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On the 50th Anniversary of
Brown v. Board of Education:

The Train Called Progress

by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.

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This week, the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the watershed May 17, 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared an end to the odious and flagrantly racist “separate but equal” doctrine established by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. The Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, stated in its decision that “Separation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State, solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation, denies to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment—even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors of white and Negro schools may be equal.”

Brown, which was argued by leading African American lawyers of the NAACP, including the later distinguished Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, was unquestionably an historically significant victory in the struggle for civil rights, without which it is doubtful that the groundbreaking Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of a decade later would have succeeded. Nonetheless, viewing those turning points from a half-century hence, it is clear that their promise remains unfulfilled.

In 1988, Lyndon LaRouche, then himself the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, facing a 15-year prison sentence, wrote an evaluation of the legacy of Brown v. Board, in a LaRouche Democratic Campaign pamphlet titled, “School Integration and Busing: A Fresh Look.”

Here is Mr. LaRouche's introduction to that 1988 report:

The Train Called Progress

By the time of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, the doctrine of political equality for which the civil rights movement had worked, had been established as a principle of Federal policy-shaping. Nominally, all persons had secured virtually equal political right to a ticket on the train to economic and related progress. Look back to March 1968. See the long lines of the disadvantaged groups queued hopefully at the ticket offices of the opportunity railroad. Each person in the lines sighs with relief and a little joy as he or she receives the long-awaited ticket, and then moves to board the waiting train. Each breathes another sigh of relief at discovering that, just as promised, there is ample seating for all.

They sit, waiting for the train to start its journey. Departure time comes and passes; the train has not moved. New boarders pass the information that the departure is being delayed until all the travellers have received their tickets and boarded. They sit, and they sit, and they sit. Days pass, weeks pass. The dust has settled thickly all around the cars' interiors, while the ticket offices are still issuing tickets; but, the railway service has been shut down.

Equalityis a word with a sweetly democratic ring to it. The question posed by today's spreading downward spiral of misery within the majority of the U.S. population, is: “Equal to what?” This photo was taken on the steps of the Supreme Court, following the historic 1954 Brown v. Board decision.

A long line of yellow school buses approaches the railway siding. Government officials ranging from robed judges on down descend from the buses, and begin busing some of the passengers from the front cars of the train into the rear cars, and passengers from the rear cars to the forward coaches. The train does not move.

We must not permit our frustrations of the past two decades to underrate what the civil rights movement won up to the time of Martin Luther King's death. We must go further, to establish in fact the principle, that every child and youth, of whatever family background, has a right to equal opportunity for the fullest possible development of his or her potentialities. It is not sufficient that each graduate of our secondary schools have the right to equal opportunities as a candidate for employment according to his or her potentialities, and equal rights in the marketplace otherwise. Equal rights to seating on a train going nowhere, may be better than no seating at all, but we must not accept “nowhere” as our destination. The most general problem today, is that, instead of civil rights being a program for equal sharing of economic progress, it has become a political game of sharing-out what has become a steadily increasing misery. The train to opportunity is moving again; it is rolling backwards, downhill, while busy bureaucrats move back and forth from one end of the train to another, shuttling passengers back and forth in the effort to equalize the worsening misery. The general problem is, that as a nation, we are going nowhere but backwards.

The particular problem is that of defining equality of opportunity in a better way than our nation has done so far. The paradoxes of school busing point to the crux of the matter.

The apparent problem associated with school busing, is that some families live in what are termed disadvantaged neighborhoods, in school districts which reflect the disadvantage associated with that neighborhood. The same paradox colors all aspects of “affirmative action.” “Equality” is a word with a sweetly democratic ring to it. The question posed by today's spreading downward spiral of misery within the majority of the U.S. population, is: “Equal to what?”

Development of the Child

The heat of the debate over busing reminds us that “education” means much more than schools. The totality of the development of the mind of child and youth is chiefly an interdependency among four aspects of the student's life: the family and its circumstances; the community in which the student and family live; the impact of the idea of the nation as a whole; and the manner in which the student is caused to define his or her social identity as an individual in respect to all four-school, family, community, and nation-at once.

The defects of life in each of these four areas, as they impinge on shaping the habits of the young mind, are part of the process we call education. A good school's mission may be defeated in the greatest number of cases, if the values associated with family and community are in conflict with the values of the mission....

Outside the school room and play yard, this child and youth are part of the real world, and are painfully and otherwise affected by it; but, they have neither the authority nor the responsibilities of the adult. In the ordering of real-life events, the student is looking at the decision-making in the real world as a spectator peers through a window at proceedings in the street outside. As a spectator, and as one with very limited control over the real-world family and community events which affect the student's life, the child is forced to compare the rules and social values of student-age games, especially those of the classroom, with the rules and social values manifest in the adult world.

If the student's world is one set of rules and social values, while greatly different ones prevail in the home or the community, the conflict in values is obvious. The pupil looks at the teacher, and thinks, “You are wrong, teacher; the real world does not work that way.”

As the student matures from childhood into youth, the image of the nation as some ultimate secular authority becomes increasingly important. The student sees the larger world beyond the more readily comprehensible personalities and affairs within the family and community, as “they,” as “them.” The nation and more or less mysterious potencies shaping the policies of practice of the nation are, for the student's mind, like mysterious, powerful, earthly “gods of Olympos.”

The student's mind seeks to adduce the rules of the game and social values by which “they” play. The student's mind sees “their” rules, their social values, in the circumstances of his family, of other families familiar to the student, and in the circumstances of the community.

The upshot of the matter, is that educational policy must address the apparent conflicts in rules and social values of practice among school, particular classroom, family, community, and “them.” Irrational brutality in circumstances of family life, if this is consistent with the circumstances of the community generally, tends to negate the good we foster within the school and classroom. In light of these circumstances, the student imputes certain rules and social values to “them.”

A Flight from Reality

There lies the issue of busing schoolchildren as much as an hour or more of travel daily, from one part of a city to another. Such busing is a form of flight from reality of the problem, laying upon the schools-and the pupils-the burden of what the nation has failed to accomplish in shaping the circumstances of family and community life.

“What do you wish to become when you grow up?” we ask the child. Listen carefully to the answer. Listen with horror to the lack of one. In the response, one hears the echo of society's educational policy of practice.

Drugs and drug-related problems in the schools and elsewhere? The failure lies with “them,” those whose policy of practice has been complacency toward the circumstances of the family, the community, and the nation. Those young people who destroy their minds, temporarily or permanently, by such practice, are reflecting a deep-seated cultural pessimism toward the world, and themselves. They no longer believe in the power and importance of the rational powers of the mind; they fly into curious hedonisms, because they see the real world as a bad one, with no worthwhile sense of direction, and no future.

There is no more infallible symptom of a youth doomed to social failure, or even worse destiny, than the student who rejects, with such words of protest as, “this is boring,” each effort to engage the student's mind in development of its rational intellectual powers. Such boredom is the consequence of the sickness of cultural pessimism. If we fail to address the causes of cultural pessimism, in the conditions of the family, and community, and the nation's response to bad conditions in family and community, we must not blame our schools too much if they fail to overcome such obstacles.

We must repair our school system; but, if we wish those repairs to be successful, we must give equal emphasis to making the circumstances of family and community life rational ones again, and imparting the idea of the nation with a sense of rational commitment to achieving a purpose which is inspiring to the mind of the student.

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