Author(s): Molly Townes O'Brien
Economic integration and citizen equality have been core ideals of American public schooling since its founding. The egalitarian ideals of free schooling, however, have never matched public school reality. Closing the gap between the idealistic rhetoric and the discriminatory reality of public schooling has been the target of school reform for decades and a major goal of the Civil Rights movement. This chapter recounts the effort to achieve equal educational opportunity for African Americans through school desegregation. Beginning with 19th century cases and continuing through Brown v. Board of Education to Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, this chapter provides an overview of the litigation and court decisions dealing with school segregation and desegregation, and creates a picture of advancement toward and retrenchment from the goals of equal educational opportunity. It compares school reformers to Sisyphus, struggling mightily to push schools toward the ideals of equal opportunity and equal access, only to see progress roll back, time and again.