundamental constitutional rights have now recognized this rule as being applicable. In San Francisco, segregation in the schools has increased during the past decade. The court found the San Francisco Board of Education to be responsible for this increase because of its official acts and omissions. During this interval, there have been numerous in-depth studies and reports concerning racial matters conducted by both the school district itself and the Stanford Research Institute. . . . Of course, this material was not available when the earlier case was filed.
  3. Whatever happened in the earlier case, no one with knowledge of the facts “assumed that this disposed of the legal issue.” Under the federal Constitution the legal obligations of a Northern school district to eradicate school segregation remained unclear. Under guidelines adopted by the California State Board of Education, as enunciated by the California Supreme Court in 1963, California school districts have the affirmative duty to take steps to relieve racial imbalance which exceeds 15 per cent of the district average for any racial group. . . .
  4. The postponement of one of the two elementary-school complexes (clusters or groupings of eight and twelve schools each) was not the sole cause of the present lawsuit, although Mayor Alioto’s rantings and ravings about the school board’s intention to desegregate two of the 27 predominantly black elementary schools certainly affected our decision—we hoped to move before Mayor Alioto could completely poison the atmosphere. . . . “Money problems” was the reason given by the Board of Education for postponing the implementation of one of the complexes, but we alleged, and the court found, that there were adequate funds available to desegregate both complexes. . . .
  5. Judge Weigel did not “charge” the school board with unlawful conduct, . . . he “found” that the present board and its predecessors had taken certain actions and omitted to act under circumstances where they were under an obligation to act. The result was a denial of equal protection of the law. If Mr. Glazer does not agree that the actions of the school board violated the law, that is his privilege. His argument, however, is not with Judge Weigel, but with the dozens of federal judges who wrote the opinions upon which Judge Weigel relied for legal precedents.
  6. I understand that Mr. Glazer is only visiting the San Francisco area this year. . . . This brief period of residence may excuse his reference to a “liberal school board appointed by a liberal mayor, in a liberal city with a black president of the school board.” The black became president after the case was submitted for decision. Mayor Alioto is as liberal on integration as Governor George Wallace, and because he openly advocated disobeying Judge Weigel’s final judgment, he came within a hair’s-breadth of being the first Northern official to be cited for contempt of a federal school-desegregation order. We had the papers typed and ready to take to court when Mayor Alioto finally, a few weeks before school was ready to open, called for obedience to the law, and said that the fight would be carried on only in the courts. The “liberal board” showed its commitment to integration by voting 4-3 to appeal a federal court order requiring them to desegregate their schools, despite the fact that the board had long officially maintained a policy favoring integration. Only last April the board voted not to desegregate its junior high schools, thereby deciding to send children in desegregated elementary schools to segregated secondary schools this fall. . . .
  7. For Mr. Glazer to report that “there were no all-black schools in San Francisco” but “some almost all-black schools” is deceptive. The distinction, if any, is meaningless. As of June 1970, when the case was filed, black enrollment in some of our schools was: 96.8 per cent, 96.1 per cent, 95.9 per cent, 95.8 per cent, 93.7 per cent, 92.3 per cent, 92.2 per cent, 91.7 per cent, 91.2 per cent, 90.2 per cent, 89.9 per cent, 89.9 per cent, 88.0 per cent, 85.7 per cent, 84.7 per cent, 84.0 per cent, 81.2 per cent, 75.4 per cent, 74.9 per cent, 72.9 per cent, 71.8 per cent, etc.
  8. Judge Weigel did not “try to protect” himself by “pointing to some action by the school board that . . . might make the situation de jure.” If Mr. Glazer, or his researcher, had taken the trouble to read the complaint and a detailed list we prepared pointing out the acts of de jure segregation perpetuated by the school board, he would have seen that Judge Weigel ruled on the charges laid before him. The massive material presented in court would fill a library table. The judge could have reached no other decision.
  9. The district judge in San Francisco did not rule that Chinese and Spanish-surnamed (not “Spanish-speaking”) pupils “must be conscripted to create an environment which, he believed, would provide equality of educational opportunity for black children.” Judge Weigel ruled only that a plan be prepared with the objective of achieving a ratio of black children to white children that would be substantially the same for each school. This standard was the starting point in drafting a remedy which was approved by the Supreme Court in the Swann case. The desegregation plan which was implemented last fall was prepared by a Citizens’ Advisory Committee appointed by the Board of Education from among the various racial and ethnic groups in the city. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee, and ultimately the Board of Education, decided that, as a matter of educational policy, they would integrate the Asian and Latino children as well as blacks and whites. The proposed elementary-school complexes, prepared long before the present litigation started, also sought to achieve an ethnic mixture of Asians and Latinos, as well as of blacks and whites. . . . There is no legal right to attend a neighborhood school, as claimed by Mr. Glazer. Chief Justice Burger has stated that “school desegregation plans cannot be limited to walk-in schools.” Thus the “freedom” Mr. Glazer mentions in connection with neighborhood schools must spring from a source other than the law.
  10. Mr. Glazer also erroneously implies that Judge Weigel’s order somehow prevents bilingual classes. In fact, the order specifically provides that bilingual classes are not proscribed; they are still part of the educational program in the schools. . . .
  11. Every child in the San Francisco elementary schools was not “placed in one of four ethnic or racial categories.” Since 1964, the San Francisco Unified School District has made annual surveys of the various ethnic groups in the city and has used classifications such as Spanish-surnamed, Other White, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, etc. These figures and the racial classifications of blacks and whites only were used by the court for reference. Does Mr. Glazer know of any means of determining the racial composition of a school district other than by the use of statistics? . . .
  12. The bond issue for the new school in Hunter’s Point (a predominantly black area) was supported by the NAACP. So what? If the schools were segregated (as they were), why shouldn’t the black community demand its share of new schools? Public support, by the NAACP or anyone else, does not relieve a school district of its constitutional obligation not to construct new schools or additions to existing schools in such a fashion as to increase or perpetuate segregation. The Swann case clearly recognized this principle. So did Judge Weigel. . . .

No matter what the requirements of the Constitution, men of good will may disagree on the merits of school desegregation and integration in general in our society. Many, and perhaps most, educators believe it to be advantageous. In San Francisco this past year, the integration effort has proceeded relatively smoothly, and according to early reports, the educational opportunity for black children is improving. It is still too early to make definitive findings. We think that with a little statesmanship on the part of our public officials . . . our problems can be worked out.

Mr. Glazer is entitled to his opinion, but he is not entitled to make such gross misstatements of the facts as he has done in his article. He owes both Judge Weigel and your readers an apology.

Arthur Brunwasser
San Francisco, California



To the Editor:

Since I have been involved for some time in the San Francisco case, as legal counsel for a racially-mixed group of parents who were allowed to intervene in the case before Judge Weigel for the purpose of opposing the NAACP, I have some personal knowledge of the matters about which Mr. Glazer writes so well. The San Francisco school district was required to implement the busing of over half (about 21,000) of its elementary-school pupils, notwithstanding the fact that appeals of Judge Weigel’s order were made and are still pending. In one sense, therefore, the events of the past year are now of greater importance to others than to San Francisco parents and their children; but . . . it is still of some comfort to know that by virtue of Mr. Glazer’s efforts others will be forewarned.

I believe, however, that several comments may be in order: First, there are two important matters in the San Francisco case which add additional . . . weight to Mr. Glazer’s conclusions about the desegregation cases; and, second, I do not share Mr. Glazer’s optimism that the dilemma posed by busing can be solved in the political arena alone.

The two matters which add to Mr. Glazer’s case are Judge Weigel’s unwillingness even to consider preserving the 19 to 30 San Francisco elementary schools which were clearly “integrated,” and the meaning of a 1953 NAACP case in San Francisco against the San Francisco Housing Authority, Banks v. San Francisco Housing Authority (1953) 120 Cal. App. 2d 1, certiorari denied (1954) 347 U.S. 974.

The uncertainty over the number of integrated schools in the city before busing was caused by differences about which racial-balance standards were to be used to measure integration. No one was excluded upon racial grounds from any of San Francisco’s elementary schools. Judge Weigel determined that 16 elementary schools were integrated, three more were integrated according to the racial-balance standards used by the Judge to make this finding, and a great many more were integrated if one measures integration by the variance in racial balance allowed in the “desegregation” plan. Most unfortunately, a great many of the pupils withdrawn from San Francisco’s public schools were taken out of integrated schools. As nearly as we can determine, San Francisco’s public schools have lost about one-eighth of their elementary-school pupil population as a direct result of the implementation of Judge Weigel’s order.

Banks is another poignant irony for San Francisco, the sort of irony which has long since become a familiar story in many Southern school districts. In the early 1950’s the San Francisco Housing Authority sought to impose racial quotas upon San Francisco public housing. These quotas approximated the proportions of “poor” Negro and “poor” white residents in San Francisco: 30 per cent Negro; 70 per cent white. After these quotas were struck down in Banks, the racial proportions in San Francisco public housing shifted markedly. Most of the 27 elementary schools which, in 1971, Judge Weigel found to be predominantly black (over 47.5 per cent) served the same neighborhoods that were served by the housing projects in Banks. The “predominantly black” composition of most of these schools was a direct result of the rejection in Banks of “benign” racial quotas in public housing. . . .

Mr. Glazer dissects rather well the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” characteristic of “rules” applicable to school desegregation. It is not possible for school administrators, whatever efforts they make in good faith, to adhere to rules which do not exist. Such patent discrepancies as resting the Detroit case upon schools too small and the San Francisco case upon schools too large could be enumerated almost indefinitely. It seems to me, however, that Mr. Glazer fails to see the import of his analysis for the legal process. The absence of rules is the absence of law; and the absence of law is inevitable when courts become wholly oriented to result. And that implication of the desegregation cases is far more disturbing than the busing controversy, for the growing tendency of courts to subordinate principle to expediency is not limited to desegregation cases. . . .

It would, in short, be unfortunate if the major lessons of the school desegregation cases went unremarked: it seems likely that when a few men are allowed to dispose of the rights of the person wholesale, such action will sooner or later lead to gross inequity. . . . The function of courts should be to step in to protect the person when legislative “wholesaling” gets out of hand. But this function is difficult, if not impossible, for the courts to perform when they are doing the wholesaling themselves, too often . . . at the insistence of a growing number of “legal lobbying” organizations whose object almost always is the furtherance of a cause and not the protection of personal liberty. . . .

Mr. Glazer’s solution—let the courts simply step back and allow the political process to operate—. . . I no longer believe to be either feasible or a solution. It ignores the rights of the person and it necessarily entails legitimizing racial classification by government. . . . To the member of a racial group excluded by a quota already filled, it makes little difference whether the quota is a result of . . . a legislature, a school board, or a court. The courts cannot simply step back and allow racial quotas to the detriment of the person to be imposed through the political process. Sooner or later, the United States Supreme Court will have to decide whether Brown v. Board of Education forbade racial classification by government, or forbade it only for a purpose deemed at the moment inexpedient.

But as long as there are scholars like Mr. Glazer to help us, we lawyers may continue to hope that we can after all move our law away from such shameful episodes as the United States Supreme Court’s approval of the relocation of American citizens solely because of their Japanese ancestry (Korematsu v. United States [1944]323 U.S. 214) and toward the promised land in which government may not judge a man—or a child—by the color of his skin.

Willis Hannawalt
San Francisco, California



To the Editor:

I must confess I was disappointed and dismayed to see your influential and respected journal placing its imprimatur on the anti-busing, anti-desegregation sentiments expressed in Nathan Glazer’s article. I was equally distressed to see such sentiments espoused by a social scientist of Mr. Glazer’s stature. . . . As president of a group of moderate and liberal Republicans, I feel compelled to dissent from the position Mr. Glazer has taken.

The first and last paragraphs of Mr. Glazer’s article indicate a faith in our political leaders that seems misplaced in the light of the events of the past few years. It is true, as Mr. Glazer suggests, that between, say, 1965 and 1968, school desegregation was largely taken out of the hands of the politicians and entrusted to professionals—lawyers, judges, and federal civil-rights officials. As a result, by the time of the Supreme Court decision in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia (May 27, 1968), there was a growing consensus in the South and in the nation that school desegregation was inevitable and that it was time to turn to the business of quality education for all children regardless of race.

What went wrong was that the politicians got their hands on the issue again. President Nixon’s promises to the South during the 1968 campaign were implemented over the next three-and-a-half years by a series of administration actions that rekindled the desegregation issue and inflamed it to new heights of emotionalism and irrationality. . . .

The administration’s antics failed to reverse the legal trends in the area of desegregation; its efforts in 1969 to delay desegregation orders in 33 Mississippi cases, for example, resulted in a blunt Supreme Court decision that all such school districts were required to desegregate “at once” (Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education) . But each grandstand play raised hopes among those still resisting desegregation, and made it more difficult for responsible candidates and public officials to lay the issue to rest. It seemed, though, in April 1971, that the utter finality of the Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision in the Charlotte and Mobile cases (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education), upholding busing as a means of desegregation, might settle the question once and for all. As in 1968, the reaction from the South was not anger, but acceptance; but the administration, once again, would not let the wound heal.

On August 3, 1971, the President issued an unexpected and divisive statement on the Austin school case and busing in general, in one breath disavowing HEW’s Swann-type plan for Austin, announcing an appeal of the district-court decision rejecting the HEW plan, and indicating that he did not accept the principles thought to be settled by the Swann decision. There followed a series of increasingly dangerous and irresponsible amendments to the administration’s pending $1.5 billion desegregation-assistance bill, most at least tacitly supported by the White House; proposals for a constitutional amendment to end busing; and finally, the President’s deceptive and probably unconstitutional legislative package presented to the nation March 16, 1972, in a TV address that plumbed new depths of demagoguery. . . .

Nowhere is Mr. Glazer’s blurred vision more evident than in his identification of three “critical” questions. “First,” he asks, “do basic human rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution, require that the student population of every school be racially balanced according to some specified proportion, and that no school be permitted a black majority?” If this question is intended to be an expression of what the courts are now requiring, it is extremely misleading. The Supreme Court held in the Swann case, and Justice Burger reiterated in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County case, that

[t]he constitutional command to desegregate schools does not mean that every school in every community must always reflect the racial composition of the system as a whole.

In fact, the court said, though all-black or all-white schools deserve judicial scrutiny, it might be that “some small number” of such schools would be constitutionally permissible even in a system obliged to eliminate the effects of past segregation. Thus the answer to Mr. Glazer’s first question is No, but the question itself is off the point.

Next, Mr. Glazer asks, is “this”—meaning his inaccurate characterization of legal requirements—“the only way to improve the education of black children?” As his first question overstates what courts have ordered in desegregation cases, Mr. Glazer’s second question overstates the educational arguments for desegregation. No one has ever claimed that desegregation is “the only way” to help blacks. But the Coleman report, cited by Mr. Glazer, concluded that racial and socioeconomic integration produced a “beneficial effect” on student achievement. If subsequent reanalyses of Coleman’s data indicate that this effect is less substantial than first believed, they do not demonstrate that desegregation is useless, or that it should be abandoned. Rather, they illustrate the difficulty—and the urgency—of trying, by any method, to overcome the effects of centuries of discrimination and neglect.

Finally, Mr. Glazer asks, “is this . . . the only way to improve relations between the races?” Again, no one is claiming that school desegregation is the only way to effect racial reconciliation. It is true, however, that the public schools, because they so intimately affect so many children and because they are under control of authorities within the reach of the Fourteenth Amendment, present a logical place to begin in eliminating the racial divisions in Amercan society. It is not enough to say, as have comfortable liberals like Dr. Benjamin Spock, that residential segregation is the key and that fair housing will solve the problem of school segregation. Such comments ignore the relation between schools and housing patterns (if Middle Americans could not get away from blacks by moving to the suburbs, the migration would quickly dwindle), and they reflect an irritating patience where the rights of minorities are concerned. This same resignation to the deprivation of other people’s rights, unfortunately, permeates much of Mr. Glazer’s approach to the desegregation issue.

In this connection, I refer to Mr. Glazer’s incredible discussion of “freedom,” his unabashed longing for the days of freedom-of-choice plans, when “the freedom of white children was in no way limited” (and when little or no desegregation was ever accomplished). The effort to expand the freedom of black children, Mr. Glazer writes, has resulted in “as drastic a restriction of [the] freedom [of others] as we have seen in this country in recent years.” Mr. Glazer’s observation is accurate only in the sense that the “freedom” being infringed is that of white children not having to go to school with blacks. Historically, before desegregation, there was no “freedom of choice”; children were, and are, assigned to particular schools for reasons of residence, age, sex, grade level, area of specialization, ability, and, in many cases, for the purpose of maintaining segregation. Why is assignment for the purpose of integration the only type viewed as a restriction of freedom? If Mr. Glazer is saying that children from well-to-do-families are entitled to a better education than other children, I cannot sympathize with that position. Indeed the courts, in the wake of the California Supreme Court decision in Serrano v. Priest, are hastening to eliminate educational variations based on wealth, on grounds that have nothing to do with the question of race. . . .

Another of Mr. Glazer’s reasons why the San Francisco schools, at least, should not be desegregated is the concept of “community control.” Unfortunately, the warmest endorsements of this most worthy idea have occurred in the context of attacks on desegregation. Communities, especially in large urban districts, do not now exercise meaningful control over their schools, and are not likely to do so in the near future. None of the proposals advanced as an alternative to busing, including President Nixon’s, would do anything to make the schools more responsive to the people they serve; why is segregation without community control any better than desegregation without community control? Does the black community, in any event, gain very much if it secures some measure of control over a school that, because it is all or nearly all black, remains rundown, underfinanced, and understaffed? And does the “community” which controls the school have to be the residents of the immediate neighborhood? Should not the school, ideally, be responsive to the needs of the “community” of students and parents it serves, regardless of their residence? In other words, desegregation and community control are not mutually exclusive alternatives now, and there is no reason why they should be in the future.

Let me attempt, finally, to clarify the regrettable confusion in Mr. Glazer’s article between de jure and de facto segregation. Only de jure segregation, resulting from state law or state action, is within the purview of the Fourteenth Amendment or within the remedial powers of the federal courts. The crucial distinction does not lie, as Mr. Glazer seems to suggest, in whether the school district is Northern or Southern or in the historical context of alleged segregation. The question is whether school officials, by their actions, created or contributed to racial segregation. If segregation was required in a particular district by state law prior to 1954, this of course facilitates the task of proving a de jure case; but the burden of proof is the same in every Fourteenth Amendment case.

Thus Judge Weigel’s order in the San Francisco case was not particularly unusual, despite Mr. Glazer’s fervent belief that “a liberal school board, appointed by a liberal mayor, in a liberal city” can do no wrong. The judge’s statement of the law, firmly based on past de jure cases, was unquestionable.

The law is settled that school authorities violate the constitutional rights of children by establishing school-attendance boundary lines knowing that the result is to continue or increase substantial racial imbalance. The law is settled that school authorities violate the Constitution by providing for the construction of new schools or the enlargement of existing ones in a manner which continues or increases substantial racial imbalance. The law is settled that school authorities violate the Constitution by assigning black teachers and teachers of limited experience to “black” schools while assigning few, if any, such teachers to “white” schools.

The evidence in this case makes it unquestionably clear that, as to the San Francisco elementary schools, the San Francisco school authorities have done all of these things persistently and over a period of years. . . .

If a school board has drawn attendance lines so that there is a reasonable racial balance among the children attending a given school and if, thereafter, solely due to movement of the neighborhood population, the school attendance becomes racially imbalanced, the segregation thus arising is then de facto. On the other hand, if the school board, as in this case, has drawn school-attendance lines, year after year, knowing that the lines maintain or heighten racial imbalance, the resulting segregation is de jure. . . .

Mr. Glazer, like so many others in his position, cannot bring himself to believe that good Northern liberals can be guilty of the same charges they have been leveling for years at Southern racists. The hard truth, however, is that liberals can be guilty, too, and Mr. Glazer convicts himself with his own words.

Howard Gillette, Jr.
President, The Ripon Society
Washington, D.C.



To the Editor:

. . . I have for seven years been an elected member of the Oakland board of education and . . . I also have two children in the Berkeley public schools. My son, Carl, aged nine, and daughter, Alison, aged seven, have personally experienced integration as it is practiced in Berkeley, and I do not think that either Nathan Glazer or Norman Podhoretz [“School Integration and Liberal Opinion,” March] gives sufficient weight to the Berkeley experience.

First, I think the Berkeley statistics, which are available, provide information that there is an improvement in the grades and records of black students who go to school with white children without any corresponding loss in achievement on the part of the white children who go to black schools. Since a major argument Mr. Glazer makes is that there is no particular advantage to integration, I think he should reexamine his research materials and bring them up to date. . . .

My second argument is much more personal. In observing my two children, and their friends and acquaintances, I see real exchanges among races, religions, and nationalities which would not be. possible if they attended a segregated school. . . .

It is also of value to note that the teaching staff and other persons connected with the schools in Berkeley are also fairly well-integrated so that there are plenty of role models for all children. Initial integration at the junior-high or high-school level was not very successful, particularly at first, but when the children progress from integration at the elementary level, the higher-grade experience is in fact proving successful.

I certainly agree with Mr. Glazer’s statement that “it is very likely that decisions to achieve racial balance taken by school boards not under judicial or federal order but because political forces in that district demand it, have better effects than those undertaken under court order by resentful administrations.” I am happy to note that the Oakland Board of Education and administration under our excellent superintendent, Dr. Marcus A. Foster, is moving in this direction. But I do not think that strength should be given to the anti-busing forces by conclusions offered by Mr. Glazer and Mr. Podhoretz that integration is probably a waste of time since it does not affect education; that it may be unconstitutional; and that judges should stand back and allow “the forces of political democracy . . . to do their proper work.” The elementary schools of our nation are the place where children should start communicating and exchanging the necessary data and feelings so that when they become adults they will be better able to deal with each other without the fears, doubts, and hatreds that so many of us bring into adulthood. . . .

I would be very happy if prestigious publications like COMMENTARY would address themselves to the much more difficult task of attempting to educate and appeal to the conscience of the mass of people in this country to help soften the impact of forced integration and to help create a climate for voluntary integration. . . .

Integration per se is not the goal, but understanding, communication, developing a modus vivendi for the future . . .—all of these are better served by integrated public education. Let our schools devote their considerable abilities to trying to reach these goals.

Seymour M. Rose
Oakland, California



To the Editor:

I have considerable difficulty with both the article by Nathan Glazer and the comments of Norman Podhoretz on school desegregation, or as they regrettably phrase the issue, “busing.”

I think COMMENTARY is trapped in the same rhetoric which has snared so many liberals on this issue. I would not like to think of myself as a “knee-jerk” liberal or as a zealot without reason. Nevertheless, I must say that I found the articles most disappointing.

Undoubtedly there was, and is, a great need for human-relations education here in Buffalo. Nevertheless, the lack of resolve on the part of our usual friends to make integration work, using busing only as a responsible tool, helped prepare the way for the very sad result of a recent meeting of the Buffalo Board of Education when, in one session, three resolutions rejecting busing to achieve racial balance were passed.

The fact that something becomes more difficult does not make it less right. It just means that we must work harder to achieve it. Busing has become a code word around which are rallied the same elements, and others, which have opposed all progress since the Brown case. Notwithstanding Mr. Glazer’s analysis, my investigation convinces me that desegregation can be accompanied by educational gains for both races. Certainly there cannot be equality of education with our present inner-city school structures. After three years as a member, and one as president, of the Buffalo Board of Education, I am more convinced than ever that our schools are failing an ever increasing percentage of the student population. This includes in even greater numbers blacks and minority-group students. Aside from pious platitudes, and a variety of interesting but not widespread compensatory programs within ghetto schools, little is being done to correct the situation.

We have enough problems these days without losing our friends. I find the abandonment of the field by so many good people at this time to be even more disheartening than the continued confrontation with the usual run of pragmatic opportunists.

Arnold B. Gardner
President, Board of Education
Buffalo, New York



To the Editor:

I found “Is Busing Necessary?” a most illuminating piece. . . . While urging greater restraint on the courts regarding school desegregation, Mr. Glazer properly does not undertake to provide any detailed instructions for other agencies which must cope with that complex and charged issue. I think, though, that we should still, wherever possible, continue to explore voluntary approaches of one sort or another, even though some recent judicial decisions do not encourage one to believe they will be found acceptable.

Among such approaches, I for one find especially appealing those focusing on the busing of children of ethnic minority groups from racially imbalanced schools to schools in which children of ethnic majority groups predominate. Such busing, it is understood, would occur only with the consent of the parents of the children concerned, and need not be accompanied by any reverse movement of children from schools where majority ethnic groups predominate to schools where minority ethnic groups predominate. At least such a reverse movement need not occur without the consent of the parents of the children concerned.

While the burden of the busing would fall principally on ethnic-minority children, they presumably would have most to gain. There would necessarily tend to be a waste of school capacity in minority areas, and some new additions to capacity would be needed in non-minority areas. But perhaps that would not be too great a price to pay for integration that conforms to freedom of choice for those concerned.

Abram Bergson
Department of Economics
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts



To the Editor:

The current mania of busing children to achieve magical racial formulas can be traced to the 1954 Brown decision. That decision was based upon the assumption that blacks aspired to assimilate into predominantly white America without preserving their own ethnic culture. (Actually, their ethnic culture was barely visible at the time.) Based upon that assumption, the decision, while a legal monstrosity, was fair and equitable.

The world has changed since the 50’s, though, and the attitudes and aspirations of blacks have also changed markedly. Blacks today intensely aspire to preserve their identity and culture. . . .

This changed mood emanates from the grass-roots of the black community, but black intellectual and political leaders, along with their counterparts among doctrinaire white liberals, refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of these aspirations. These rigid theorists, refusing to admit that the assumptions of the 50’s are inapplicable to the 70’s, believe that Negro interests can be advanced by imposing fixed racial formulas for each public school within an area. These same theorists, holding themselves out as friends of Negroes, have no qualms about applauding recent federal-court decisions which have reached beyond school districts to impose integration, even though these extreme measures were taken solely to preserve white predominance in each school.

Since practically every “responsible” black spokesman supports forced busing, one would think that blacks overwhelmingly favor it. Yet such is not the case. Significantly, the most intense opposition comes from young black teenagers, the group most directly affected. . . .

It is not simply that blacks constitute a minority in this country, although we have seen many instances of minorities in America becoming all but extinct. Even Jews have certainly lost much of their cultural identity in the process of assimilation. But blacks have been a particularly weak minority. . . .

The desire of young blacks for racial identity and pride has resulted in a phenomenon unparalleled in modern American ethnic history. Every previous ethnic group in America has seen its children seeking to lose their ethnic background and become more “American.” Among blacks, though, it is the children who seek ethnic rather than “American” identification, while adults continue to urge racial integration by force.

These young blacks, seeking racial pride, find themselves being transported from schools where they can fulfill their racial identity within the framework of their society to schools where they must assert themselves to fulfill it. They observe that their personal experience appears to be part of a pattern of deliberate cultural genocide. Recent court decisions in coastal Palm Beach County, for example, have eliminated all but one predominantly black high school or junior high school. (The one school that retained a bare majority of blacks did so only because 50 per cent of the white students failed to materialize.) . . .

The assertions by young blacks in many cases constitute the driving force behind much of the racial violence in the schools. This, of course, is not the complete explanation for racial discord in schools and it certainly is no justification for violent or unlawful “assertion” rather than proper self-expression. But it should indicate that the “benevolence” of federal judges and bureaucrats is not appreciated by those blacks who bear the burden of such nonsense.

[Judge] Lewis Kapner
West Palm Beach, Florida



To the Editor:

For Nathan Glazer—bravo! It is indeed an irony of history that precisely at the moment when the most perceptive Americans have come to realize that the melting-pot theory . . . is a false god (see Herbert Gold’s “On Becoming a Jew,” also in the March issue), the judges of the federal bench have set upon a course designed to melt, melt, melt. . . . Those institutions of local and group control which we have somehow preserved in spite of our own excess zeal for utopian reform in this century . . . are about to be gutted, not by the foolishness of the demos . . . but by the ideological blindness of the technocrats. . . .

I am convinced that two schools of thought we liberals and progressives always rejected were more right than we knew. Those who argued that the U.S. and the totalitarian countries were coming closer together through a new interpretation of the gospel of “equality,” in effect predicted what we are seeing now, which is not desegregation to protect civil rights but integration of all into one as the new ark of the covenant. And those who argued . . . that in the American federal system there were some questions that were of no substantial federal concern and hence were beyond the reach of the federal courts, were right in predicting that we should one day suffer the consequences of letting down all constitutional barriers. . . .

The American Constitution was purposely designed to create what the Federalist Papers called a “compound republic,” namely, one which guaranteed not only national supremacy but local control. It was so designed because of the framers’ profound understanding of human nature which taught them that the kind of liberty which we have come to call “pluralism” can only be maintained and protected by constitutional devices; barriers, if you will, to excessive zeal even in the pursuit of equality. If the courts insist on ignoring the spirit and letter of the Constitution they are supposed to protect, we will have to find some way to remind them of both. Mr. Glazer does that so well.

Daniel J. Elazar
Director, Center for the Study of Federalism
Temple University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



To the Editor:

One important point in Nathan Glazer’s article should be corrected. Contrary to his assertion, and to much popular belief, big cities do not generally “spend much less on their schools . . . than the surrounding suburban areas.”

A report published last winter by Senator Walter Mondale’s committee on equal educational opportunity presented 1970 per-pupil spending figures for the cities and suburbs in 35 large metropolitan areas. In 17 of them—including the four largest (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia)—the cities spent more. In 16, the average suburban spending was higher, and in two others, the per-pupil expenditures were the same. The report indicated that in 1957 only seven of these cities spent more per pupil than their suburbs.

Moreover, there are considerable differences among the suburbs. Most of them by no means fit the “affluent” stereotype. An analysis by the Urban Institute of school spending in eight states shows that “slow-growth” suburbs do indeed spend more than cities. These districts, among them Scarsdale and Beverly Hills, are usually close-in, with high-priced homes or, in some cases, expensive commercial and industrial property. But there is another, larger category of suburb, which is considerably less well-off. The Institute calls them “fast-growth” areas; they are usually quite far from the city center, with large tracts of medium-priced homes—“little boxes”—and not much else. Their school spending, the Institute found, is considerably less than that of the cities. Moreover, the lowest per-pupil expenditures—below both cities and suburbs—are generally found in rural school districts.

As the Mondale committee reports, the per-pupil costs in most city schools are above the statewide averages. Thus, plans to equalize expenditures—which are the probable consequence of recent court decisions on school finance in California, Texas, and elsewhere—may well provide less money for city schools than they now have.

Furthermore, as the Urban Institute study shows, the property-tax rate for schools in most big cities is less than the statewide average or than the rates in most suburbs. Overall city taxes are high, but this is because of the high cost of police, welfare, and other municipal services, not because of an extra burden for schools. Indeed, because of their high-value commercial and industrial ratables, most cities have considerably more tax wealth per pupil than their surrounding suburbs, permitting them to have both higher school spending and lower school taxes. Equalizing the tax burden for schools thus would raise city taxes, a point which has produced considerable opposition in New York City to a plan for state financing of schools put forward by the Fleischmann Commission. Another notable example of the same phenomenon is Richmond, Virginia, subject to a busing-desegregation order by Judge Robert Merhige. Last year Richmond’s schools spent more and its property-owners were taxed less for education than was the case in either of the two suburban counties with which its school system is to be merged.

It is true, of course, that big cities have more black students than the suburbs, and that many of them are poor and do poorly in school. But the problems these children have are not a consequence of having less money spent on their schooling. That simply isn’t so. Unfortunately, the belief that it might be so has diverted attention from the problems of family-structure, values, income, and school curriculum—that do in fact exist.

Lawrence W. Feinberg
Washington Post
Washington, B.C.



To the Editor:

. . . Nathan Glazer misunderstands the way school government is organized in metropolitan areas—where the conflict over integration and finance is most acute—and the relationship of this institutional structure to problems like segregation and, more importantly, to the capacity of citizens and elected officials to solve these problems through the political process. . . .

The composition of all-black or racially-imbalanced schools or, indeed, of any schools . . . is not determined, as Mr. Glazer seems to think, simply by patterns of residence or by random population movements. . . . These patterns are in fact directly related to the existence of school districts, the powers devolved upon these districts by the states, and the enormous burden of regulation administered by state education departments. . . . Most metropolitan areas are fragmented into many small districts around one large city district; there are, for example, over 40 districts in Westchester County and over 50 in Nassau County adjoining New York City. . . .

The political process works on fundamentals of local policy only within relatively homogeneous districts where the debate over taxes, expenditures, curricula, and operations takes place. In New York and other large cities, attempts are being made to define this process in sub-municipal districts to achieve a new balance between local and citywide interests, but so far there has been no clear separation, nor is there likely to be one.

Less obvious is the very primitive nature of school-governing arrangements compared with those developed to deal with planning, financing, and managing non-school affairs in fields like transport, sewers, or water supply. . . .

A second allegation by Mr. Glazer against metropolitan school-governing arrangements is “that [they] make impossible one kind of organization that a democratic society may wish to choose for its schools: the kind of organization in which the schools are the expression of a geographically defined community of small scale and regulated in accordance with the democratically expressed views of that community.” This is simply nonsense, unless one assumes that existing districts embody this kind of organization and existing territorial boundaries encompass the best or the only possible community of interest. Very few scholars, I believe, would subscribe to the view that the 40-odd districts of Westchester County are either natural or sufficient definitions of community. Recent research on educational finance concludes that the present district structure in most urban states needs wholesale reform if we are to reach equity in the allocation of resources. Also, no judge as far as I know has ruled out the construction of sub-metropolitan units or districts which would exactly match Mr. Glazer’s prescription. Indeed, I would go so far as to make individual schools the basic units of performance and accountability around which new units to represent local interest could be organized. All that the judges have done is to open up possibilities and hopefully permit debate on the issue, a debate that has generally been frustrated except in a few cities like New York, where an odd combination of extra-political and extra-professional forces brought about reorganization. . . .

The possibilities of much more differentiation and specialization—within classes, within schools, within types of schools—can easily be perceived for metropolitan areas as long as one does not make the mistake, as Mr. Glazer does, of equating areawide management and policymaking with what goes on in classrooms, the achievement of a common political experience with “homogenization.” Ironically, Harold R. Isaacs’s “The New Pluralists,” in the same issue of COMMENTARY, is a useful discussion of the problem and a warning against Mr. Glazer’s optimistic assessment of the advantages of relying upon group interest, as defined by school districts, to work in the larger interest of an integrated society. . . .

The walls separating white and black outside the South have grown higher and thicker—and this in the face of the most inspiring manifestoes of state purpose issued by commissioners of education; Mr. Glazer’s animus against judicial force as the available instrument of change is unaccompanied by any consideration of what remedies are at hand to prevent the creation of black cities and white suburbs and of black enclaves within white suburbs. . . . I too deplore the sight of judges having to determine matters better left to legislators, since this violates one’s sense of the proper workings of the political process. But it is hardly tyranny, and the infringement of freedom that Mr. Glazer warns us against is no different from what he accepts as having been necessary in the South. The states were forced to act then—in 1954 and subsequently—and they must be forced to act now. . . .

Jerome Zukosky
New York City



To the Editor:

. . . Nathan Glazer asks the following questions. Does the constitutionally-mandated protection of basic human rights require that every school be racially balanced, and does this, in turn, mean that no school shall have a black majority? . . . Would such racially-balanced schools improve the education of black children? And, under the “equal-protection-of-the-law” doctrine, is it constitutional to order whites, Chinese, Chicanos (i.e., any non-black group) to accept forced busing? Further, can a court proscribe “fleeing” or “escaping” to avoid such busing, just as union shops were once proscribed from fleeing union-controlled areas to non-union towns in the South? Mr. Glazer’s conclusion seems to be that in cases of de jure segregation, both from a legal and social point of view, any form of busing to achieve desegregation is proper, but he also suggests that in situations of de facto segregation, constitutional mandates to enforce racial balance do not apply. The “equal-protection” doctrine, moreover, provides a clear right not to be bused for those who do not wish it. Mr. Glazer also shows that compulsory busing has not improved the education of black children.

. . . But I see no difference in the rights of the family unit of 1971 and its school-attending children who live in a de jure-created segregated school area rather than in a de facto one. The situation was created by the government long before they became a family unit and long before their children came of school age. In fact the family may even have been opposed to the de jure act of their community. Then why are they not entitled to the “equal protection of the law”? Why must they take upon themselves the errors of past governments or past thinking? Must we deny to them the individual right of equal protection of the law, a law we perceive to be a national law and not a village, town, city, or state law?

My second observation is not so much directed to what Mr. Glazer states as to what his statements suggest. It is quite clear that vision, statesmanship, politics . . . in formulating social reform are not enough and that to formulate social reform without a well-thought-out plan (nay a blueprint) for implementation can often prove dangerous and even destructive of the original commendable instinct. . . .

Finally I wish Mr. Glazer had mentioned . . . the fact that black politicians have a stake in keeping their political bases intact and reject the breaking up of the ghettos; there are other black social and economic forces at work which do not favor the “mixing of the races” by integration. It would be interesting to learn the reaction of blacks to an enforced uniform 10-to 15-per-cent proportion of blacks in every village, town, city, and state.

Jacob E. Heller
New York City



To the Editor:

It is distressing that COMMENTARY has now joined the broad and often-hysterical alliance against school busing. It is also sad that the spokesman for this position is Nathan Glazer, who in the past wrote sympathetically about integration and ethnic pluralism. . . .

The arguments against busing, including Mr. Glazer’s, contain a number of errors which I would like to discuss.

  1. Busing is an innovation in American education. In fact, two-thirds of American children use either school or public transportation to get to school. In many Southern communities, desegregation has actually decreased traveling distances. . . .
  2. The issue is whether “the student population of every school is to be racially balanced according to some specified proportion.” But only rarely have suggestions of this sort been made, . . . and the courts have not in fact required precise quotas. . . .
  3. Busing is a limitation on the freedom of “conscripted” white children. The obvious rebuttal to this point is that schooling itself is a far more severe limitation on the children. The logic of Mr. Glazer’s argument is that compulsory-attendance laws be repealed—the very course attempted by some Southern states after 1954. A social scientist should understand that freedom in society is never absolute: e.g., freedom to murder is not permitted. In less obvious cases, society must decide whether restrictions on some individual choices are desirable to increase freedom for others or for the general welfare.
  4. But busing doesn’t accomplish anything anyway. The fact is that integrated schooling achieved through busing has brought gains for both black and white children, although not in all cases. Mr. Glazer seriously misrepresents the facts in Berkeley, for example. There, Senator Mondale found, the achievements of black students increased 60 per cent, and the degree of improvement was closely related to the length of time in integrated schools. That a gap remained between whites and blacks, as Mr. Glazer states, was due simply to the fact that white achievement rose as well. Is that an argument against busing? It is also true that students still remain in ethnic clusters and have not been totally assimilated. But I thought that Mr. Glazer was “beyond the melting pot.”
  5. The desirable objective is local community control. Given the spate of COMMENTARY articles attacking the theory and practice of community control, this position could be regarded as either amusing or hypocritical, but not as a seriously-proposed alternative. As long as housing discrimination is maintained through local practice and political inaction, community control is only a polite defense of segregated schools.
  6. The decisions on busing and school integration should be left to local political processes. How reminiscent of the old Southern argument that the region should be left free to work out its “Negro problem.” That argument was rightly rejected because the political process could not protect the interests of a voteless group, nor did majority rule offer protection to a subordinated minority. Other blockages now prevent a political solution of the current racial problem. There are no local mechanisms for political settlements between black cities and white suburbs, and no one seriously expects that strong metropolitan governments will be created. Given this fragmented political structure, the only possible outcome is black schools in the urban areas and white schools around them. Only the courts and the federal and state governments can prevent such institutionalized segregation.

To be sure, integrated schooling alone will not solve the nation’s racial problems, and busing is certainly not the only means to achieve integration. But the truths of 1954 remain, and should be even more evident today. Segregation is an evil, and it affects not only schoolchildren, but the cohesion of the total society. Governmental action promoting segregation is an evil, even if covert and indirect. Fear and distrust of other groups is an evil, particularly when it is supported by distinguished intellectuals.

Gerald M. Pomper
Department of Political Science
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey



To the Editor:

In connection with the discussion of busing, I would like to note some points which do not appear to have been considered by the proponents of either side of this issue.

The decision in the Brown case seems to have been elevated to the sanctity of a constitutional provision. This is simply not so. A constitutional amendment must have the sanction of both houses of Congress and must be subsequently ratified by the legislatures of three-quarters of the states. . . . Under our system of government our legislators enact laws. The Brown decision, on the other hand, is the judicial interpretation of a Supreme Court appointed by the President. . . .

The Brown case was decided under the Fourteenth Amendment which prohibits the states from enacting certain specified areas of legislation. No matter how broadly the Supreme Court may rely on the Fourteenth Amendment for the so-called due-process cases, the fact remains that it is but one part of the Constitution—not superior to other portions. If we were to choose one portion of the Constitution as being preeminent, we might choose the preamble: “to . . . insure domestic Tranquility . . .”; this is something to be considered when there is such great controversy in the land. The question could then be posed: “Does busing tend to insure domestic Tranquility?”

Jacob Krisel
New York City



To the Editor:

Nathan Glazer cites the findings of the Coleman report which indicate that there is slight improvement for blacks in integrated schools, a gain the report attributes more to socioeconomic integration than to racial factors. Norman Podhoretz then interprets “slight” improvement to mean no improvement, thus confirming his negative feelings about integrated schooling which date back to the 30’s and 40’s. He believes that integrated schooling leads to greater animosity and violence. But of course there would be more black-white fighting in an integrated school than in an all-white school! Mr. Podhoretz fails to recognize that friction is the necessary price we must pay for past discrimination and that such “growing pains” are an inevitable part of the development process that would change us from a nation where all blacks are menials and inferiors into a society where blacks could reasonably aspire to become more than janitors and domestics. . . . Inevitably, more racial conflict would come to the surface in an integrated environment, but there would also be better understanding, more development of potential, and greater mutual repect. . . .

Aaron Katz
Brooklyn, New York



To the Editor:

They kept telling, us, “Work within the system; work within the system.” So we did. We tried suburban low-income housing and learned about the spiritual sanctity of property values. We tried the building-trades unions and found that nepotism was akin to holy writ. We were allowed to penetrate only one area—the schools, through busing ordered by the courts.

Now, if I understand the recent arguments in COMMENTARY, the basic issue is: Does the end—integration—justify the means—court-ordered busing? However, put

About the Author

Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.