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With More Deliberate Speed: Achieving Equity and Excellence in Education:Realizing the Full Potential of Brown V. Board of Education

reviewed by P. Rudy Mattai & Jacqueline M. Williams - August 01, 2007

coverTitle: With More Deliberate Speed: Achieving Equity and Excellence in Education:Realizing the Full Potential of Brown V. Board of Education
Author(s): Arnetha Ball
Publisher: Blackwell Publishers,
ISBN: 1405156112 , Pages: 300, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com

The 105th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) appropriately chose to highlight what is perhaps the most problematic state of affairs in schooling in the US -

the elusive quest for equity and excellence in education for ALL. Arnetha F. Ball’s (2006) work commissioned by NSSE, With more deliberate speed: Achieving equity and excellence in education – Realizing the full potential of Brown v. Board of Education, purports to use Brown v. Board of Education as a jump-off point to “frame discussions about issues of equity and excellence in education from different perspectives and with a particular focus on literacy” (p. 4). Drawing on the expertise of “nine eminent scholars in the fields of history, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, language policy, and educational reform . . . along with a responding scholar” (p. 4) to each of the nine essays, the piece provides a plethora of views on the place of Brown in the elusive quest for equity and excellence in education.

Undoubtedly, any opus of this nature is confronted with the probability for what may appear to be a lack of a coherent position by this august group of scholars who have been assembled to address this pivotal concern; the topic for discussion - the elusive quest for equity and excellence in education increases that probability. However, the intent was not to present a unimodal view of the topic but rather the exploration of variant views. Nevertheless, despite the ambitious intent to present a variety of informed perspectives, the reader is faced with the real challenge of ferreting out how to make sense of those different perspectives.  Given the controversial nature of Brown, or as Derrick Bell (2004 cited in Ball, 2006) so aptly describes it in an interrogatory manner, “How could a decision that promised so much and by its terms, accomplished so little, have gained so hallowed a place” (p. 1). The reader is left to question quite rightly what indeed was gained.  

The piece by noted scholar/activist Gloria Ladson-Billings and the responding piece by scholar Carla O’Connor may easily be seen as perhaps the leading essays, which really frame the discourses. Using Critical Race Theories (CRT) as the bedrock of her discussions, Ladson-Billings provides three scenarios in which she deconstructs the implications for that elusive quest for equity and excellence in education: (1) Racial Optimism, or what Crenshaw (1980, cited in Ball, 2006) refers to as “Color Blindness” and sees Brown as providing, as it were, the proverbial ‘ticket’ for entry in the educational arena and relying on the efforts of the new (if not fortunate) entrants in determining their educational success, inter alia; (2) Racial Liberalism, or the notion that while in essence Brown is to be hailed as praiseworthy, its shortcoming is its inability to become fully implemented; and (3)Racial Realism, which sees Brown as a mechanism for placing “more emphasis on raising Black children’s academic achievement than on merely insuring that the authorities [dominant ideological group in society?] meet federal compliance” (Tate, Ladson-Billings, & Grant, 1993 cited in Ball, 2006, p. 308).  

Despite the sophisticated framework Ladson-Billings has constructed, she concludes that while the three scenarios provide us with an ideological, kaleidoscopic view of the presumed intent of Brown, a certain inadequacy of their outcomes exists unless Brown is seen as a starting point even fifty years later primarily because of its inherent ideological flaws fifty years earlier. In making her case she posits:

One of the challenges of using Brown as the cornerstone of educational equality comes out of the way the case was argued. The attorneys for the plaintiffs built their case on a foundation of black inferiority . . . By pathologizing the plaintiff instead of addressing the underlying pathology of the defendant – white supremacy – the ruling and its implementations were limited. Instead of seeing the ruling as something the nation was doing to live up to its own promise, it ultimately became something whites were doing for blacks. (Ball, p. 311)

Ladson-Billings’ contention is rather potent, and such potency is further developed in Carla O’Connor’s scholarly response. According to O’Connor:


The effect of segregation was reduced to a social psychological reaction [emphasis added], as opposed to an institutionalized or material force that was internalized and which then systematically compromised black students’ educational outcomes.  Black people’s sense of inferiority was consequently positioned as the most proximate explanation for black students’ depressed educational outcomes. (Ball, p. 318).

In a real sense, what Brown effectively did was to deflect the historical antecedents that were pivotally rooted in structural inequalities and buttressed by an ideology of superiority/inferiority, which then evolved into a full-blown us/them relationship.  

Anderson addresses some of those structural inequalities in his piece, A tale of two Browns, in which he contends that even though schools in the northern US articulated a philosophy of equality in the provision of schooling opportunities for all children, they were far from practicing such philosophical tenets:

While some northern schools’ segregation could be attributed to residential segregation, much of it is, as Douglas (2005) documents, resulted from a variety of strategies created by local school boards to deliberately segregate children by race. . . . State officials placed [Black] children in separate schools, in separate buildings on the grounds of a traditional white school. Some teachers insisted upon racial separation within the classroom, requiring segregated seating arrangements in racially mixed classrooms.  (Ball, pp. 27-28)

But such structural inequalities, whether in the northern or southern US, were not limited to spatial segregation. Such inequalities were extended to curricular issues, and such practices are deeply rooted in the ‘pathologizing’ of’ Black students to which Ladson-Billings made reference in her analysis of the intent of Brown. O’Connor describes the way in which the curriculum and academic achievement (or lack thereof) among Black students is analyzed using the motif of ‘pathologizing’. O’Connor describes the way in which the much maligned ‘achievement gap’ between Black and white students is attributed to the myopic concocted “acting white hypothesis.” According to O’Connor,

The contemporary infatuation with the acting white hypothesis offers the most palatable evidence that teachers, academics, and the general public can be swept up by notions that signal black inferiority.  The privileging of the black-white achievement gap and the contemporary love affair with acting white hypothesis locks blacks and whites into a superior-inferior binary. (Ball, 319)

That binary which O’Connor lays bare is not carved out in hyperbolic terms but is deeply rooted in the educational process at all levels. Gordon and Bridglall propose to employ what they term as the Affirmative Development of Academic Ability which “suggests that academic ability is a developed ability – the quality of which is not primarily a function of one’s biological or fixed aptitudes . . . [which] would require the affirmative development of ability in a wide range of individuals through certain interventions in our homes, communities, and schools.” (Ball, p. 66).  As commendable and alluring as this sounds, however, Gordon and Bridglall suggest that this plan of action needs to temper down the thermostat on the issues of race claiming that the “preoccupation with race may be a part of the problem . . . [since] in a racist society, all social arrangements are designed to reflect racist values [and] explicit efforts to subvert those racist values are bound to come up against open resistance” (Ball, p. 64).  Instead they propose highlighting the issue of social class. This would have had potency had the remedy provided in Brown primarily focused on the economically and socially disadvantaged and marginalized groups in society, and moreso, as Carol Lee reminds us, had “race, ethnicity, and class [not been so] highly correlated in the United States” (Ball, 1992; Mills, 1997, cited in Ball, 2006, p. 74). Indeed, the Black-White Achievement gap that fuelled the acting white hypothesis is based upon the notion of pathologizing Black students’ lack of academic achievement and attributing their failure to limited intellectual ability. Lee’s approach, if not an alternative pathway to Gordon and Bridglall’s suggestions, is to focus on race in addressing the Black-White Achievement gap primarily in public policy, pedagogy, and the Black communities’ responses to the continuing achievement gap since according to the research, the “predictions from race hold across socioeconomic status“ (Ball, p. 75). Citing a rich body of literature on the role of race and schooling outcomes (Byrd & Clayton, 2000; Ferguson, 2002; Graham & Taylor, 2002; Baron, Tom, & Cooper, 1985; Ladson-Billings, & Tate, 1995; Oakes, 1990; Lee, 2005b; Lee, et al., 2003; et al.), Lee concludes that, “[t]he implication for practice is that schools need to consider students’ perceptions, the presence and effects of possible stereotyping, and the social relationships among students and between students and teachers as these are influenced by race” (Ball, p. 76). Nowhere in schooling is this conclusion more evident than in the consideration of language patterns and race.

Baugh, who is credited with the successful struggle to bring the plight of speakers of Ebonics, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or what he euphemistically refers to as English as Not being Native (ENN), modestly omits an important watershed in the linguistic debate and the implications for pathologizing Black students’ academic efforts in particular as well as the implications for addressing the elusive quest for equity and excellence in education for ALL students. According to Ball and Alim ((Ball, 2006), Baugh, through the use of a rather significant but little known court case, King et al. v. Ann Arbor (1979), points out rather poignantly that the courts felt that it was the moral imperative for educational institutions to “take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs“ (Ball, 2006, 1p. 111).  In the King case,  the parents and supporters of the children of Martin Luther King Elementary School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed a complaint on their behalf against the Ann Arbor School District Board claiming that, primarily because of the teachers’ lack of knowledge of Ebonics, AAVE, or ENN,

Their children had been placed in learning disability and speech pathology classes (although these labels did not apply to them); they had been suspended and repeatedly retained at grade level with no intervention to redress their educational failures; and they were not learning how to read. (Smitherman & Baugh, 2002, p. 11)

It is interesting to note that even though this case is somewhat obscure and never attained the level of stare decisis, it reached the level of linguistic precedent. Much more, it manifested the inherent practice in which language use became one of the ways that teachers pathologize the cultural capital that Black children bring to the classroom thereby promoting the students’ lack of academic achievement. The decision rendered in King in some way gave support to Ladson-Billings and O’Connor’s positions. The court ruled that:

(1) A language barrier existed between the plaintiff children and the teachers in the Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School because of the failure of the teachers to take into account the home language or dialect of the children in trying to teach them to read standard English. This was caused by the failure on the part of the defendant School Board to develop a program to assist the teachers in this respect;

(2) The dialect spoken by the children is a version of English called "black English" and is related to race;

(3) The barrier was one of the causes of the children's reading problems which they all experienced and which impeded the children's equal participation in the school's educational program; and

(4) The statute enacted in 1974 by Congress directs the school system to take appropriate action to overcome the language barrier. (King  et al. v. Ann Arbor, 1979).

The upshot of this decision and remedy from the court was that the school district was charged with the responsibility for ensuring that all teachers were professionally prepared to address the language concerns of minority students rather than deeming the cultural capital of such children as a manifestation of linguistic shortcomings and thereby relegate such children to the effects of a deficit model or manifesting intellectual inferiority. In the same vein as Ladson-Billings, O’Connor, and Lee’s discourses,  other contributors to this piece manifest another structural problem that Brown did not address.  They contend that there is still an attempt by teachers in predominantly culturally and linguistically different classrooms to equate linguistic patterns that do not approximate that of the valued cultural capital to intellectual inferiority and for such teachers to apply the glamorized acting white hypothesis to rationalize their misdiagnosis the ruling of Judge Joiner in King v. Ann Arbor (1979) and the subsequent works by Baugh, et al.  Ball and Alim (Ball, 2006) succinctly encapsulate the primacy of language issues in this scheme of pathologizing those who do not possess the valued cultural capital’s rendering of acceptable language patterns:

Most American suggestions about pedagogy on language attitudes and awareness tend to discuss linguistic stigmatization in terms of individual prejudices, rather than as discrimination that is part and parcel of the socio-cultural fabric of society, which serves the needs of those who currently benefit the most from what is portrayed as the “natural” sociolinguistic order of things. (Ball, 2006, p. 116)  [Emphasis in original]

The observation by Ladson-Billings regarding Brown that there is a certain inadequacy of the outcomes unless Brown is seen as a starting point even fifty years later primarily because of its inherent ideological flaws fifty years earlier is not limited to the US but finds itself in the same predicament when it is used by other geographical entities in their elusive quest for equity and excellence in education for ALL This is rather evident in the pieces by Professor Jansen and scholar/activist Sehoole who both labor in the academy in South Africa. One has to question Jansen’s expressed position that, “The problem in South Africa with respect to equal educational opportunities is that complex shifts have taken place in the first decade of democracy that could have not been completely predicted”, especially in the light of his analyses of some of the shenanigans of those who perceive that they have a monopoly on valued cultural capital in the South African society. Thisled him to conclude that “the problem with these kinds of arguments is their lack of graciousness, and their singular lack of acknowledgement of history and politics in analyses that far too often betray an underlying logic of racial self-protection under the guise of minority rights” (Ball, pp. 220-221). [Italics added]. Sehoole’s rather incisive response to Jansen’s piece is instructive of the shortcomings of Brown that have been addressed by some scholars in this opus and certainly not limited to the case of the US:

South African schools have not yet reached integration in terms of the qualitative changes in the ethos of the school and change in the curriculum, assessment practices, and school culture.  Experiences in desegregated schooling systems show that policies, laws, and court orders are not enough to achieve the intended goals of desegregation. Human agency is key, whether it results in either the realization or the undermining of policy goals. . . . The influence of powerful sectors of society in determining what is just is also revealed in the reluctance of the courts to intervene in cases where laws are being disobeyed, which tends to be explained in terms of “judicial restraint.” Judicial restraint is often exercised in instances where the interest of the dominant classes are not the interests being threatened. (Ball, 2006, pp. 245-246) [Emphasis in original]

To be sure this volume does provide a plethora of views on the place of Brown in the elusive quest for equity and excellence in education and the problematic of having some concensus as to real merit of Brown would be not merely a Herculean task but most likely one that is virtually impossible. However, the observation by Ladson-Billings regarding Brown that there is a certain inadequacy of the outcomes unless Brown is seen as a starting point even fifty years later primarily because of its inherent ideological flaws fifty years earlier is worth pursuing in a more deliberate and concentrated matter. Indeed, her contention that “the attorneys for the plaintiffs built their case on a foundation of black inferiority . . . [and by] pathologizing the plaintiff instead of addressing the underlying pathology of the defendant – white supremacy – the ruling and its implementations were limited.“ is worthy of being the hypothesis of such a study.  Indeed, Ladson-Billings, et al., are echoing what may be seen as the starting point of such a study and that was concluded by the renowned scholar/political activist and former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Sir Eric Williams, in his pre-conservative days and almost concurrent with Brown:

Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. . . . The features of the man [sic], his hair, color, and dentifrice, his “subhuman” characteristics so widely pleaded, were only the later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed labor and resorted to Negro labor because it was the cheapest and the best. This was not a theory, it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter. He would have gone to the moon if necessary, for labor.  Africa was nearer than the moon, nearer too than the more populous countries of India and China. But their turn was to come. (Williams, 1966, pp. 19-20) [Emphasis added]

Is the decision (remedy?) rendered in Brown a modern day version of those earlier rationalizations?


King et al., v. Ann Arbor, 473 F. Supp. 1371; (U.S. Dist., MI, 1979).

Smitherman, G., & Baugh, J. (2002).  The shot heard from Ann Arbor: Language research and public policy in African America.  Howard Journal of Communications, 13: 1, 5-24.

Williams, E. (1966). Capitalism & slavery.  New York: Capricorn Books.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 01, 2007
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14575, Date Accessed: 12/7/2021 4:34:47 PM

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About the Author
  • P. Mattai
    SUNY-College at Buffalo
    E-mail Author
    P. RUDY MATTAI, Ph.D. is Professor, Educational Foundations, SUNY-College at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, currently President (2006-2009) of the Global Federation of the Associations for Teacher Education (GloFATE) and immediate Past President (2006-2007) of the Association for Teacher Educators (USA). He is the editor of the Child Studies Journal. He is also CEO & Principal Associate of Cosmos Consulting Associates, LLC, a private corporation that focuses on educational program development, assessment, evaluation & personnel recruitment internationally at all levels of private and public education. His research areas are race and ethnic issues in schooling, community and schooling, and urban education; he has published widely in those areas. He has received numerous awards and consults nationally and internationally on diversity issues and program development and evaluation. Contact: prmattai@roadrunner.com or mattaipr@buffalostate.edu
  • Jacqueline Williams
    Global Educational Services
    E-mail Author
    JACQUELINE M. WILLIAMS, Ed.S. is currently completing an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on the Gifted and Talented. She has been an instructor in Exceptional Education in public schools in New York and Florida and has taught in both traditional and nontraditional classrooms. She is actively engaged in school board administration and pursues research activities in the area of the gifted and talented. She is President of Global Educational Services which provides a vast array of consulting services in P-20 educational levels internationally and has received numerous academic awards including the Certificate of Excellence Award and a Minority Fellowship Award, SUNY-College at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York. Contact: jmw_135@hotmail.com
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