Is it just me, or does Slate hire writers solely based on their work on topics they know nothing about? Richard Ford has written an article about why Ladies’ Nights are discriminating against men as an argument as to where Civil Rights can go wrong.
Justice Bird’s admonishment notwithstanding, legal prohibition must depend on judgments about which practices are important or harmful. Not every distinction—even if based on race or sex—is invidious.
He’s just as wrong as the people in the examples he gives:
In 2006 Stephen Horner sued a Denver nightclub over its ladies’ night policy. Horner explained his opposition to the unfair advantages women enjoy in American society: “Women are growing up these days feeling they’re entitled to favors. I believe this entitlement mentality is counterproductive to the social goals of a[n] egalitarian society.” He then added, apparently without irony: “I’m going to ask for every dollar I’m owed to the letter of the law, which is $500.”
Have these people never gone to clubs? They waive fees for women so that, when their club fills up with women, men show up. The entire practice is done to entice men to that club. Horner was wrong because, far from being discriminatory against men, it’s actually a service for men. Hell, by using those women as window dressing, arguably the whole thing is sexist against women! Ford – and the judge in that hearing – is wrong for allowing people like Horner to frame the debate. It’s not a Civil Rights case any more than senior discounts at the movie theater is a discrimination case, despite what a bunch of rather creepy blowhards say when they have to pay the cover.
But then, the article’s just one in a series of essays Ford is writing that attempt to make the argument that Civil Rights can go too far, and the second is worse:
Under IDEA, schools that fail to effectively educate disabled children can be made to pay for private school tuition. But the public schools—especially those in large cities like New York—are failing to educate many of their students who aren’t disabled, too. In 2004, more than 3 percent of all students served by the District of Columbia schools were in private placements, at a cost of 15 percent of the district’s entire budget. Yet D.C. schools “struggle to provide an adequate education to any of their students,” write two researchers at the Manhattan Institute. “Disabled students are entitled … to demand an adequate education,” they note, while nondisabled students “lack the same mechanism for exiting failing schools.”
Ford’s argument is that, because the public school systems in a lot of cities are failing, they are discriminating against people who are not offered options to escape the public school system. Indeed, Ford concedes this point: “The solution is obvious: better services for everyone. But IDEA doesn’t make the public schools better.”
It’s not meant to. Because a system is broken to the point that anybody with a means to escape it immediately does so – and I know the NYC Department of Education is well aware of just how unrepresentative its public schools are compared to the general youth, as they’re filled with those who couldn’t finagle their way into magnet schools, private schools or charter schools – doesn’t mean that the program itself should be scrapped, and least of all things be nixed as discriminatory.
Yes, the public school system propagates a Separate But Unequal situation. But IDEA is not the cause of that, despite certain parents’ abuse of the program to get the feds to pay for private school education, and to argue that Civil Rights legislation is somehow wrong because of IDEA’s inability to rectify our broken schools is, at best, mistaken, and at worst deliberately misleading.