Two generations removed from the monumental Supreme Court Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka ruling, my educational experience was one privileged with opportunities perhaps unfathomable by my grandmother in her childhood. In a mixed-income suburban setting, I participated in rigorous academic programs. I became familiar with the subtleties of middle-class etiquette deemed necessary to succeed in life. I graduated public school prepared academically for college.
Within my quality middle-class education, however, I seldom saw my black friends in class. I was one of the few minorities enrolled in advanced classes. Despite exceeding academically, I struggled to find the guidance I needed to fulfill my ambition of attending college. I still felt the sting of racial insensitivity and saw peers fall through the cracks.
My educational experience sheds light both on the opportunities facilitated by the monumental Brown decision and the considerable work left to realize its full mission of consistent experiences in the classroom. Brown may have legally ended “separate but equal,” but access to a quality education still remains a dream for many families.
At the time of the Brown ruling, the late Chief Justice Earl Warren declared:
“Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Segregation has now taken on less obvious forms with many schools predominantly one race due to historic, political, economic, and geographical factors. School facilities are still unequal due to segregation of resources. Less affluent areas carry the burden of educating students with smaller budgets, ill-equipped facilities, and less faculty support to meet the needs of their students.
Where poor neighborhoods are disproportionally filled with minority families, the lack of resources continues to result in low academic attainment and less college attendance. This trend ultimately results in lower earning potential as our students reach adulthood with poverty extending to yet another generation. In the poorest neighborhoods in America, these trends also influence expectations for at-risk students. Children of color and low-income students are still presumed less capable than their peers and less likely to succeed in life. This is simply the wrong mindset. To excel in school, realize life outcomes better than their parents, and overcome this segregation of expectations, we as teachers and parents must support our students all the way through their journey.
We deprive all of our students when we overlook these new forms of segregation in our educational system. We deprive them further when we do not work for more inclusive policies that enable social mobility and empower students to thrive in school. Solving this divide will require a multifaceted solution that includes better city planning, equal housing opportunities, distribution of tax money, mindset shifts, and time.
Realizing true equality of opportunity to succeed in school and life is a fight we cannot give up on. Despite the persistent educational gaps that still exist along lines of race and class, all students can learn and will learn with stronger school systems. Brown v. Board of Education remains one of the most important rulings of the 21st century. The door to success has been open for 60 years. We must continue to ensure more students walk through it.
An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How has the Brown decision impacted your life?