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Although the Supreme Court affirmed the state’s interest in using education law to “foster a homogeneous people,” the unanimous ruling also decreed that “the child is not the mere creature of the state.” Thus, the Court held that Oregon’s law violated the constitutional rights of parents, students, and private schools.For parents who could not afford private schools, however, the courts offered little help. Ferguson (1896) approvingly cited Massachusetts in holding that political majorities had a legitimate interest in keeping races separate.Furthermore, as prominent civil rights commentators have noted, integration is at best only one possible means to the end of school quality for all.
If this seems harsh, recall that the Ku Klux Klan was one of the two most active national lobbies on behalf of this schooling model (the other was the National Education Association).
For Native American children, government-funded boarding schools were used to involuntarily immerse students into Anglo-Saxon culture.
This pessimism misunderstands the way the Court works.
For one thing, doctrinal changes often confound “liberal” or “conservative” labels.
This bigoted education movement was not entirely successful in wiping out educational diversity. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court considered an Oregon law that prohibited private schooling.
Oregon’s law had been opposed by minority and civil rights groups, but narrowly won a 1922 statewide referendum due to backing from public school teachers and the Ku Klux Klan, who argued that “these mongrel hordes must be Americanized.” Similar initiatives, also grounded in white supremacy, were poised to move forward in other states pending the resolution of Oregon’s court battle.
Beginning in 1976, state courts overwhelmingly held that students could not sue schools for educational malpractice.
Courts also rejected arguments that school choice could be a solution to a legacy of discrimination (1968), or that suburbs should be required to offer buses for urban students to attend successful suburban schools (1974).
As with any national movement, this model of public schooling had many backers with diverse motives.
Crucially, however, the system was implemented during the racism of the Progressive Era.