“The Problem We All Live With”

In the national debate on public education, the issues of class and race are subtle nuances that challenge the mission of a quality public education for everyone. From the Atlanta Public School CRCT cheating scandal to critical reviews of “No Child Left Behind”, it is no wonder that the public can sometimes forget why public schools were created in the first place. That is until something happens that reminds us that history is the ultimate recorder of record.

Until the 1840s the education system was local and available only for the wealthy. The common-school reformers argued for schools to be open to everyone because they thought it would help create an educated citizenry that would prevent crime and poverty. By the end of the 19th century free public education was available to all American children. Except that during the 1950s segregation was common practice in the US education system. The South had separate schools for African Americans and whites and this system had been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In 1954 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The ruling was met with rigorous resistance for years throughout the South.

Recently, President Barack Obama asked the Norman Rockwell Museum if he could borrow the painting “The Problem We All Live With,” of Ruby Bridges’s historic walk to school that integrated the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans, to hang it in the White House. The painting was made even more famous because it was featured on the January 14, 1964 cover of “Look” magazine. Well not only is the painting now hanging in the West Wing hallway, but the young school girl in the painting Ruby Bridges reminisced about that historic day with President Obama on her recent visit. See her brief comments on the White House link below.



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