Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A thought about the legality of school segregation.

I have been reading about the Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, that resulted in the integration of schools.
For much of the sixty years preceding the Brown case, race relations in the U.S. had been dominated by racial segregation. This policy had been endorsed in 1896 by the United States Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that as long as the separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment ("no State shall... deny to any person... the equal protection of the laws.").......
The key holding of the Court was that, even if segregated black and white schools were of equal quality in facilities and teachers, segregation by itself was harmful to black students and unconstitutional. They found that a significant psychological and social disadvantage was given to black children from the nature of segregation itself.....
I find this decision to be surprising. It accepts the hypotheses that schools were of equal quality in facilities and teachers, and that facilities and teachers determine the quality of  the schools. Everyone who has ever talked to a black person at the time knows that the schools for black kids were not equally good with the white schools. Everyone today knows that there are huge differences in the qualities of public schools in the United States. Look at test results.

The decision seems reasonable in holding that for the black kids, being segregated in blacks only schools probably had a negative impact. Since there was discrimination against black kids, their separation into black only schools would tend to make them feel that they were inferior.

 It seems to ignore the negative impact on the white kids of being in whites only schools. Would they not get an equally unjustified feeling of being superior, and would that not also be an educationally undesirable outcome?

The decision also assumed that there was a difference between "white" and "colored" children that could be used reliably to allocate them to "white only" and "colored only" schools. That is clearly not genetically true. Indeed the distinction was purely social, dividing people by class. We still have class based distinctions in the schools kids are assigned to, largely because we send kids to neighborhood schools and housing is segregated geographically by class.

If the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment prohibits segregating colored kids into one set of schools and white kids into another set of schools even if the schools are equal, why does it not prohibit segregating poor kids into demonstrably poor schools and rich kids into demonstrably better schools?

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