She is old enough and smart enough to know better, but itís not her fault that she didnít.
A tall, distinguished-looking black man showed up as a substitute for the usual Little League umpire. He looked more like a Major League ump Ė mid-forties, gray-flecked beard, neatly-cropped hair, about 6'3" with a posture and bearing more suited to overseeing a trial than a girlsí softball game.
The leadoff batter, 12 going on 13, bright, thoughtful and a real charmer of a kid, walked up to the plate. She looked up at the umpire and asked, "Do you play basketball?"
It was a perfectly natural question for her to ask. Sheís from an all-white suburb and all the tall black men she knows of are famous athletes.
The coach took the kid aside after the inning and explained to her that it plays to stereotypes to assume all tall, black men play basketball. Black people, he said, have varied interests just like white people. She understood, easily and immediately.
Itís not as if she asked the guy if he liked watermelon, but the story does emblemize the reality that in Connecticut, white kids go to school with white kids and black kids go to school with black kids.
And, for the most part, itís going to stay that way. Elizabeth Sheff and the ACLU can shriek and sue all they want, but even if they succeed in getting the state to re-draw the school districts so that Hartford includes Wethersfield or Bridgeport includes Fairfield, things wonít change much.
White people in the affected districts will move or send their kids to private and parochial schools. Itís not racism, at least not in the commonly-held sense of the word. Itís that any sensible parent with the means to do so is going to try to flee the social pathologies afflicting so many inner-city kids.
Shuffling children around like cards in a deck isnít going to change that. The irony is there are parents in all-white areas who would like their children to have a broader educational experience, but not at the cost of turning their local school into a social program for disadvantaged youth.
Not every inequity can be fixed. But what we can do is set our sights a little lower and provide an elite, leadership-training opportunity for some Connecticut kids. Kind of like the Green Berets are to the regular army.
Pennsylvania has a program called Governorís School. For each of seven disciplines Ė computers, agriculture, teaching, science, international studies, arts and health studies Ė the stateís top 65 high school juniors and seniors go through a five-week, live-in, intensive education experience during the summer.
Itís a mini-Rhodes scholarship for high school kids. ABout 1% of applicants are accepted. Itís prestigious. It impresses college admissions officers. And itís an opportunity to spend time with peers from different backgrounds and learn from them.
Connecticut should have a Governorís School.
In fact, Connecticut should have a Governorís Academy Ė a full-time boarding school on the level of an Exeter, Choate or Loomis, for the stateís best and brightest students. Tuition-free.
Build or buy a campus in some bucolic setting. Recruit kids from diverse backgrounds with varied talents with the kind of fervor Jim Calhoun reserves for top point guards.
Make the stateís corporations and educational institutions partners in this endeavor and get them to loan personnel as faculty members Ė professors from Trinity, musicians from the Hartt School, engineers from United Technologies and MBAís from General Electric.
Persuade other talented Nutmeggers to be part of the effort. There are some terrific ex-athletes around who might enjoy the challenge of coaching a team. And Andy Rooney could teach writing, giving him an opportunity to quit complaining and start doing something.
From this school can come the future leaders of Connecticut and possibly the nation.
Some will say such a school smacks of elitism. It sure does. Elitism works Ė just ask a Green Beret.
We can continue to wring our hands about the isolation of students who are rich or poor or black or white. Or we can do something for at least a few of them. The best of them.
There are too many bright and talented kids in this state who will go through life not knowing that all tall black men donít play basketball.
August 23, 2000