Annual Meeting Preview: "Race, Reform, and America’s Public Schools"
Chair and Commentator: Laura Muñoz, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Black Education Organizing and Freedom Struggles in Chicago Since the 1960s
Elizabeth Todd-Breland, University of Illinois at Chicago
Natives of the State: Black Girls and School Desegregation in Antebellum Boston
Kabria Baumgartner, University of New Hampshire
“A New Kind of Youth in the Southland”: High School Student Activism After the Second World War
Jon Hale, University of South Carolina
Culture, Race, and Equity in the Denver School Desegregation Case
Kathryn Schumaker, University of Oklahoma
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Race, Reform, and America’s Public Schools
Schools have long been at the center of social conflicts in the United States, including those related to the role of children in society, the concept of citizenship, and the pursuit of civil rights. This panel features recent scholarship that will prompt discussion about the long history of race and school reform in the United States. From nineteenth century Boston to twentieth century Mississippi, Chicago, and Denver, the conflict over access to and the provision of quality education includes a range of historical actors who used every tool imaginable—grassroots organizing, protest campaigns, lawsuits, and pointed rhetoric—to shape schooling at the local level. The constancy of these struggles over time and place generated the idea for this panel, and the papers explore the contributions of children, parents, teachers and lawyers who sought to make schooling more equal and equitable for young people.
These presentations offer new directions for scholarship on school reform and histories of gender, race, youth, organizing, public policy, and the law. In particular, Kabria Baumgartner and Jon Hale’s papers contribute to the growing subfield in the history of childhood and youth by using age as a salient category of analysis. Young people—both as idealized figures and as individual historical actors—contributed to these debates in crucial ways. Baumgartner’s work interrogates the role gender played in early struggles to desegregate schools, while Hale’s approach centers young people as historical actors. Elizabeth Todd-Breland’s work recovers the ways that recent conflicts over the privatization of public education in Chicago are part of a long history of education struggles waged by Black parents, teachers, students, and community members. Kathryn Schumaker’s paper reveals the perpetual tensions between ideas of equity and desegregation in litigation brought on behalf of black and Latino students, offering a critical legal studies approach to Keyes v. School District No. 1, the landmark Denver school desegregation case.
By showcasing different approaches to the study of the history of American education, we hope to encourage discussion about how methodology shapes our understanding of race and school reform, and how it illuminates and submerges particular voices and histories. Moreover, these papers resonate in the modern moment, as student protest, teacher strikes, and litigation over racial equity in schools have all garnered national attention over the past year. We hope our panel can generate discussion about how the past can inform our understanding of modern issues of race and reform and spark debate about what can be learned from putting our projects in conversation with one another and with the broader field of American history.