Supporters of Wake County schools’ diversity policy claim their critics are self-centered and uninterested in educational excellence and the collective good of the county and its students. The tale essentially is repeated by a media that cannot seem to fathom any other explanation for opposing such a self-evidently altruistic policy. But that view is much too simplistic and neglects a proper discussion of motives and preferences.

I’d like to inject some balance into the coverage. Three points in particular need to be made.

First, if proponents of diversity can look beyond their own self-interests, then it is reasonable to assume opponents can as well. Supporters of neighborhood schools worry about the increased demands placed on parents and students by busing and how this erodes social capital in communities.

As scholars like Robert Putnam have explained, punishing work schedules, single-parent households, and social atomization brought about by technology, crime, and the declining memberships of civic institutions have done a number on public life in modern America.

Schools traditionally are at the center of a community and can help offset these problems. They should generate important relationships among individuals and between families. Students should be able to associate with their classmates outside of school time.

Parents should be able to play an integral part in their children’s education and the essential support system that helps schools, teachers, and students succeed. It sounds like bleeding-heart liberalism, I know. But it’s at the heart of the case for neighborhood schools.

Second, if the diversity policy were so beneficial, why aren’t the families that it affects most directly joining the cause? Vocal advocates of the policy are essentially white members of the inside-the-Beltline elite or leaders of the African-American community. It is these people who write the letters to the editor and go to the meetings. Where are the parents of the kids getting bused?
It’s hard to get a systematic idea of the thoughts of those transferred to schools beyond their community, but it is notable that in a survey undertaken by Public Policy Polling in March, 40 percent of African-Americans opposed the current diversity policy.

At the same time, it seems as though diversity’s supporters generally have less personal stake in the school board’s decisions than do their opponents. The March PPP poll showed the diversity policy was opposed by 56 percent of parents who had children in Wake County public schools while being opposed by a minority of those who do not. The further people get from the practical effects of the diversity policy, the more they tend to like it.

That those most directly affected by the current policy might not it makes sense. Bused children spend a significant proportion of their day unproductively in transit. When they get home they can neither play nor do homework with school friends. The parents feel disconnected from their child’s education—unable to volunteer in the classroom, drop in to chat with the teacher, and attend PTA meetings. If the wealthier families whose kids do not attend neighborhood schools can feel these strains, wouldn’t the poorer ones suffer even more?

Finally, I find it amusing that proponents of the diversity policy cannot be viewed as self-interested. That’s baloney. They are human, after all.

From what I can gather from conversations, news reports, and Internet chatter, most of the high school students committed to the diversity policy are from schools—like Enloe and Southeast Raleigh—that would see a marked increase in the number of poorer students if we went to a community-based model. Many of the parents involved live in nodes where schools would have a greater number of free- and reduced-lunch students if the diversity policy were scrapped. This presumably would affect their property values and change the complexion of the schools their kids attend.

It looks as though they don’t want the poorer kids from central and east Raleigh in their schools, they want them somewhere else. Just like their opponents in western Wake, in other words, their position is more diversity for everyone else and less for themselves.

To be honest, I am probably more conflicted on this issue than most right-of-center Wake County residents. But regardless of what happens, let’s understand what’s going on here. No one group is morally superior. No one outcome is unambiguously positive. Like most disputes over public policy, there’s much more to this than meets the liberal eye.

Andy Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science in the School of Public and International Affairs at N.C. State University.