The Common School Before and After Brown: Democracy, Equality, and the Productivity Agenda
Rosemary C. Salomone
St. John's University - School of Law
April 1, 2012
120 Yale Law Journal 1455, 2011
St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-0003
Martha Minow’s book, In Brown’s Wake, addresses the impact of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on education rights across a wide range of student differences and group identities. At a time when productivity and competition have captured the policy discussion on schooling worldwide, the book is a timely and sobering reminder that education is not simply about the marketplace.
In this Review, I use the framework of Brown’s legacy to examine more explicitly some of the themes related to the purposes of schooling that the book implicitly touches upon. I both widen the lens and narrow it. On the first count, I situate Brown more definitively in the broad historical evolution of the common school. On the second, I look more critically at the federal government’s growing control and oversight of a system initially designed to preserve state and local autonomy over education. I survey historic moments, from mid-nineteenth-century interests in nation building, to mid- to late-twentieth century concerns with equalizing opportunities beyond individual differences, to current economic and global pressures.
Guided in part by initiatives announced subsequent to the book’s publication, including the Race to the Top program and the Obama Administration’s Blueprint for Reform, I maintain that today’s productivity agenda falls short in fulfilling Brown’s dual promise: to break down barriers that impede equal opportunity, and to preserve democratic government and the nation’s political standing as a world leader. I maintain that as we move toward a more assertive federal role with a one-size-fits-all view of schooling, we are moving away from equal opportunity as an overarching principle. That progressive shift undercuts post-Brown guarantees to an appropriate and meaningful education. It risks sacrificing one Brown legacy for another and may, in the end, more deeply divide students by race and social class. In the end, I argue that we should strive toward designing an education agenda that incorporates, in a measured way, the political vision of the early common school and the social awareness of post-Brown reforms, while maintaining the nation’s competitive edge.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 43Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 24, 2012 ; Last revised: June 11, 2012
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