As a third-grader, Linda Brown walked through the cold, across railroad tracks and then to a bus each morning to get to school. “I remember walking, tears freezing up on my face because I began to cry because it was so cold, and many times I had to turn around and run back home,” she later recalled.

Along the way, Brown passed Sumner, an all-white elementary school that she couldn’t attend because she was black. Her simple sense of fairness found that problem difficult to understand, especially since her neighborhood was racially mixed and fundamentally harmonious.

That was Topeka, Kansas in 1954.

Here’s a similar story: Lashawn Robinson, a mother in Hartford, Connecticut is currently suing the State because her son Jarod was denied access to one of the city’s well-resourced magnet schools solely because he is black.

Like Brown, Jarod couldn’t believe his black skin prevented him from getting into a school. The insult was doubly hurtful because his school of choice had a unique science program that speaks to his passion for all things technical. After facing rejection multiple times he fell into a depression, eventually dropped out of school, and was forever changed.

Did I mention the school had open seats available that Jarod could have taken, but those seats were reserved for white students who never came?

That is Hartford, Connecticut in 2019

There are 65 years between those two stories, and a perverse reality as well. The NAACP was pioneering in Brown’s case. They made her family the centerpiece of their famed suit to end racial discrimination in the United States.

By contrast, today’s NAACP defends the unjust system against LaShawn Robinson, and to uphold the exclusion of her children from public schools by race. They justify this by saying the fight for Brown tore down structural barriers to equal educational opportunity, and by reducing Robison’s case to an unfortunate and marginal consequence of desegregation efforts that do more good than harm.

piece in The Nation by Rachel Cohen runs with that ball and becomes a progressive template for how to misunderstand the incongruence between social goals like integration and the racial realities move the invisible hand of behavioral economics. Parents politely support integration when polled, but politely (and privately) decline when it’s time to enroll.

Cohen treats Robinson’s case as a threat to Hartford’s hard-won school integration model rather than an incidence of state discrimination. The operative boogiemen in her piece are the libertarian-leaning attorneys who stepped up to take Robinson’s case. Of course, the motives of those attorneys are suspect. Yet, Cohen and her clones should be asking why “progressive” attorneys, like those marshaled often by the NAACP, and other left-leaning anti-racists like the American Civil Liberties Union, have left Robinson unguarded?

Perhaps progressives are so enamored with the myth of desegregation, nailed to the idea that “it worked,” that they ignore all available evidence that desegregation plans small and large worked for a few while destroying educational infrastructure for many.

There were some positive benefits for the minority of students who entered the well-resourced Disneyland schools promised by magnet systems like Hartford’s, but the gains should be confused with success. Only 35% of their magnet schools students are on grade level in reading.

At the same time, leaders shutter black and brown neighborhood schools, fired black teachers and principals, and built dueling systems – magnets versus traditionals, suburbs versus cities – have left half of Hartford’s population living as academic refugees in terrible schools. Ironically, integration fundamentalists lift up this separate and unequal system of school as a model for the nation.

Let’s be plain with the truth. There is a word for the barrier Brown and Robinson encountered. It’s called racism.

People who support a system that tells black children that they can’t enter a publicly funded building merely because they are black are called racists.

When the government does it, we call it institutional racism.

The physics of social justice disallow the possibility that you can fight racism by being racist.

Today, most people would agree that racism is wrong, especially when sanctioned and enforced with the power of state government. A society where people work, learn, love, fight, sing, and create together – voluntarily and with goodwill – is a beautiful end state.

The question is how we get there? And, if LaShawn Robinson’s case teaches us anything, it’s that progressive relativists aren’t the ones to ask.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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