America Goes to School: Law, Reform, and Crisis in Public Education

By Robert M. Hardaway | Go to book overview

Chapter Five
The Legacy of Racial Discrimination

The practice of separating groups within society is as old as civilization itself. Although one of the most invidious types of segregation is that based on race, throughout history segregation has also been based on alienage, language, sex, wealth, perceived intelligence, and membership in a caste or socioeconomic group. Although the rationale for each type of separation may differ, all types of segregation have one common denominator. They are all based on the power of the dominant group to enforce a separation from others who, because they possess characteristics that differ from those of the dominant group, are either feared, despised, or deemed to be inferior as members of the human race.

Humans have shown an instinctive tendency to favor those who are most like themselves. In a competitive world, humans' quest for status, power, and dignity has often come at the expense of others over whom power is gained. Indeed, the very nature of power, is superiority and control. The very fact that such power has been achieved has often served as the basis for claims superiority in matters unrelated to those characteristics manifested by the dominant group in achieving its power (such as the superior application of physical or military force).

The most extreme example of the assertion of power by one group over another--that of slavery--was certainly not unique to America. Indeed slavery has existed since the beginning of civilization and persists even today in the isolated backwaters of global society. But slavery is only the most extreme application of raw power over fellow human beings. There exist a variety of intermediate levels of domination that may manifest themselves by the enforcement of segregation.

There are two kinds of segregation in American public education today--de facto and de jure. De jure segregation is imposed by force of law, and is therefore most easily dealt with through application of the law. De facto segregation, on the other hand, is more intractable since it results from individual choices and from economic and social forces beyond the immediate control of the courts.

De jure racial segregation in the public schools was first declare unconstitutional in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. 1

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