In honor of Martin Luther King Day this year, let’s take a few minutes to focus on equity in education.
Looking back, you can read excerpts below from a few historical documents related to desegregating schools–including Dr. King’s own words on the subject.
Looking forward, there’s still work to be done to achieve educational equity. Today is a good day to remind ourselves of the role we can play in that effort.
The U.S. Supreme Court: Brown Versus Board of Education
Justice Earl Warren delivered the court’s unanimous decision on May 17, 1954–ruling that school segregation was unconstitutional:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system…
We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Doctor King on the Importance of the Brown Decision
Speaking in 1956 to the National Committee for Rural Schools, Dr. King shared these thoughts on the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision:
To all men of good will, this decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of human captivity. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of colored people throughout the world who had had a dim vision of the promised land of freedom and justice … this decision came as a legal and sociological deathblow to an evil that had occupied the throne of American life for several decades.
Segregation has always been evil, and only the misguided reactionary clothed in the thin garments of irrational emotionalism will seek to defend it. Segregation is both rationally inexplicable and morally unjustifiable…
I came to see what the Supreme Court meant when they came out saying that separate facilities are inherently unequal. There is no such thing as separate but equal. Separation, segregation, inevitably makes for inequality, and I think that is the first reason why segregation is evil, because it inevitably makes for inequality.
But not only that, segregation is evil because it scars the soul of both the segregated and the segregator. And I’ve said all along, as we struggle we must come to see that we are not merely trying to help the Negro. Segregation is as injurious to the white man as it is to the Negro. The festering sore of segregation debilitates the segregated as well as the segregator. It gives the segregated a false sense of inferiority, and it gives the segregator a false sense of superiority. It is equally damaging. And this is why we must forever take a stand against segregation, because it does something to the soul. And the Supreme Court came to see that also…
Then there is a third reason why segregation is evil. That is because it ends up depersonalizing the segregated. That’s the end results of segregation. The segregated becomes merely a thing to be used, not a person to be respected. He is merely a depersonalized cog in a vast economic machine. And this is why segregation is utterly evil and utterly un-Christian. It substitutes an “I/It” relationship for the “I/Thou” relationship. It relegates the segregated to the status of a thing, rather than elevated to the status of a person, and so segregation will always be evil because it ends up depersonalizing the segregated.
The Supreme Court decision of May seventeenth came in to correct a great evil. And thanks for this great decision, as a result of this decision, we can now gradually see old man segregation on his deathbed, if I may speak figuratively, and most of us are very happy to see the brother pass on because he has been a disturbing factor in the community for many years.
More Work to Be Done
Ten years after the landmark supreme court decision, Dr. King lamented that not enough had changed in American schools. (Read his full statement in the Atlantic.) He wrote: “The only conclusion to be drawn is that in the past decade school desegregation has moved only at a creeping pace when it has moved at all. But we are still hopeful that the next year or two will bring a marked change in the entire picture.”
Things have certainly changed since he wrote those words in 1964. But even now in 2020, the work necessary to bring about educational equity is far from complete. There are racial and ethnic groups that regularly see more success than others in many educational settings.
Many teachers would tell you that closing these “achievement gaps” is one of the most important goals in education today. The issue has been on educators’ radar for many years—but despite significant efforts, large gaps remain. Read more about one of FRCC’s efforts to make measurable changes in this area.
The work of becoming equity-minded and producing equitable student outcomes is ongoing. FRCC’s teachers and staff recognize the responsibility and trust imparted on us to educate, and we relish the opportunity to help each and every one of our students achieve their goals.
Inclusion: A Powerful Experience
As a college, we are committed to inclusive excellence, educational equity, and advancing opportunity for all. (Read FRCC’s Philosophy of Inclusion here.) We believe that our diversity enriches lives in the entire college community.
Inclusivity within our student and employee communities is critical to achieving our vision for students at the college: that all students accomplish their educational and career goals.
There’s certainly more hard work to be done to create the kind of world Dr. King envisioned for us all. Here at Front Range, our students, faculty and staff are willing to roll up our sleeves and continue that critical work.
Welcoming. Respectful. Inclusive. Together, we are FRCC.