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“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.”    –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have always wondered what Martin Luther King, Jr.’s opinion would be regarding affirmative action. I think if he were still alive today he would agree that racially we have come a long way in this country. However, as a man who fought tirelessly for others to judge on the basis of character and not color, would affirmative action be his idea of racial progress?

My daughter recently filled out an application for a “specialty” high school. This school is extremely competitive and the requirements to apply are supposed to be based solely on academic performance. We both went to an introduction to the school and I was very impressed. Those of us sitting in the auditorium were of various races and cultures and I couldn’t help but feel a little bit of excitement. If my daughter was accepted she would have the opportunity to go to school with not only students who are committed to their education but with diverse cultures.

She began the application process and was filling out her paperwork and asked me what she should fill out for the race question. I told her (like I do myself on all forms) to leave it blank. “I can’t, she explained. It says I have to fill it out or the application will be considered incomplete.” Sure enough on this form the race question was not optional. In fact, she had to find her code to fill in. There were over 20 options you could fill out depending on your ethnicity with up to three combinations of your blending cultures. My daughter had one option…white. I guess her Irish or Slovakia heritage didn’t count because the color of her skin is simply white.

My disappointment about this application is not because they require you to define your specific ethnicity or even that they don’t bother to realize that the white race is also diverse. My frustration is that now no matter who applies to this school whether it be my daughter or any other student of any ethnicity, race is a factor. That simple box with that specific code tells me that education, character and intelligence are not the primary focus of that school. A student may or may not be accepted to that school but the question of whether race was a deciding factor will always be an issue.

My generation grew up on the pendulum upswing of the Civil Rights Movement. We were taught the injustices of inequality and we were raised to not view people based on the color of their skin. Yet almost fifty years later, we still have to fill out that race box for almost every application process whether it is for a job or an education opportunity. Has Affirmative Action really balanced out the pendulum swing or is it just swinging back the opposite way? Why is the color of a person’s skin still a factor in our society? I know one thing. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that character and intelligence are not tied to the color of one’s skin. I am teaching my daughter that principle even if our educational institutions cannot think critically beyond their own reasons for racial preferences.