Seemingly lost in the debate over the rezoning of Nashville’s schools is one simple fact: Busing, in terms of urban health, was the worst idea of the 20th century.
It’s a lot like Marxism—a noble theory birthed from the best intentions. It only begins to go bad when you add that pesky ingredient known as human nature.
Ask any parent with school-age kids, and they’ll attest to an essential truth: There is nothing more powerful in building a sense of community than the neighborhood school.
Think of it as a 13-year curriculum in civic bonding. You get to know your neighbors through school plays, concerts, sports. Suddenly, this place you live in is no longer an amalgamation of strangers, but a harbor for friends. And while it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the disintegration of Stranger Land, human nature dictates that most will fight to preserve the Land of Their Intimates.
Busing blew that up. Conventional wisdom decreed that if kids were forced to integrate, all would rise under the miracle of equal opportunity. It was a beautiful plan on paper. But rare is the parent black or white who wants to send Little Johnny across town, away from friends and family. Especially if one can afford to do otherwise.
So they voted with their feet. It was largely viewed as white flight, but that’s just a surface take. Anyone with a fortified bank account could bolt. And they did. What they left behind was a school district segregated not by race, but cleaved by economics. And it’s happened time and again across the country.
If your goal is to kill neighborhoods, extract from a city its moneyed, its best and brightest, busing is the quickest route.
Those against the rezoning plan say it’s thinly racist, that resegregated black schools will inevitably get the short end of the funding stick. History says they’re right.
Those favoring the plan reject accusations of Hitlerian tendencies. They’ve chosen their neighborhoods for very human reasons. And they can do without the government using their kids in a grand plan of social engineering. How do you argue with the basic freedom of personal choice?
Many districts, including Nashville’s, have already acknowledged human nature. Instead of forcing integration, they’ve lured people from their tendency to self-segregate by loading up on magnet schools—for everything from math to science, arts to mechanics. Suddenly, integration comes not by government will, but by the native powers of self-interest.
Yet to stick with busing is to wed painful, deliberate death. It’s one of those rare plays where the odds are certain.