Friday, May 16, 2014

Distorting Brown v. Board of Education

Anniversaries always run the risk of distortion, as some attempt to recast past events in ways that further their own agenda.  Meagan Hatcher-Mays, of Media Matters, wrote an interesting article yesterday surveying "conservative" media's reporting on the anniversary of Brown.  She wrote:

On May 13The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by former National Review Online contributor Abigail Thernstrom and her husband, Stephan Thernstrom, who misrepresented both the importance and legacy ofBrown by declaring it "an American success story" and its promise "fulfilled," while pushing the myth that the U.S. Constitution is "colorblind." Because apartheid schools are now technically prohibited, the Thernstroms also dismissed statistics that show schools have been rapidly resegregating in recent years, called integration efforts "racist," and ignored the well-documented link between housing segregation and the growing separation of schools based on class and race. Instead, the Thernstroms blame "the differential fertility rates of immigrants and natives" for our separate and unequal schools.

This most recent attack is part of a larger right-wing pattern of denying the continuation of systemic racial discrimination and advocating for the rollback of half a century of civil rights precedent and legislation.

When conservative media discuss Brown at all, it is usually to misrepresent the case's condemnation of a racial caste system designed to maintain white supremacy in order to champion education policies like voucher programs and school choice, or take offensive shots at civil rights leaders. For example, when Louisiana's voucher program was scrutinized for violating several long-standing desegregation orders, outlets likeNational Review Online compared Attorney General Eric Holder to segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, famous for blocking the University of Alabama's doors to black students in the wake of theBrown decision.

She goes on to discuss Justice Roberts' simplistic treatment of Brown in his opinion in Parents Involved v. Seattle Schools.  

These mischaracterizations of Brown and its legacy pose serious dangers to our educational system.  First, Brown is misused in the service of educational policies that are in question like charter schools and vouchers.  Putting aside for the moment whether these are or are not good policies, these policies should stand on their own feet without distorting Brown.  Distorting Brown robs us of legitimate debates over these policies.  Second, distorting Brown distorts the problem of segregation, racial isolation, neighborhood schools or however one might phrase it.  No one can deny our schools are and have been sorely unequal.  No one can deny our schools contine to be racially isolated.  Only by distorting Brown can one even begin to disconnect and minimize the importance of these two intertwined, undisputed facts.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2014/05/distorting-brown-v-board-of-education.html

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