THE REMEDY by Richard D. Kahlenberg


Class, Race, and Affirmative Action
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 A workmanlike case for class-based affirmative action that offers few solutions to the program's many problematic aspects. Race-based affirmative action is an easy target lately, and Kahlenberg (who formerly taught law at George Washington Univ.) does a decent job of shooting it down. He rates its success and failure on a number of counts: Has it, for instance, provided genuine equality of opportunity? Has it advanced us toward the long-term goal of a color-blind society? According to Kahlenberg, race-based affirmative action has achieved middling to failing grades in these and other measures of its effectiveness. What he proposes in its stead is that we continue to give preference to the disadvantaged, but that we define disadvantage in purely socioeconomic terms. This would be an answer to the oft-raised question, Why should a wealthy African-American be given preference over a poor white? At the same time, argues Kahlenberg, class-based affirmative action would continue to be advantageous to blacks, who make up a disproportionately large segment of America's poor. But while his proposal would solve one problem of the present system, Kahlenberg inadequately laddresses other questions. For example, at what point is it too late to create equal opportunity for an individual? Can past wrongs be remedied by placing people in situations that are too difficult for them to handle? And who's going to pay for all this? Kahlenberg wants private universities to take less qualified candidates, offer them remedial and summer courses to catch them up, and have the government foot the bill for their tuition, etc. But wouldn't the money would be better spent in the public school system, so that poorer students wouldn't be so far behind in the first place? Not likely to make any converts; in fact, the author's failure to provide reasonable answers to the many questions he raises may push a few fence-sitters over to the other side.

Pub Date: June 19th, 1996
ISBN: 0-465-09823-1
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996