Roma school segregation is not part of the mainstream discourse in academia and NGOs. Those that continue to talk about Roma school segregation are considered marginal. One might question this odd situation: hundreds of thousands of Roma children are deprived of their right to education, their access to quality education is limited, and there are few voices only speaking out against it.
I respect academic freedom and none should be forced to research a subject that s/he does not feel its importance. The situation with the Roma school segregation is different though. It is about moral and intellectual cowardice. It is not about what is considered by academics and activists to be important and worth investigating. It is in many cases the lack of courage to speak out against desegregation. These academics, human rights activists and leaders do not want to be regarded as segregationist. They refuse to speak publicly about their beliefs and opinions on Roma school desegregation. However, in closed circles they dare to question school desegregation. Their arguments revolve around the difficulties in desegregating the schools and proclaiming that desegregation does not work. Eventually they could give you some examples justifying their position. At best, they might come up with alternatives.
As a former human rights activist and later as a researcher, I met academics, researchers, experts in education, human rights activists, teachers and principals, public officials and important public figures who advocated for solutions to Roma education. They did that in private or closed circles. None dared to say it publicly what they thought and to engage in a public debate with those that believe school segregation is bad, to put it simply. The lack of courage to put forward the arguments for their position in public while discrediting the school desegregation process in sectarian circles has to do with the intellectual cowardice of these people. Their cowardice is complemented by their fear to be categorized negatively by the supporters of the desegregation process. Their moral fallacy consists in the doubts they have in coming out with their arguments.
Based on my experience I could summarize the solutions and arguments proposed by these invisible opponents to desegregation. For a better understanding of the arguments, let’s clarify some aspects about segregation. Segregation is a special form of discrimination. The freedom not to be discriminated against is not absolute. In some circumstances, discrimination might be justified and, if justified, it is not considered illegal. Thus, one has to look into the concrete situation of a specific case to assess the justification of discrimination. The assessment takes into consideration the legitimacy of the aim pursued and the means employed to achieve that aim.
1. The usual alternative proposed is minority education. Keeping Roma children together is beneficial to their development and identity. They will feel safer in such a homogenous environment. Also, teaching might be adapted to their specific needs.
2. The establishment of Roma elite schools, following the model of the Gandhi school inPecs,Hungary. In this way, Roma students might benefit from quality education, strengthen their identity and become the leaders of the emancipation movement of their ethnic group. Such a school would have good educational infrastructure, well paid teachers in order to attract qualified cadre, and will ideally ensure access to children from poor families through stipends and boarding.
3. In a more sophisticated way, an alternative to placing Roma children into mainstream schools and classes might be the development of magnet schools. In this way, the investments in the schools attended in majority by Roma will determine the non-Roma parents to cross the ethnic divide and register their children into the “Gypsy school” to balance the proportion of Roma and non-Roma pupils.
4. There is no solution proposed but some hypothetical situation given to test the limits of desegregation. The classical situation is that of an isolated 100% Roma community, far from other towns and cities, where parents will prefer sending their children to local school than bussing them 20 km to the closest school nearby. What should be done in this case? Should one do desegregation just for the sake of doing it? Should one force desegregation against the will of the Roma?
My answer to these issues in the next postings.