The More Public School Reform Changes, the More It Stays the Same: A Framing Analysis of the Newspaper Coverage of Brown V. Board of Education

By Fleming-Rife, Anita; Proffitt, Jennifer M. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The More Public School Reform Changes, the More It Stays the Same: A Framing Analysis of the Newspaper Coverage of Brown V. Board of Education


Fleming-Rife, Anita, Proffitt, Jennifer M., The Journal of Negro Education


Three salient frames emerged from the study of two Topeka newspapers, one mainstream newspaper and one Black newspaper. These three frames included conflict, consequences, and dominant/subordinate. These frames told readers what and how to think about the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. This study also finds that the reform measures made in opposition to desegregation have survived for nearly 50 years and are now framed as public education policy measures aimed to assist disadvantaged students to acquire improved educational access.

This article is concerned with framing and its influences on public discourse of educational policy; particularly how such policy is informed, shaped, and conveyed by the use of news frames. This study aimed to locate the framing devices used in two newspapers relevant to one of the most historically significant and celebrated race relations stories of the 20th century, Brown v. Board of Education, wherein the United States Supreme Court, in 1954, decided what is arguably the most important ruling in USA history. The Brown decision effectively dismantled the legacy of Jim Crow in every institution except its intended public schools. Even schools that were successfully desegregated are now re-segregated. Today, more than 70% of all African American children attend schools that are predominantly Black, and the majority of these schools have poor educational resources (Cross & Slater, 2003).

To remedy this educational deficit in the country's poorest school districts, various reform measures have been undertaken. For example, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has implemented an "extensive" school voucher program, allowing parents to use public money to send their children to private schools, and a considerable number of charter schools operate in such states as Michigan and Arizona (Brownstein, 2001). In fact, for the 2002-2003 school year, Arizona led the nation in number of charter schools with 467 of the 2,695 charter schools currently in operation ("Arizona," 2003). This study finds that both charter schools and private school vouchers had its roots in the Deep South during the period under study. Although the Kerner Commission argued in 1968 that, "it is the responsibility of the news media to tell the story of race relations in America" (p. 384), what is clearly missing from the story of the public school education of Blacks is the link between these recommended measures and their racist origins.

The organization of this article is as follows: (a) to provide historical context by providing background research that describes Blacks' quest for equal high quality education and the long and uphill battle that it entailed, (b) to examine the legal strategies used by the NAACP in its fight for equal education rights, (c) to investigate the historical function of the Black press and how African Americans have historically been covered in mainstream newspapers, (d) to review the framing literature, and, finally, (e) to provide analysis and discussion of the data.

BACKGROUND

Obstacles to Education

Well before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, enslaved and free people of color recognized the importance of education. As Anderson (1988) noted, prior to the Civil War, Blacks lived in a society in which literacy was out of reach. Literacy thus symbolized a skill that contradicted the status of a slave, and Blacks risked severe penalties for violating laws that prohibited literacy. Nevertheless, despite the threat of punishment, five percent of enslaved people had learned to read by 1860. The political significance of slave literacy, however, reached beyond the antebellum period. Many of the educators and leaders of the post-antebellum years were men and women who first became literate under slavery. Among them were prominent leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Bishop Henry M. Turner, and P. B. S. Pinchback (Anderson, 1988). …

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