Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Era of Missed Opportunity

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Era of Missed Opportunity

Article excerpt

Predictions from the end of the 19th century about education at the end of the 20th would seem ludicrous today in some ways and strangely accurate in others.

Who could have foreseen the vast scale of higher education or that the lowly Irish and Southern European immigrants would be part of the establishment, often railing against letting new groups into their schools? Who could have imagined that vast libraries would flash around the world for free on electronic webs that affluent nine- year- olds would find perfectly normal?

As Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court decision that upheld separate facilities for whites and blacks, was being consolidated in a rigid segregation system, who could have imagined the civil rights revolution and a national holiday for a black preacher who gave it its voice? Who could have foreseen girls surpassing boys right up through college and many graduate programs? In other ways, school has not changed nearly as much as one might think. Adolescence has always been hard, and racism is far from solved. Some families still have much more influence than others, and poor kids still get much worse schools. New immigrants are still often treated badly. The best teachers, technology, and learning opportunities are in the schools with affluent children. American schools will face many changes in the next century. But few, if any, will have more impact than the vast demographic transformation already under way. The Census Bureau projects that our school-age population will have only 42 percent whites or European- Americans in 50 years. We already have five states - including our two largest - where whites are a minority in public schools. If the existing trends continue, we will have around 95 million Latinos in the nation in 2050. About a tenth of our people will be Asian and about a sixth will be African-American. For the first time since European settlement, we may be turning away from Europe and toward a broader exposure to other major cultures. One central theme of American education, law, and politics in the 20th century was the struggle to end official apartheid and incorporate African-Americans in our major institutions. The first half of the century saw rigid exclusion and inequality. The 1954 Supreme Court decision on Brown v. Board of Education was followed by two decades of struggle that ended apartheid and brought the greatest emphasis on integration and equity in US history. The subsequent decades reflected a conservative-dominated era in which civil rights protections were gradually cut back and segregation and inequality grew. Almost totally ignored was the emergence of Latinos as our largest group of minority children at the end of the 20th century. They are the youngest major group in the US and have a much higher birth rate than other groups. They will soon be the majority of all students in California and Texas. The influence of this huge change will sweep the nation. Education is a central part of the dream for all Americans. We expect the public schools to help make genuine opportunity possible for all and to convey the common experiences that bind us together as a nation. …

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