The New American Dilemma
Liberal Democracy and School Desegregation

Jennifer Hochschild


Racism is undemocratic.  How can racism coexist with liberal democracy?

Myrdal states the anomaly theory as, America is free to choose whether 
the Negro shall remain her liability or become her opportunity.  He also 
claims that Americans want to eradicate racism and its consequences.

American society as we now know it exists only because of its foundation 
in racially based slavery, and it thrives only because racial 
discrimination continues.  The apparent anomaly is an actual symbiosis.

Racial problems have profoundly shaped US history, and the philosophy of 
racism is antithetical to the philosophy of liberal democracy.

Hochschild  analyzes the recent effects of incremental policy making (or 
incrementalism) on segregation in America.   Incremental policy making 
occurs when governments change existing policies and practices in small 

She also looks at whether policies formulated through popular control 
help or hinder the cause of racial justice.

She asks: "Should we maintain practices that are normally attractive and 
effective, but fail in this case to reach the roots of the problem, or 
should we use risky, even undesireable means that can dig deep enough to 
achieve our goal?  We face a contradiction, in short, between good 
policy-making practices and good outcomes, and between most citizens^“ 
preferences and more citizens^“ benefits."

We have 3 choices:
1.  continue to use flawed practices in a well-intentioned but futile 
effort to desegregate our schools
2.  abandon school desegregation in favor of some other goal that is more 
likely to succeed through incremental policy-making and popular choice, 
3.  choose more effective but less palatable methods of desegregating 

She believes that the first is the most likely outcome; and that either 
the second or third offers a more desireable future for whites and 

Even after the Civil Rights Act and Brown vs. Bd of Education, and 
others, where the law was changed, and racial equalization started to 
occur while a concerted national effort war made to eradicate racism and 
its consequences, another pattern emerged.  Hochschild discusses the fact 
that some improvements have been slightly, or even partly 
reversed^◊suggesting the need for continued policy intervention.

She states that the problem of racial isolation has only diminished: it 
has not gone away.


Anomaly theorists claim that normal policy-making processes will suffice 
to eradicate racism, once Americans choose to do so.

Hochschild discusses INCREMENTALISM- policy making that takes small steps 
to avoid disaster- as having 6 steps:
1. decision making through small or incremental moves on particular 
problems (rather than through comprehensive reform)
2. endless^◊take the form of an indefinite sequence of policy moves
3. exploratory- goals of policy-making change as new experiences shed new 
light on what is possible and desirable
4. moves AWAY from known social ills - rather than TOWARD a stable goal
5. temporal ^÷SLOW moves over long periods of time
6. spatial - policy change that affects only a SMALL AREA OR A FEW PEOPLE


Basic premise:  Citizens ought directly or indirectly to shape their 
govt^“s goals and priorities, resources, and means of achieving goals.

Popular control binds the rulers to the ruled and vice versa.

Individuals have rights^◊and rights trump interests.

∑ end racial isolation in school districts, schools, classrooms and work 
∑ enhance or maintain minority self-esteem and self-confidence
∑ improve race relations among students and adults
∑ enhance opportunities for minority and low income students to improve 
their economic and social status
∑ give all students equal access to appropriate educ^“l  resources
∑ promote and maintain community and parental support for civil right, 
desegregation, and public education
∑ avoid white and upper class minority flight to private schools or 
segregated public schools
∑ minimize disorder in schools and community 
∑ avoid new forms of discrimination.


Slow incremental change sets up patterns of behavior that interact to 
defeat several deseg. goals at once.  Slow change heightens uncertainty, 
tension and conflict.  
If officials do not lead, self appointed leaders take charge.
Resisters to  deseg. may channel their energies into protest, mobilizing 
voters, and ousting liberal school boards.

Conclusion from studies:  Policy changes that respond immediately to 
white opposition, to lack of minority accomplishments (which take time), 
or to unimproved race relations will mistakenly reduce the amount of 

SPATIAL INCREMENTALISM - reassigning students in only part of a school 
district or in geographically contiguous areas within a school district.
Politically, the fewer people disrupted and the smaller the disruption, 
the greater the community acceptance (and, implied, the smaller the 
progress toward deseg. goals). She says spatial incrementalism is a bad 

Hochschild discusses bussing.  Findings:  Extensive bussing, if well done 
and combined with other changes DOES enhance educational quality, school 
system stability, race relations, and feelings of equity.  Minimal 
bussing at least does not help, and, at worst harms goals.

Data on magnet schools show that, with a few exceptions, magnets have 
LITTLE effect on racial isolation unless they are a part of a 
districtwide mandatory plan.

Data on voluntary transfer plans have mixed and predominantly negative 
effects on quality and quantity of deseg.

ORGANIZATIONAL INCREMENTALISM- School systems should pursue only a few 
deseg goals at a time and make progress on them before starting on other 

Cooperative learning is well researched as successful in achieving deseg 
goals.  Use it.
Inertia and tracking are reasons why more don^“t use it.
∑ deseg faculty and staff^◊equalize power and status among ethnicities
∑ fully incorporate multiethnic programs into all students^“ curric., with 
explicit treatment of racial issues
∑ design fairly, articulate clearly, and apply consistently discipline 
codes, making sure they do not punish minorities for stylistic 
∑ establish extensive extra-curricular activities that draw on talents of 
all races
∑ change symbols and customs of school to put new and old on equal 
∑ make sure teacher expectations for whites and minorities are the same
∑ provide detailed, practical, timely professional development for 

Incremental policy-making, according to the author and the data she 
quotes, works poorly to desegregate schools.  It does little to help 
either minorities or whites.


Anomaly theorists (Myrdal et al) do not believe that many white 
communities will spontaneously desegregate their communities and schools, 
but they do expect the public to facilitate deseg^◊once begun.  Their 
position:  The more popular control there is^◊the better deseg there will 

Hochschild^“s findings: Citizen participation in  implementation and 
monitoring SELDOM has a powerful impact on school deseg.

Often this is described as "a good idea poorly implemented."

Qualitative and case study research shows positive results of good 
leadership on deseg goals.  Aggregate and survey data show weak, 
conflicting results.  Hochschild does not take a stand on effect of 
leadership on deseg goals.

Policy implications of finding that NEITHER leadership NOR citizen 
participation affects deseg. differ from finding that leadership works 
and participation does not.
Hochschild: Authoritative leadership CAN effectively promote deseg 
goals^◊IF leaders schoose to do so.

Hochschild then discusses decision making by elected officials and 
concludes that elected school officials desegregate LESS than appointed 
ones (judges, etc.).

At issue is the authorities^“ VOLITION^◊whether they CHOOSE to solve racial 
problems^◊not whether there are solutions.

Evidence presented in this chapter shows that white Americans do not 
choose to eradicate racism through deseg.


3 possible prescriptions:
1.  Continue muddling along as we have since 1968, with some but not too 
much positive action to desegregate.  (most likely but least desireable 
future) The roles of schools and deseg. are most intimately tied up with 
a classic tug-of-war between the propertied and the propertyless.
2.  Stop trying to impose desegregation on unwilling whites and 
ambivalent minorities and do something else instead.  Change our goal.  
Poorly implemented deseg plans harm race relations.  The idea of minority 
controlled, high quality, predominantly one-race schools is strongly 
supported.   The ed^“al system is not strong enough singlehandedly to 
reshape racial attitudes and behavior in all other arenas of life.  If 
racism is symbiotic with American society as we know it, then we must 
change many features of that society, simultaneously, in order to uproot 
3.  Learn from the evidence and FULLY - in several senses of the 
word-desegregate.  When fully and carefully carried out, mandatory deseg 
reduces racial isolation, enhances minority achievement, improves race 
relations, promotes educ^“al quality, opens new opportunities, and 
maintains citizen support.  It does not harm white achievement.  
Attitudes continue to follow behaviors.  4 guidelines for successful 
deseg: (p 190-195)
∑ Whenever possible, deseg. a metropolitan region.
∑ In designing a plan do not worry about minimizing bussing times or 
distances; the plan should pursue desireable outcomes and let the 
mechanics of bussing be a residual concern.
∑ Change practices, personnel, and presumptions within the school.
∑ National, local, and especially school leaders must LEAD.

Pairs of principles that we ought to weigh carefully in escaping the new 
American dilemma:
1.  Competing values of :diversity and freedom of movement  and
2.  Liberalism and democracy

History of school deseg supports symbiosis thesis.  If racism and 
psychological, structural, and behavioral consequences are deeply 
embedded in American society, that would explain why standard practices 
of incrementalism and popular control do not suffice to eradicate it.  
Only substantial change authoritatively imposed has a chance to vanquish 
the well fortified citadel of institutional racism.

Our real choice is between change, which might benefit many but will 
certainly harm a few, and the status quo, which benefits a few at the 
expense of many .  "THAT is the American dilemma."

NOTE:    Hochschild^“s notes and bibliography are WELL WORTH looking into 
for support and clarification of this well-researched work.     (McNally)