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Summer 2011

Books: In Brown's Wake: Legacies of America's Educational Landmark

Nearly six decades after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education court case established racial equality as a core commitment of American schools, the decision still shapes the way we think about the concept of equal opportunity in many diverse arenas. In her most recent book, In Brown’s Wake, Martha Minow, Ed.M.’76, dean of Harvard Law School, examines the ways in which Brown’s legacy continues to affect equality issues in public and in school choice programs, and argues that the terms placed on such initiatives have real repercussions for both the character of American education and civil society itself.

In addition to supporting racial equality in schools, Brown gave rise to numerous social movements seeking educational equality for students across all lines of difference, including gender and sexual orientation, religion, language, physical handicaps, immigration status, and socioeconomic level. However, the debate among parents, schools, and policymakers as to whether the ruling calls for all-inclusive classrooms is still very much alive, Minow writes, with schools across the nation appearing more segregated than ever. While school choice has emerged in some districts as a strategy for racial mixing, self-separation by language, gender, ethnicity, and disability is becoming more prevalent in magnet and pilot schools, charter schools, and many private schools. In exploring these issues, the author engages deeply in public policy debates over separate versus mixed education, legislative interpretation, and social integration.

Minow highlights Brown’s strength as a beacon in the struggle for educational equality for every type of student, not just in the United States, but also abroad. She ultimately traces the work of equality advocates in schools throughout Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Eastern Europe, investigating the various ways in which the case has become an inspiration for many agents of change. While Minow recognizes the difficulty and complexity of achieving social integration, she urges renewed commitment to the cause as the ripples in Brown’s wake continue to spread.