King calls for school choice as '90s civil rights

by Michelle Comeau | 11/10/97 6:00am

Dr. Alveda Celeste King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed a group of 25 students last night in 105 Dartmouth Hall, delivering a speech in which she advocated school choice as the "civil right of the '90s."

The 30-minute speech outlined King's concerns about the way our culture is moving. She said "generations of children are suffering because they cannot get a good education, yet this is still 'the land of the free and the home of the brave.'"

The answer to the dilemma she proposed is school choice through a voucher system. As an example, she cited the program being proposed for Washington, D.C. This proposal would give 2,000 low-income students scholarships of up to $3,200 per year to attend the public or private school of their choice -- an idea that King said will provide incentives for the public schools to become better.

King said that in the 1990s, it has become increasingly acceptable for different groups to fragment themselves based on ethnicity or other physical characteristics. She said that this takes away from the need to focus on children. "There is a great communality among us," she said. "I am African-American but my race remains human."

After the address, King entertained questions about her positions on various issues. Members of the Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance were on hand and pushed Dr. King extensively about her definitions of a civil right.

The majority of questions dealt with King's assertion that all civil rights are protected under the equal protection of the law clauses of the Constitution. A woman pressed King to speak about discriminatory practices against homosexuals -- a group currently not explicitly protected by the Constitution.

King responded that those issues should not be placed in front of employers. She said that sexuality should not have any bearing on hiring and firing practices.

Another member of the audience used an analogy of African-Americans -- saying that since both ethnicity and sexual orientation are a basis for discrimination -- there should be civil rights legislation in place to protect both.

King responded that these two criteria were not analogous, because while she has met many "-ex's," including ex-homosexuals, she has never met an ex-African American.

She said that homosexuality is not immutable; it is a choice, and "can be imposed on less aggressive boys and more aggressive girls." She reiterated that discussions about sexuality are appropriate only in private settings and never in the workplace or in school.

A woman asked if King thought it would be inappropriate to display a picture of her partner and their family on her desk. King responded that it would not be an issue unless the picture caused other people to feel uncomfortable. She said, "it often becomes a badge or banner: 'Everybody has to be like this.'"

Another question focused on her identification as a registered Democrat, despite her conservative views regarding school choice and vouchers. King responded that her focus is above politics. She said that we need to "stop discussing parties and focus on the fact that the children continue to suffer."

King said that the Department of Education needs to be streamlined and tailored, although she would not say whether she felt it needs to be abolished.

A senior fellow at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution in Washington D.C., King is also the founder of King for America, an Atlanta-based organization. Her speech was sponsored by the Conservative Union at Dartmouth.