American -- Forging New Freedoms: Nativism, Education, and the Constitution, 1917-1927 by William G. Ross

Article excerpt

Forging New Freedoms: Nativism, Education, and the Constitution, 1917-1927. By William G. Ross. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1994. Pp. x, 277. $40.00.)

William G. Ross has written an illuminating book on a fascinating historical topic. His focus is on the famous trilogy of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1920's involving education and liberty: (1) Meyer v. Nebraska (1923); (2) Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), and Farrington v. Tokushige (1927). With these landmark rulings, the Court thwarted a nativistic assault on private schools, especially the religious variety.

In the first installment of this legal trilogy, the Court overturned a Nebraska law--defied by Lutheran parochial school teacher Robert T. Meyer--prohibiting the teaching of modern foreign languages in the instruction of elementary school children. Pierce derailed an Oregon statute requiring all elementary school children to attend public schools. Finally, in Farrington, the Court invalidated over-reaching Hawaiian statutory restrictions on Asian language schools. "Together," Ross observes, "these decisions spelled the death of what had been a growing movement to destroy parochial and private elementary education."

Meyer, Pierce, and Farrington are important precedents in the history of American Constitutional law. Ross studies these cases for their jurisprudential value, but, his book is noteworthy for its broader analysis. A dutiful historian, Ross brings these cases to life by uncovering their social and political origins in the cultural conditions of post-World War I America. …