Fictions of Integration: American School Stories and the Promise of Utopia After Brown v. Board of Education Open Access
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The Brown v. Board of Education decision marks a crucial moment, not only in United States civil rights history, but also in educational reform, as it presumed that national reform would follow the success of changes in the educational system. Surprisingly, within the vast body of Brown scholarship, little attention has been paid to the narratives that are taught to contemporary schoolchildren about desegregation, which presumably would help them to develop a framework for understanding their own racially fraught classroom experiences. Conversely, within children's literature scholarship, narratives of desegregation have not received attention as stories that are also about school. This dissertation examines the archive of children's novels about desegregation and makes the case that they can provide insights both for scholars of desegregation and for scholars of the school story genre. I argue that the often-discussed failures to realize the Brown decision's utopian vision can be traced to the underlying assumptions about individual success, failure, and ability that are built into the institution of the school, assumptions which come into focus when these novels are read as generic school stories. Nevertheless, I also suggest that children's novels highlight the potential agency of children, and suggest utopian methods of education, racial integration, and citizenship, in ways that policy discourse cannot do.