By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — More famous as the birthplace of “I Love Lucy’s” Lucille Ball, and NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, Jamestown, N.Y. is a well preserved vestige of rural Americana.
Tucked safely away in the southwestern corner of Chautauqua County between Lake Erie and the Allegheny National Forest, near Lake Chautauqua, not 20 miles from the Chautauqua Institution, the entire area is ideal for naturalists and artists of all kinds from all over the world including yours truly.
I love the place for its beauty, its serenity and its delicious Concord grape producing, dairy farming and quality furniture manufacturing history.
For anyone seeking peaceful quiet inspiration punctuated by a chorus of bird-song in a relaxing atmosphere amongst the tree painted rolling hills, or a challenging hike along brooks and fish filled streams that decorate the meandering nature trails, Chautauqua and vicinity is just what the doctor ordered.
Chautauqua is a good place to think!
But, ironically, last Friday, the normal hush of this quaint reminder of the way things used to be all over America was visited by the bustled arrival of Buffalo native, Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Roberts; you know, the gentleman whom some credit and others blame for the survival of the Affordable Health Care laws, aka “Obamacare” last year?
Mr. Justice Roberts and the noisy entourage of camera crews, supporters and the less than thrilled to see him throngs, was in town to address a gathering of more than 1,000 local students and a few other interested parties at the Jackson Center in beautiful Jamestown exactly 60 years since May 17, 1954 when the U. S. Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education, its unanimous landmark decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
The Center, named after U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Houghwout Jackson, who lived in Jamestown for more than 40 years, was appointed by President Roosevelt in 1941.
He sat for 13 terms, including the term when Brown v Board was argued prior to his resignation when he left the Court to serve as the American Chief of Counsel prosecuting principal Nazi leaders before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
Jackson disapproved of segregation, though he apparently had reservations about “judicial activism” and the enforceability of the law, nevertheless he joined the rest of the Court, making it a hard fought, but unanimous decision before his departure.
Basically, the Court held that the so-called principle of “separate but equal” which was the law of the land based on a previous Supreme Court ruling in a 1896 case known as Plessy v Ferguson, was unconstitutional.
The Court essentially asked whether segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities.
And the Court answered, “We believe that it does ... We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Today, 60 years later, after decades of attempts to implement the law, it looks to some, that Jackson may have been correct about his reservations; we still have not been able to entirely implement the law if indeed, its real purpose was to completely end segregation in public education.
There are still to this day, hundreds of segregated schools, though, of course, many have effectively ended the legally enforced version of the practice based solely on race; today segregation is more likely the result of class, not just race, but the results are the same as they were 60 years ago for many.
If the true objective of Brown v Board was to ensure equal access to equal education and, if we measure the effectiveness of implementation by the outcomes, we appear to have a long way to go; graduation and drop-out rates, especially among African American males in particular are still far from acceptable.
Though we have made significant strides forward, we continue to face some nagging challenges.
As one recent report notes, for the first time in decades, the United States is making steady gains in the number of high school students earning diplomas, putting it on pace to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.”
But, the report adds, “Minority students also continue to fall well behind their white peers, with about one-third of African-American students and 29 percent of Hispanic students dropping out before graduation”.
The “Building a Grad Nation” report, co-authored by Johns Hopkins University’s Robert Balfanz, found that the national graduation rate jumped from 71.7 percent in 2001 to 78.2 percent in 2010, “with the pace of improvement accelerating in the past few years.”
“For the first time in 40 years, we have seen significant, sustained improvement,” according to John Bridgeland, a co-author of the study and the chief executive of Civic Enterprises, a public policy group in Washington, D.C.
As the new Boards of Education take their seats they must devise new cooperative strategies aimed at seriously addressing the underlying issues that continue to contribute to our failure to rise to our potential; more effective strategies must be considered and implemented.
Perhaps a serious Western New York Education Summit, set in the pristine calm of Chautauqua, away from the hustle-bustle might provide just the right environment for our Boards to come up with some new approaches toward one of our most perplexing challenges.
We simply cannot afford to keep doing what we have always done and expect different results.
Contact Bill Bradberry at firstname.lastname@example.orgContact Bill at email@example.com