Brown v. Board of Education was arguably the most important legal decision of the 20th century because of how it created exponential and lasting change within America’s educational system. However, what initially had the potential to be quite beneficial for black students in America was implemented in such a way that continues to systemically disadvantage these students. Although the court decision itself did not radically change the racial make-up of many schools, it had a dramatic impact on black communities and how they interacted with schools that were no longer theirs. This decision was born out of an attempt to eliminate the “separate but equal” ideology that dominated the twentieth century until this point. While it’s commonly understood now that separate inherently means unequal, the elimination of this standard only served to blur the lines of inequality and provide an easy escape to all other questions concerning education equality. The implementation of this court decision only addressed the issues with separation to some extent, but managed to contribute heavily to the systemic racism within schools that can still be seen today because of how it ignored a lot of the progress made by black schools attempted to “solve” inequality by single faceted way.
Student teacher relationships are an extremely important aspect of childhood and adolescence, and Brown v. Board of Education thoroughly altered how these relationships were formed. As a result of the decision, thousands of black teachers across the country were let go due to their schools’ forced closures and the difficulties associated with finding work in predominantly white schools. Given that the student bodies of most schools remained relatively unchanged, several white teachers ended up in predominantly black schools unsatisfied with their jobs (Citation 3). While desegregation was an important step on the seemingly never ending path to equality, it did not suddenly eliminate racism and racist stereotypes. In the case of Brown it actually brought these stereotypes to one of the most important sites of child development. Many white teachers had lower expectations for black students which set the stage for underperformance on standardized tests limiting future opportunities (Citation 1). This was a huge change in pace from black teachers who were seen as role models within their communities. Teaching was a respectable profession that many members of the black middle class held and what they taught often went far beyond the classroom. “The best characterization of the teachers is that they were preparing students to compete in the desegregated world that did not yet exist” (Citation 4). This quote from Vanessa Siddle Walker implies that these teachers were preparing their students for life in a white world. Even before Brown, these students were primed for the notion that a well adjusted black student behaves consistently with a Eurocentric worldview, however they were taught was within the context of survival (Citation 5). After Brown, these students were almost immediately forced into this context, and the students who were able to execute this behavior most effectively found the most success.
Before Brown, black schools were a critical institution in several black communities in America. The incoming teachers disrupted this establishment that the community had relied on for decades and engendered the lack of trust between parents and teachers that exists to this day. Black schools operated very independently due to a lack of interest from white school boards and governments (Citation 1). This meant that these schools could hire people and budget its money freely keeping the community in mind with school principals often serving as liaisons between schools and communities. After Brown, there was no longer a guarantee that teachers or school administrators had the best interests of the students in mind, and this was revealed especially through cases where disciplinary action was taken. Black students were disproportionately punished by school administrators in subjective cases more frequently and for longer (Citation 1). Constant punishment during childhood leads to a distrust of authority with much more severe consequences later in life. This environment of distrust often hindered the learning experiences of black students contributing to the system of oppression that continues to benefit white people.
Formal racial segregation has been outlawed in schools for over 65 years, yet there are still very few schools that represent anything close to true integration. This is because many schools are zoned meaning that they theoretically represent the students who live in the neighborhood. However, many neighborhoods were manufactured and continue to be manufactured under a system that allows wealthy white people to take advantage of “neutral laws,” and manipulate the value of homes and apartments across the United States. Redlining and blockbusting severely limited the options black people had when trying to buy a house, and were only some of the ways that black neighborhoods were created, stigmatized, and eventually devalued (Lecture, 10/1/2019). These processes had the effect of racializing poverty and creating an association between blackness and negative living conditions. The consequential lower property taxes within these neighborhoods led to less school funding, and fewer educational opportunities.
Brown vs. Board of Education presents a positive facade of the state of the educational system in this country, and makes it easy to ignore the everlasting problems that have accumulated in the ongoing education crisis. The case feeds the mentality that there is an even playing field, and that hard work is the only way to get ahead when in fact, black students are systematically denied access to educational resources and opportunities. Additionally, the importance and the successes of black schools and teachers were overlooked or simply ignored, and the long standing relationships with the communities they served were completely disregarded. Commitment to true integration, an ideal that has yet to be achieved, clouded the vision of the initial goal of this court case: education equality.
1) Irvine, Russell W., and Jacqueline Jordan Irvine. “The Impact of the Desegregation Process on the Education of Black Students: Key Variables.” The Journal of Negro Education 52, no. 4 (1983): 410-22. doi:10.2307/2294948.
2) Seitles, Marc. “The Perpetuation of Residential Racial Segregation in America: Historical Discrimination, Modern Forms of Exclusion, and Inclusionary Remedies.” Florida State University Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law 14, no. 1 (Fall 1998): 89-124. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ab6d/7b9fa7cc9de6b5631275c56db7d1129916cf.pdf?_ga=2.14148279.1004140104.1570173341-808391280.1570173341.
3) Tillman, Linda C. “(Un)Intended Consequences?: The Impact of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision on the Employment Status of Black Educators.” Education and Urban Society 36, no. 3 (May 2004): 280–303. doi:10.1177/0013124504264a360.
4) Walker, Vanessa Siddle. “African American Teaching in the South: 1940-1960.” American Educational Research Journal 38, no. 4 (2001): 751-79. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3202502.
5) Wells, Amy Stuart, and Robert L. Crain. “Perpetuation Theory and the Long-Term Effects of School Desegregation.” Review of Educational Research 64, no. 4 (December 1994): 531–55. doi:10.3102/00346543064004531.