No Caste Here? Toward a Structural Critique of American Education

36 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2016  

Daniel Kiel

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Date Written: 2015

Abstract

In his famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan argued that in the United States, there was “no caste here.” Justice Harlan was rejecting the idea that American society operated to assign preordained outcomes to individuals based upon classifications, including racial classifications. This Article questions whether Justice Harlan’s aspirational assertion accurately reflects contemporary American education. Identifying: (1) multiple classification mechanisms, all of which have disproportionate racial effects, and (2) structural legal, political, and practical impediments to reform, the Article argues that the American education system does more to maintain the nation’s historical racial hierarchy than to disrupt it. This is so, the Article suggests, despite popular agreement with the casteless ideal and popular belief that education can provide the opportunity to transcend social class. By building the framework for a broad structural critique, the Article suggests that a failure to acknowledge and address structural flaws will preclude successful comprehensive reform with more equitable outcomes.

Suggested Citation

Kiel, Daniel, No Caste Here? Toward a Structural Critique of American Education (2015). Penn State Law Review, Vol. 119, No. 3, 2015; University of Memphis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 156. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2738704

Daniel Kiel (Contact Author)

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law ( email )

One North Front Street
Memphis, TN 38103-2189
United States

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