Education Topics in the Courts

Education Topics in the Courts

A Chapter by Debbie Barry

An essay about the history of American education in the courts. Wriutten fo HIS 324: History of American Education.


Education Topics in the Courts



Although many cases in America's courts have had significant impact on the state of education today, there are a few that have made such an impact on American education and society that their titles have become household phrases, even if not everyone remembers why they reached the courts in the first place.  Two of the most significant, in my opinion, are the 1954 case of Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which began the racial desegregation of American schools, and the 1925 case of Tennessee versus John Scopes, which is commonly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, and which brought to the public eye the need to teach American children about science topics that might not agree with Biblical teachings.

In Brown v. Board of Education, "Oliver Brown ... sued the Board of Education for not letting Linda Brown, his daughter, attend Summer Elementary School, an all-white school" (Brown v. Board of Education, n.d., para. 10).  The case was in court over a period of 18 months, during which time the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) argued in favor of equal education for all children, regardless of race.  A major argument in the case was that "[s]egregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal" (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, para. 1.d), however, "[a]lthough the facilities were supposedly equal, the fact was that the facilities were, by far, unequal. The tar-paper shacks, which were used as the school buildings for blacks, could be mistaken for chicken farms" (Brown v. Board of Education, n.d., para. 10).  There were two rulings in Brown v. Board of Education.  The first "declared racial segregation in public school illegal" (Brown v. Board of Education, n.d., para. 15).  The second, coming a year later, "ruled that students must be admitted to schools without discrimination" (Brown v. Board of Education, n.d., para. 17).  In the end, it took nearly two decades for racial integration of public schools to become the norm in America.  There are those who would argue that racial discrimination still exists in some American schools where de facto segregation still occurs, even though de jure integration is practiced in theory.  The integration of American schools needed to occur in order for the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees "citizens of the United States ... equal protection of the laws" (cited in Brown v. Board of Education, n.d., para. 13) to be upheld.

The Scopes Monkey Trial opened a debate that continues to this day.  The case began because of a 1925 law in Tennessee "making it unlawful 'to teach any theory that denies the story of divine creation as taught by the Bible and to teach instead that man was descended from a lower order of animals'" (Linder, 2000, para. 3).  When John Scopes "assigned readings on evolution from the [state-approved textbook] for review purposes" (Linder, 2000, para. 5), he was accused of breaking the new law.  The case brought out hundreds of spectators and a "carnival atmosphere" (Linder, 2000, para. 7).  The defense team argued not that Scopes was innocent, but that the law was unconstitutional.  The trial grew to amazing proportions, and near the end of the single week of arguments, "[b]efore a crowd that had swelled to about 5,000, the defense read into the record, for purpose of appellate review, excerpts from the prepared statements of eight scientists and four experts on religion who had been prepared to testify" (Linder, 2000, para. 15).  William Jennings Bryan stated on the stand that "the words of the Bible should not always be taken literally" (Linder, 2000, para. 17).  Scopes was found guilty, but the decision was reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court a year later.  Although there was no clear resolution to the Scopes trial, and debate continues about whether science or the Bible is right, the Scopes Monkey Trial was important to education because it opened the door for people to think, and to discuss and debate opposing views about science and religion.  The promotion of thinking is the single most important thing this case could give to education, as the freedom and ability to think are the keys to a good education



Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483.  (1954).  Retrieved January 26, 2010, from         &invol=483

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  (n.d.).  Retrieved January 26, 2010, from 

Linder, D. (2000).  State v. John Scopes ("The Monkey Trial").  Retrieved January 26, 2010, from 

© 2017 Debbie Barry

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Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism welcome.

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Added on November 10, 2017
Last Updated on November 10, 2017
Tags: essay, history, education, courts, law, judicial

A Journey through My College Papers


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..