Brown vs. Board of Education
The landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education is one of the highlights in American judicial history and the struggle for civil and political rights equality in the country. It ended, once and for all, the segregation of public schools and other public facilities based entirely on race by declaring that racial segregation is discriminatory and that it “violates the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all citizens equal protection of the laws.” (Brown, 1996)
Historically, the effects of the adoption of Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 to public education were of little consequence and this can be largely attributed to the condition of public education at the time. Blacks remained uneducated and there were no governmental policies relating to public education because private groups mostly handled education of the white children. (Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954)
It was in the case of Plessy v. Fergson (163 US 537) that the “separate but equal” doctrine came to be. This doctrine recognized as constitutional racial segregation of facilities as long as the facilities provided are “equal.” This decision concentrated itself on the “tangible” factors that were considered equal (Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954).
The plaintiffs in the Brown case challenged this “separate but equal” treatment. The Court, in striking down racial segregation as unconstitutional and “inherently unequal”, also veered away from considering equality as equality of the “tangible” factors. The court considered education as “perhaps the most important function of state and local governments” and recognized the importance of education to a democratic society (Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954). Public education at the time of the Brown case has therefore progressively developed since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Plessy case. This development has eventually led to recognition that equality in the “intangible” factors is indispensable to a full realization of educational goals and potentials for both black and white students. Segregation breeds a feeling of inferiority among the black children and poses a “tendency to retard their mental and educational development.” (Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954)
The Effect of the Decision to Children
The Brown decision was not free from criticisms. Although the Brown case spoke of the psychological effect of inferiority that segregation would cause to black children, Justice Clarence Thomas, in the case of Missouri vs. Jenkins (495 U.S. 33 (1990), dismissed such view and declared that “psychological effect or benefit is irrelevant.” He, in fact, recognized that segregation is the more suitable approach because: “Given that desegregation has not produced the predicted leaps forward in black educational achievement, there is no reason to think that black students cannot learn as well when surrounded by members of their own race as when they are in an integrated environment. (…) Because of their ‘distinctive histories and traditions,’ black schools can function as the center and symbol of black communities, and provide examples of independent black leadership, success, and achievement.” (Missouri vs. Jenkins, 1990)
Despite its intention to provide equal and balanced opportunities for education for black children, the policy of desegregation mandated by the Brown case “moved many black children from excellent schools filled with dedicated adults into schools where they were regarded as alien invaders and where teachers often thought of them as fit only for low-level jobs.” (Richman, 2004) Its failure to recognize the “achievement gap in education” (Richman, 2004) between black and whites has undermined, more than anything else, the educational development of the black children because the new schools to which they were enrolled did not provide them with the same focus and quality education that they were used to.
Moreover, the black students were subjected to racism. The decision did not specify how a successful integration could be achieved and was therefore ambiguous in its mandate of desegregation. The mere open-to-all policies of schools did not remedy the “inherent inequality” of segregation because a different treatment towards black children in formerly white schools does much damage to their development also. “Children were to be assigned to schools by race instead of without regard to race,” as Thomas Sowell described in Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality (Richman, 2004).
Although many regard it as a giant leap towards political and civil rights equality, the effects of the Brown decision to children were not as the judges envisioned it to be.
The Effect of the Decision to Teachers
Educators strived for social integration between the students of racially different backgrounds. They tried to cultivate an atmosphere of equal social and educational opportunities. However, teachers also often treated black students condescendingly and regarded them as suitable only for low-level jobs. Teachers, therefore, expected black students to perform poorly in class (Richman, 2004).
As to the equality between the teachers themselves, the case of Gibbs vs. Broome is historic in that it equalized the salaries among black and white educators in Montgomery County. Initiated by the county’s Colored Teachers Association, the Gibbs case is the culmination of black teachers’ fifteen-year struggle for equality in compensation. It has resulted in the adoption of three resolutions by the Board of Education to resolve the dispute including a 50 percent increase in the salaries of black and white teachers. (Articles on Montgomery History, 2004)
The negative effects of racism to people cannot be understated – especially when it comes to education and the moral and spiritual aspects of life. The issue of racism cannot be disregarded for it can ruin the development of simple citizens who are potential assets for the future.
The decision in Brown vs. Board of Education is not a complete solution. To overcome the root problems caused by segregation in general, schools must learn new ways to stop racism in schools. One such way to rid schools of racism is to have its teachers successfully collaborate and solve the problem. Learning to work cooperatively and collaboratively with others to address the needs of specific students is not easy, and few educators have training in this area. Collaboration across disciplines and grade levels cannot occur without an organizational structure that promotes interaction and communication. The local school level is the place where collaboration can have the best immediate impact on students.
Finally, we need to understand that the educational gap as stated in the Brown vs. Board of Education is not a problem of urban blacks, but it is a problem affecting all blacks regardless of place of residence or socio economic status. The educational achievement gap is a “concern” for whites, but it is a “crisis” for blacks.
Articles. (2004). Montgomery Country Historical Society III West Montgomery Avenue Rockville, MD 20850. November 9, 2006, from
Brown v. Board of Education: About The Case. (1996). Retrieved November 19, 2006, from
Brown Foundation site: http://brownvboard.org/summary/
Davis, T. Closing the Educational Achievement Gap in Delaware. Retrieved 9 November 2006, from http://www.udel.edu/blacksindelaware/Gap.html
Richman, S. (November 17, 2004) How Brown v. Board of Education Throttled Black Schooling. Retrieved November 19, 2006, from Freedom Daily site: http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0408b.asp
Wells, A.S. (March 3, 2004). How Desegregation Changed Us: The Effects of Racially Mixed
Schools on Students and Society. Retrieved November 19, 2006, from Teacher’s College Columbia University site: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/article.htm?id=4774.
Brown vs. Board of Education, 387 US 483 (1954)
Missouri vs. Jenkins, 495 U.S. 33 (1990)
Plessy v. Fergson, 163 US 537