Mary Frances Berry’s essay on Brown v. Board of Education
[“Brown Out,” Issue #6] is right on all points. The decision did more
than reflect the triumph of the bourgeoisie within the civil rights
movement. Two late fellow academics would concur. Yale historian C.
Vann Woodward certainly thought that the Brown decision was a
milestone; not so much a starting point but rather the closure of one
part of a campaign in order to begin another. Woodward was a close
enough student of class conflict to note that there were angles of
class identity throughout the entire movement, but that there was
nothing exclusively middle class or bourgeois about opening up public
facilities to all students of color. Likewise, Benjamin Elijah Mays,
the Morehouse College president and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
who fought valiantly for civil rights, consistently included labor
rights as part of that struggle. They were all part of a whole. He made
it very clear that both the denial of train service (something he saw
early in life firsthand, when he worked as a railway porter) and the
blockage of education hurt a young man of decidedly non-bourgeois and
rather impoverished circumstances as much as it did black professionals
who were by any definition bourgeois.
Professor Berry hit the nail on the head in her review essay. I am sure
I will read Dr. Goluboff’s study with great interest and that I will
learn from it. But I do not expect to have it proved for me that the Brown decision was wrong-headed.
John Herbert Roper
Professor of History
Emory and Henry College
I applaud both Jason Kamras and Andrew Rotherham’s “America’s Teaching
Crisis” [Issue #5] and Eli Broad’s “System Failure” [Issue #6]. Although
their approaches differ in the details, the authors agree on one key
point: Educational opportunity is the leading civil rights issue of our
time. Kamras and Rotherham are right to say that teachers are at the
core of the problem but that they may also be at the core of the
solution. Improving their working conditions and livelihood as
educators is one step in the right direction, not to mention the
utilization of research on innovative and effective teaching
strategies. Teaching needs to become a highly respected career path in
public service and not just a guarantee of a check.
To accomplish this, though, there needs to be accountability in the
profession, a sentiment put forth dramatically by Broad’s article.
Comparing our largest, most troubled school districts to Fortune 500
companies may be unusual, but it communicates the point that school
districts must be managed efficiently. This means cutting the employees
that are not effective. As Kamras and Rotherham suggest, peer review
may be the best way to effectively accomplish such a bold step.
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association might say otherwise, but with the publication of Tough Liberal,
Richard Kahlenberg’s instant classic on teachers’ union legend Al
Shanker, one would hope the ultimate purpose of such unions could be
revisited [Editor’s Note: Tough Liberal is reviewed in this
issue]. And Broad is absolutely right that we must change our system of
education, all the way down to the school year calendar. With any hope,
we will be able to look at the new superintendent of Washington, D.C.’s
public schools, Michelle Rhee, for evidence that a school district can
implement just such a “New Deal” and change society. We are faced with
an enormous duty to change our schools and, in doing so, change our
nation. If public policy could ever do good, the time is now–and the
children are waiting.
Palo Alto, California
As a high school teacher with more than 25 years of educational
experience, Eli Broad’s article hit home with me. Two things come to my
mind immediately: First, that one of the keys to any successful
educational reform is the implementation of a cross-curricular approach
to teaching. I’ve been trying to achieve just that sort of program
throughout my career. Second, the main premise of Broad’s article can
be summed up in a quotation I saw several years ago: “It takes a great
principal to have a great high school.” As a teacher, I know this to be
Two Rivers High School
Clay Risen’s essay “The War on the War on Poverty” [Issue #6] needs
to be read and talked about. From my own view and experiences,
government has been made the problem, and attempts to build community
are called failures before action and thought begin.
My 40 years in public and private service, beginning in the Peace
Corps and followed by work in the Office of Economic Opportunity and 30
years as a planning director and city manager have allowed me to see,
participate, and learn from the social intervention programs spawned by
the Great Society. Job Corps, Head Start, and community action programs
were, in many instances, driven by community needs and consultations.
The War on Poverty worked–I saw it daily. One of the many overlooked
benefits was the confidence and leadership it built among young people
and the formerly disenfranchised. From small businesses to elected
officials, many arrived there from the opportunities created by the
Great Society. The War on Poverty never failed–it was starved before it