Harvard Book Store, the American Constitution Society, and Mass Humanities welcome award-winning scholar and University of Chicago Law School professor JUSTIN DRIVER for a discussion of his new book, The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind. He will be joined in conversation by Harvard Law School professor RANDALL KENNEDY.
Judicial decisions assessing the constitutional rights of students in the nation’s public schools have consistently generated bitter controversy. From racial segregation to unauthorized immigration, from antiwar protests to compulsory flag salutes, from economic inequality to teacher-led prayer—these are but a few of the cultural anxieties dividing American society that the Supreme Court has addressed in elementary and secondary schools. The Schoolhouse Gate gives a fresh, lucid, and provocative account of the historic legal battles waged over education and illuminates contemporary disputes that continue to fracture the nation.
Justin Driver maintains that since the 1970s the Supreme Court has regularly abdicated its responsibility for protecting students’ constitutional rights and risked transforming public schools into Constitution-free zones. Students deriving lessons about citizenship from the Court’s decisions in recent decades would conclude that the following actions taken by educators pass constitutional muster: inflicting severe corporal punishment on students without any procedural protections, searching students and their possessions without probable cause in bids to uncover violations of school rules, random drug testing of students who are not suspected of wrongdoing, and suppressing student speech for the viewpoint it espouses. Taking their cue from such decisions, lower courts have upheld a wide array of dubious school actions, including degrading strip searches, repressive dress codes, draconian “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies, and severe restrictions on off-campus speech.
Driver surveys this legal landscape with eloquence, highlights the gripping personal narratives behind landmark clashes, and warns that the repeated failure to honor students’ rights threatens our basic constitutional order. This magisterial book will make it impossible to view American schools—or America itself—in the same way again.
“Indispensable . . . bold and ultimately persuasive . . . astute . . . exquisitely well-timed, given President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy . . . 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.” —Dana Goldstein, New York Times Book Review
“A masterful analysis of the Supreme Court’s role in public school students’ constitutional rights . . . Driver’s book makes for especially timely and important reading.” —Eloise Pasachoff, Washington Post
“Engaging and absorbing . . . Driver . . . calls on schools to challenge the racial and economic inequality in the broader society. He has the audacity to contend that low-income, black, and brown children have an equal right to share space with more privileged students in a system of public education. Anything less would be undemocratic.” —Richard D. Kahlenberg, The New Republic
Certain books were “banned in Boston” at least as far back as 1651, when one William Pynchon wrote a book criticizing Puritanism.