The Supreme Court’s decision in Broad v. Board of Education in 1954, which declared the racial segregation of American schools unconstitutional, is universally understood as a landmark moment in our nation’s history. Yet looking back from the present day, we judge the integrationist dream post-Brown as an utter failure, in the belief that it harmed students and deepened racial divisions in our society. Though integration efforts continued into the 1980s, reaching a highpoint in 1988, since then we’ve reverted to a situation in which segregation-no longer de jure, but de facto-prevails. Was integration a social experiment doomed from the start?
In Children of the Dream, economist Rucker Johnson unearths the astonishing true story of integration in America. Drawing on immense longitudinal studies tracking the fates of thousands of individuals over the course of many decades, Johnson reveals that integration not only worked, but worked spectacularly well. Children who attended integrated schools were far more successful in life than those who didn’t-and this held true for children of all races and backgrounds. Indeed, Johnson’s research shows that well-funded, integrated schools were nothing less than the primary engine of social mobility in America across the 1970s and 1980s.
Yet the experiment was all-too-brief, owing to a racial backlash and the unwillingness of even self-professed liberals to send their kids to integrated schools. As Johnson argues, by allowing educational segregation and inequality to fester, we are doing damage to society as a whole. Explaining why integration worked, why it came up short, and how it can be revived, Children of the Dream offers a prescription for ending inequality and reviving the American Dream in our time.