On May 12, the Arlington County Board replaced the only black on the county's school board with a former high school principal who was removed from that position for alleged incompetence and his inability to deal with minority students.
While such an appointment might appear to be a rather trivial matter of business in the daily operations of a local government, I suggest that its implications may have a profound impact on the Washington area. For what is at stake is not merely the routine business of refilling government seats, but a moral question.
Some black community leaders have called this appointment an outright racist act, while the three Republican-endorsed members of the county board have denied this accusation and have countered it by replying that the appointment merely reflects the present philosophical outlook of the county board. Stephen H. Detwiler, newest Republican board member, has indicated that he does not "see this appointment as a racial question so much as a philosophical one." Walter Frankland adds that "control of the school board by people who hold our philosophy is a key issue . . . With a black on the school board for the past eight years Arlington's school system has gone down." And finally Dorothy Grotos provides the crowning emphasis: "It's the philosophy of education that counts, not the race."
But the question is this: In 1979, can the philosophy of education and the subject of race be so neatly divorced from one another? Are we to turn our backs on over 100 years of struggle to give blacks a voice in decision-making areas of government, and particularly in an area of local life in which they and other minorities are constituting an ever increasing percentage of population?
In Arlington today blacks make up 14 percent of the school population. In addition, the schools welcome regularly new influxes of Hispanics and Asians. The Arlington Journal recently reported that 7,000 Indochinese a month are officially slated to arrive in the United States for the rest of the year, with about 200 coming to Northern Virginia. While some of them will eventually reside in Alexandria and Fairfax County, the majority will take up permanent residence in Arlington.
What all of this says to me is that we are no longer talking about a largely white, affluent, middle-class county school system. We are talking instead about a school system that can send three busloads of elementary school children to the zoo on a warm May morning where any observer could not that one-third of those bus riders were black, Asian or Hispanic (I recently accompanied such an expedition).
Why do these children and their parents not have the right to expect a representative of their particular problems and educational outlook on the county school board?
The argument here is not that only black can adequately represent such minority interests. What is so shocking is the board's insenstive appointment of someone who is so blatantly objectionable to the black community.
I am afraid Frankland, Grotos and Detwilre do pose a political as well as philosophical question, but I must strongly assert that it becomes such with inherently racial and economic overtones. In short, it can be reduced to a question of power. Arlington's minorities, like those elsewhere, do not possess financial clout andconsequently are permitted small, if any, arenas for political comment and action.
What can such a view of life portend for our children, who will become products of this county's educational system and will, despite individual parent's private attempts to provide counter-influences at home, be touched, and I fear negatively so, by the implied lack of respect for every member of the community in which they are nurtured?