An constitutional law scholar at the University of Chicago gives us an alarming book that aims to vindicate the rights of public school students, which have so often been undermined by the Supreme Court in recent decades.
Do children who are undocumented immigrants have the right to a free public education? (They do.) Under what circumstances can teenagers be searched or suspended by school staff? (A very wide variety.) Can districts draw school zones in irregular shapes in order to achieve racial diversity in the classroom? (They can.) These are among the most divisive issues I’ve written about in a decade of education reporting. Indeed, they are among the most divisive issues in American life. And as Justin Driver explains in his indispensable The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind, the highest court has ruled on each of these questions, profoundly shifting the American legal landscape not only in classrooms but outside of schools as well ... If there is a criticism to be made of The Schoolhouse Gate, it might be that its organization, in which cases are clustered by topic instead of dealt with chronologically, dulls some of the impact of this historical shift, and makes it harder for the reader to see connections among some of these constitutional issues ... Still, this is a minor complaint. Driver has performed a service in assembling the stories of so many important education cases in one encyclopedic, fair and elegantly written volume. It will remain on my desk for years to come.
In The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind, University of Chicago law professor Justin Driver presents a masterful analysis of the Supreme Court’s role in public school students’ constitutional rights more generally ... Across seven chapters organized thematically around different lines of Supreme Court cases, Driver...makes the bold claim that 'the public school has served as the single most significant site of constitutional interpretation within the nation’s history.' ... The book is best when it goes beyond the justices’ opinions to give broader context to each case, including contemporaneous responses by national and local newspapers and the background stories of courageous student plaintiffs and their parents. Though Driver doesn’t make the connection explicit, many of these stories relate to current societal debates ... Powerful as the book is, however, it feels incomplete on the role of the Supreme Court in public schools...these points (don't) undercuts the value of what Driver has written, however.
The involvement of the courts is recounted in vivid detail by Justin Driver, who sets out to rescue them from the purgatory to which critics across the political spectrum have consigned them ... Driver aims to breathe new life into the old lawyer-driven narrative. Courts and attorneys might not be as crucial as earlier generations imagined in their paeans to Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston. But if you look at the long record of judicial intervention on matters of education, you see that the courts still matter for young Americans. Unfortunately, Driver is on firmer ground for that claim when he looks at issues other than race ... what has the Court done to further the cause of racial justice and equality? ... as James Baldwin famously observed, de facto meant that segregation happened but nobody did it.