I remember the first time my parents told me about Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark decision that declared racially segregated schools “inherently unequal.” My parents celebrated the decision, for redefining education opportunities in this country, for upending the racial caste system that had been constitutionally enshrined to that point, and for the opportunities that it provided for my family. It was the framework from which I learned about the civil rights movement, about women’s rights, and about social justice more broadly.
It is impossible to overstate Brown’s importance—it outlined the promise of an equal education as a foundation for an equal society. And it meant that the next generation of children in the Goss family could choose where to go to school, though note that the Knoxville Board of Education fought that point for another decade.
As the Court in Brown said then about the state of public schools, “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” Yet, recent reports [PDF] show that schools are becoming more segregated. The graduation rates for African American, Hispanic, and native children are nearly half of those of white children. African American boys [PDF] and girls experience high rates of out of school discipline, rates that are more than double [PDF] of white children. There is no question that our progress is fragile; that the promise of Brown is fragile.
I’ve been thinking about how I will describe the Brown decision to my own children. I will use the decision to remind them that our work is not done; that we must continue to work to counter discrimination and dismantle the many barriers that boys and girls of color face in school. And I will celebrate the decision with them (perhaps even with cake, which is the best way to celebrate with my boys!). I hope that it will inspire them as it has always inspired me.