RACIAL DOMINATION WAS, FROM THE OUTSET, the most glaring flaw in the ideology of the American dream. It began when the dream began, with Captain John Smith’s move to the “New World” in 1607. In his comments are all the elements of the American dream: equal opportunity for all, a chance of success for each, control over our nation’s political and economic future, and virtue, since America was “as God made it when hee created the world.” But enslaved Africans, who arrived in Virginia soon after Smith did, were not “borne to a new life”—or at least not one that allowed participation in the American dream. They were brought into, not out of, “every extremity.” And that terrible irony, the simultaneous invention of American slavery and American freedom, has shaped American society ever since. It has shaped its public schools as well. Desegregation has been our nation’s most direct effort since Reconstruction to come to grips with the evils of racial domination in public schooling. Beginning in the mid-1960s, it was the first as well as one of the largest postwar efforts to make America’s schooling practices fit its ideals. Many of the issues that we discuss in later chapters, such as funding equalization, school reform, the separation of children, and distinctive group treatment, are in part extensions of the successes of school desegregation or reactions to its perceived failures. Controversy over desegregation showed the difficulty in trying to satisfy both the individual and collective goals of the American dream; the experience demonstrated both the power of the ideology and the intractability of its internal conflicts. It continues to reverberate throughout American schooling and society. School desegregation was, on balance, an educational success. Its accomplishments were smaller than its advocates promised and less than they hoped for, but except when done irresponsibly or very unwisely, it improved the chances for black children to attain their dreams and did not diminish the chances for white children. Members of both races usually gained socially from the interaction. If it were politically feasible, a continued effort along these lines would be educationally beneficial. Ending legal segregation in schools and other public facilities, fostering real, not just legal, desegregation, did more to move the American dream from ideology to practice than has any other public policy or private effort.
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