Opposition to charter school movement ‘misguided,’ says expert in U.S. legal, social history

Charter schools are attended disproportionately by poor, minority students.Since their creation in the early 1990s, charter schools have come under fire from many civil rights supporters. “Traditional advocates of civil rights claim that charter schools are but another opportunity for whites to escape from the public school system and gain advantage for their children at taxpayers’ expense,” says Tomiko Brown-Nagin, associate professor of law and of history at Washington University in St. Louis. “This criticism overlooks the astounding fact, however, that most charter schools have been established in poor, minority neighborhoods and are attended disproportionately by poor, minority students — those whose schools and neighborhoods have been untouched by Brown v. Board of Education.”

Brown v. Board of Education, 50 years later

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.From left, attorneys George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James M. Nabrit Jr. congratulate each other following the U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education ruling 50 years ago, it based its opinion on the premise that the lives of African-Americans were irreparably harmed by the stigma of segregation, leaving their lives bereft of hope and opportunity. Not all African-Americans accepted this idea, however, leading to skepticism about the Brown decision, says Tomiko Brown-Nagin, J.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in Washington University’s School of Law and in the Department of History in Arts & Sciences. “Although black ambivalence about Brown may appear to be a phenomenon of recent vintage — one connected to the ‘black pride’ movement of the late ’60s and ’70s or the multicultural movement of the early ’90s — in fact it has deep historical roots,” she says. “The historical record should be revised to correct received wisdom: the notion that African-Americans across time and place uniformly supported the campaign to integrate the schools is an historical misconception.”

Inequalities in schools and neighborhoods focus of daylong conference Feb. 27

Social inequalities in schools and neighborhoods will be addressed by leading national scholars as well as prominent local scholars, experts and activists during a daylong conference Feb. 27 at Washington University. WUSTL’s Program in Social Thought & Analysis (STA) in Arts & Sciences is sponsoring the conference, titled “Inequalities in Schools & Neighborhoods: St. Louis and Beyond.”