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Disaster by Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools


reviewed by Robert A. Dentler - 1977

coverTitle: Disaster by Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools
Author(s): Lino A. Graglia
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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Here, under a single cover, a Columbia University Law School alumnus, who practiced law with the U.S. Department of Justice and who is now Rex G. Baker and Edna Heflin Baker Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Texas School of Law, provides every debater with an exhaustive compendium of every argument against public school desegregation that has been marshalled, from Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 to Nancy St. John in 1975. With Michael Novak, Professor Lino Graglia leads from the assumption that busing for desegregation is "the Vietnam of the 1970's . . . ." His book has already proven so popular as to lead to his appointment as the anchorman in a nationally televised debate between members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and advocates of "neighborhood schools." Graglia's book is the best available layman's guide to punchy points against court-ordered school desegregation.


Disaster by Decree is so totally polemic as to be of no use to educators, administrators, and planners. No quarter is given, moreover, in fulfilling the polemic objective, which is to demonstrate that court-ordered school desegregation is unconstitutional, a disastrous social policy, educationally harmful to all living things, unaffordable, and a political mistake. It is so thorough in these respects that Cornell University Press has probably found the book sells widely for use as a catechism for antibusing groups from South Boston, to the Justice Department, to San Francisco. It should also appeal to those factions in the Sunbelt who agree with the author's estimate of Judge Clement Haynsworth as "one of the ablest federal judges." And, it should find its way onto college library reserve shelves wherever professors of social science and educational policy like to give special credence to the views of Daniel P. Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, David Armor, James Coleman, and Nancy St. John. Their remarks, wherever they speak against school desegregation, are treated with the scholarly respect otherwise reserved for Judge Haynsworth.


Graglia's tone, style, and selection of detail are so aggressively negative and his pounding arguments are so militant that a reader undecided about the issue of school desegregation would become intrigued by the possibility of merit lurking undisclosed on the side of all of the Supreme Court and District Court judges whose decisions and opinions are attacked. Graglia labors to prevent such an interest from developing. Speaking of the Brown decision after pages devoted to attacking the Brown opinion, Graglia writes that even the decision, entailing so "important a social change, should not have been made by unelected, lifetime appointees. The Brown case was less a traditional law suit than a call for a social revolution, and in a healthy democracy social revolutions are made by elected representatives authorized to effectuate their political views and accountable for the results .... This revolution was made, or greatly advanced, by judges ....*' This gemlike contribution to a political theory might be hard to attribute to his undergraduate studies at City College of New York, or to Columbia Law!


One contribution sometimes made by a polemicist is to render further case-making unnecessary. Graglia's book could be said to release us to concentrate on important questions concerning school desegregation, for he has summarized and codified in a vigorous, well-footnoted way practically everything everyone who has not worked directly on the planning and implementation particulars of this issue has had to say since 1950. Now come the hard questions: How do we make a better public educational system in the process of complying with Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution? Under what conditions do desegregation plans enable better teaching and learning to take place? Can we find effective ways to implement effective desegregation plans and thus improve transactions between parents, educators, and students? When these questions and ones like them come to shape the dialogue, Disaster by Decree will be less in demand than the Bates Motel in Hitchock's movie Psycho, which was situated by the old road, remember, rather than the new freeway.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 79 Number 1, 1977, p. 144-145
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1186, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 12:21:41 AM

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