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On January 8, 2002, George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind act, a broad new educational policy intended to enhance the quality and inclusiveness of American public education. Having made such a sweeping commitment to America’s youth, it is puzzling that, in the same breath, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act would also endorse a grossly exclusionary model of racial and ethnic diversity.
On January 8, 2002, George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind act, a broad new educational policy intended to enhance the quality and inclusiveness of American public education. Having made such a sweeping commitment to America’s youth, it is puzzling that, in the same breath, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act would also endorse a grossly exclusionary model of racial and ethnic diversity. According to No Child Left Behind guidelines, students enrolling in public schools must identify with one of the following racial categories: White (Not Hispanic); Black (Not Hispanic); Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; American Indian or Alaska Native; and, Hispanic.
Given the Bush Administration’s rhetorical commitment to the wellbeing of every American school child, one must ask: What about the kids who don’t fit into one of the exclusive NCLB racial categories? To begin with, the racial categories are illogical; some focus on broad geographic territories, while others emphasize skin color and/or ethnicity. As such, ‘fitting in’ to one of the NCLB racial categories entails a tedious exercise in cultural irrationality, i.e., racial identities in America are often, but not always, defined by skin color, nationality, ethnicity, and/or geography. Furthermore, the NCLB racial typology fails to acknowledge the existence of racially mixed children. For example, children who have Black and Hispanic (or Asian, or Native American, or Samoan, or White, etc.) parents do not and cannot fit into one of the available NCLB racial categories. As currently spelled out, NCLB racial categories assert unequivocally that in order to ‘fit in’ children need to derive from one (and only one!) distinct racial category. This, by the way, is a contention that summarily invalidates the identity of millions of Americans. By default, those children who do not fit neatly into one of the available NCLB racial categories are prevented from being accepted ‘as is’ by the education system. Given this unequivocal bias, can the Bush Administration still claim convincingly that NCLB is leaving none of our children behind?
Of course, one might argue that the Bush Administration meant no harm in establishing such a narrow-minded set of NCLB racial designations. That is, racial designations are never perfect, and those specified by the No Child Left Behind act might represent nothing more than an effort to acquire basic, funding-related demographic data. However, given our nation’s long history of racial ignorance and animosity, I maintain that the NCLB’s exclusionary racial categories evidence a much broader pattern of uniquely American prejudice. Boasting a rich tradition of racial injustice, the US government has demonstrated once again the often-distant relationship between democratic ideals and America’s workaday political practices.