I wrote this paper while at UW-Milwaukee back in 1999. It's still pretty relevant fifteen years later.
The current debate over the future of public education affects the entire country, and this paper’s intent is to add to the discussion. My experiences as a public school student from Milwaukee compels me to write a personal narrative that might help others to understand what big city public schools are all about. I may cite other sources to back up what I say, but I am really the subject of this paper. I share a common bond with every Milwaukee Public Schools student, and they are also represented in this paper. Our stories are never told when policies are made or votes are cast. We are the “Third Friday” numbers, counted once a year to determine funding. We are the dropout statistics. We are the ones that the system failed. Most of all, however, we are all people, just like everyone who went to suburban, religious, private, or home schools. All children in all schools deserve the best education, and I hope that my story might help to improve the education in city schools.
John Baho is one of a very small number of high school friends that I still see a few times each year. He and I were discussing New Urbanism, which he had learned about during a lecture by Mayor John O. Norquist. Baho had seen the mayor’s semi-famous slide show, in which the audience gets to see why the city is good and the suburbs are bad. Essentially, the mayor promotes the beauty of cities, such as sidewalks, narrow and straight streets, historic building facades, trees, and public spaces. One main concept is that cities were normally built on a human scale, so that people could walk to where they needed to go. Suburbs, however, have been built since the advent (or as a result) of the automobile, so human scale does not exist. Curved streets and cul de sacs tend to lead around in circles, and the public spaces are nearly nonexistent, not to mention sidewalks. Wide suburban streets lead to wider parking lots in large strip malls. To top everything else off, every suburb looks alike, since the same planning principles and chain businesses exist as in every other suburb. I myself had seen Norquist’s presentation, since the mayor was one of my urban planning professors for a semester. Baho told me that he liked the mayor’s ideas.
I agreed with Baho that Norquist had some good ideas about revitalizing cities, but I let my friend know that I did not favor some of the mayor’s views on education. Milwaukee’s mayor is one of the “new mayors,” who “speak the language of modern public management: reinvention, innovation, privatization, competition, strategic planning, and productivity.” Based on these ideas, the mayor has promoted a “school voucher” program that is similar to school choice, where the schools compete for students and their vouchers. The mayor would also include parochial schools in this program, since “There are worse things for my kid than religion.”
A voucher program is not the “magic bullet” answer to the problems in education, and it even contradicts most of the planning principals that I have learned in the School of Urban Planning at UW- Milwaukee. My own experiences that I had as a Milwaukee Public Schools student, also contradict a school voucher system. My education as a planner and as a person have led me to the old-fashioned concept of neighborhood schools. I myself am a product of a version of school choice referred to as the magnet school. I am also a victim of busing and forced integration, mainly because children are constantly used to represent integration while their parents practice segregation. Many people were too busy playing a numbers game to consider the problems that non-neighborhood schools might create while they pretended to fix racism.
I was born at St. Michael’s Hospital in Milwaukee way back in 1975. Not much happened in my life for the next four years before I started kindergarten. My family moved to a “better” neighborhood. I probably learned how to crawl, talk, use a toilet, watch TV, and eat solid foods; maybe not in that order. I also likely learned how to identify people, such as mommy and daddy, and my mean sister Amy. I could see that mommy was a woman (she had long hair like all women). Daddy was a man who had short hair and wore pants all the time. Amy was a brat who teased me. We were all white, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise based on genes and all that, but just so you know, we were (and still are) all white.
My pediatrician was a black lady named Dr. Howell. To me, however, she was just Dr. Howell. I was sick so often when I was little that I probably visited Dr. Howell as often as I saw my own Grandma Jaeger, except for I saw Grandma Jaeger when I felt good. Both of them were nice to me, though, so I didn’t see much difference. Dr. Howell usually made me feel better, and Grandma Jaeger usually bought me something, including that BB Gun when I was about ten, which didn’t go over too well with my mom.
When I was four, I had to go to school for the first time. I was very cool, and I didn’t cry or worry. I was only going a couple blocks away to the French Immersion School-- 82nd Street School. I bet my mom maybe even felt that I went along with too small of a fight, but I had stuff to discover. I’m not sure if I really discovered much about race relations during my two years of kindergarten, but I definitely met all kinds of kids with all kinds of backgrounds. Mostly, though, I saw everyone as either a boy or a girl. I remember kissing Amy Walker while we were sitting in a big circle during five-year-old kindergarten. She was white. Madame Sheridan yelled at us and all that, and I was so scared that I didn’t kiss another girl until Amanda in third grade. She was white. Both girls left the very next year after I kissed them, which said very little for my kissing prowess.
There was one girl that I had a problem with in kindergarten, and her name was Aphrodite. She was anything but the Goddess of Love, and she pretty much kicked my ass for no good reason one day. She was black. Most of the girls were nice to me, though, and my first grade teacher made me see the school psychiatrist because I hung around with the girls too much. She felt that I needed more guys as friends. I don’t know what the school was trying to prevent or encourage, but I do know that just telling someone to make certain friends is probably a bad idea.
I sometimes wonder who my friends should have been, or who I should have been to them. I wonder if they remember me. I wonder who they were and who they’ve become.
My five year-old kindergarten class.
I still had problems connecting with some of my classmates, even after the intervention. I once stole Ted Kreutz’s baseball hat during recess and made him chase me around before I chucked it towards the roof. He told on me, and I said that I just wanted to see his hat because it was like mine. I really just didn’t like him, since he was the only kid in the class who was smarter than me. He was white.
I also didn’t like Nicole because she stole my role as the class clown. I always was the one who had something witty to say until she showed up (when we were five). She was mulatto. I’m completely at a loss as to what I ever did that was so witty, or what she ever did when she took my place, but I know it pissed me off.
One winter, I was told that some of the guys were giving face-washes around the corner. Not knowing what a face-wash was, I went around the corner. Weldon, Kennis, Tim, and Julius jumped me and showed me what a face-wash was. They were black. I really hated not being able to breathe with all that snow in my face, and I’ve never given anyone else a face-wash. My best friend Matthew helped me up after the others had finished with me. He was black.
Kennis had a speech impediment. The funniest thing was that he couldn’t even say his own name. He always said “Chennis” instead of Kennis, and we made fun of him long enough until he left the school. We were mixed. We also made fun of Rahul Dhuru a lot because he was very hyper, and he loved dinosaurs way too much. He was Indian. In fifth grade, Rahul said that he was an alien from another galaxy, and that he would self-destruct in a matter of a few years. Some of us believed him.
My five year-old neighborhood kickball team.
I skipped second grade, and many of the friends I had or hadn’t made stayed behind. Brett Braden quickly became by best friend. He was white. We ate lunch together and talked about all kinds of elementary school stuff, which I forget right now. Let’s just say Star Wars-type discussions. We didn’t discuss good and evil or anything that deep, I suppose. I guess he told me that he liked either Joy or Heather, depending on which year it was. They were white. I can remember liking Peggy for a while. She was black. Eventually I really fell for Erin, but I totally missed that boat. She was white.
BLANC NOIR ROUGE JAUNE
The idea that my classmates were anything but just classmates would have been as artificial to me as my adding what color they were in this text. I simply didn’t care. Allegra was Italian and Bekki was Jewish. Ameerah and Rahman were black and Muslim. Lisa and Erin were white. P.J. and Tim were black. Orlando was Italian and Peruvian..... I really didn’t care back then. Now I can talk about my classmates and magically become Mr. Multicultural. I certainly don’t have all of their skin tones memorized, but I do remember all of their faces. I still really don’t care what they are, but who they are.
I remember learning about white flight in my planning classes, not that I hadn’t already heard the term before. My mother grew up at 19th and Hampton during the Sixties, when her all-white neighborhood quickly became a mostly-black neighborhood. I have asked her many times about her views on what happened during white flight, and she invariably concludes that racism played the major role. Essentially, white families fled when black families moved into the neighborhood.
The racism conclusion may seem obvious, but Mayor Norquist presented a new (to me) idea as to why whites left the city: the schools. Apparently, white families, living where blacks began to settle, suddenly became very dissatisfied with the public schools, and they moved to where the better schools were located. A recent Chicago Tribune article also presents the schools as a major stumbling block for keeping and recruiting families in fringe neighborhoods. I found the new theory to be somewhat humorous. Instead of the traditional blame-shifting to “the actions of unscrupulous realtors,” known as blockbusting, we are now finding that concerned parents left for the welfare of their children. Whatever the real reason for white flight, the “tipping point,” or “the proportion of minority households that white neighborhoods will tolerate,” rarely reaches above 10-15%. Most of the whites leave a neighborhood at the tipping point, and integration never occurs.
Of course, ethnic groups have separated themselves from others for quite a few years, and the practice will likely continue for as long as groups of people see themselves as different from one another.
Christmas 1985 at Grandma and Grandpa Ost’s, 19th and Hampton.
The French-Immersion School happened to be my neighborhood school. Lisa was the only other student in my class who also went to her neighborhood school. Most of the kids were from all over the city. I went to a magnet school, built to draw white kids and black kids together. It worked. The only problem was, I didn’t live anywhere near the kids from my school. I’m not sure if the psychiatrist took this fact into consideration. None of my fellow students lived within walking distance (besides Lisa), and only a couple lived within biking distance.
My real friends were outside of school because they had to be. I didn’t really fit in with those friends either, since we rarely saw each other very much during the school year. Nevertheless, Paddy, Ryan, and Mark (in that order) were my best friends when I was young. Paddy went to Mother of Good Council and moved away when I was about five. I barely saw him again. Ryan went to St. Matthew’s and moved away when I was ten. I never saw him again. Mark went to Mother of Good Council and was my best friend through high school.
Other kids that I knew also attended other schools, either parochial or the non-magnet 81st Street School. Public school kids included Jed, Jaimie, Kelly, Matt, Paul, Pauly, Brandon, Becky, and Buzz. The other neighborhood kids went to private parochial schools-- Meagan, Monty, Jeremy, Patrick, Robert, Robin, Jenny, Richy, Jeff, Kurt, Elizabeth, Katie, Brian, and Zack. Some kids I never really knew about, like Carl and the other Brandon, or Man and Donay (the black kids who lived up in the big haunted house for a few years). What I knew for sure was that none of these kids went to school with me. I lived in a neighborhood with children my age in nearly every other house, and I didn’t attend school with one of them.
Matthew Pope was my best friend in school for our first three years of elementary school. I honestly don’t know where he lived, but I know he took the bus and I walked. He never walked home with me, and I never took the bus home with him. Until I began writing about my early childhood, I’d even forgotten that he was my best friend, and for that, I am truly sorry. I made a lot of friends at 82nd Street School, but I rarely saw any of them outside of school, and the argument could then be made that I really never made any friends at 82nd Street School.
I did learn my big lesson on how mean kids could be in elementary school, especially to someone different. A student’s mother was bringing a treat for his birthday when we were in third grade. I was sent out of the room with him in order to help his mother carry the treats. I could tell from her clothes that their family was probably poor, but when the three of us got back to the classroom, everyone was laughing. I knew all too well what they were laughing at, but I was horrified when the other student asked me what was so funny. Being black and poor, I suppose he was an exile among exiles. I’ve always remembered that face when he asked me, and I’ve always remembered the feeling I had. Actually, as we grew older, we gave each other a hard time quite a bit, but there was always one line I would not cross when we ranked on each other.
The school itself left my neighborhood when I was in fourth grade. We moved from 3778 North 82nd Street to 3575 South 88th Street. That’s about seventy blocks. The French and German Immersion School was getting too big, so the French school was moved to the South Side. We always called the German kids germs, but they kicked us out like the disease, and I was no longer at my neighborhood school.
I’m not going to tell stories about how I walked the seventy blocks everyday, uphill both ways, and through the snow. I had it much worse than that anyhow; I took the bus each day.
Getting on the bus for the fist time.
The forced integration of the Milwaukee Public Schools began around the same period as in other big cities. The United States Supreme Court had handed down a few decisions about whether and how to integrate schools, but Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1 (1973) demonstrated that lawsuits could be brought against all northern school districts that did not integrate. School districts began using whatever means necessary in order to create de jure integration, including busing.
The history of Supreme Court cases affecting big city schools has gone back over many years, with Plessy v. Fergusson (1896) at the “separate but equal” beginning. A half century after Plessy, the court ruled that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas)
Interpretation of Brown would take decades, and remains unclear to this day. A major problem exists when we consider de facto and de jure segregation and integration. The courts had, in 1952, ordered de jure integration, whereas Plessy had allowed de jure segregation. The problem remained that most communities were plagued by de facto segregation, or simply the fact of segregation. The only step that requires no court intervention, de facto integration, has always been very elusive, especially in large northern cities.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 assured fair housing practices, though the freedom of movement in our country limits effectiveness of such de jure integration, as is seen in white flight. The schools were an easier target because schools could not move out of the neighborhood. Numerous Supreme Court cases attempted to establish an appropriate means by which to integrate, though I found them to be confusing and often contradictory.
The Supreme Court took a stance against segregated schools, but in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the court acknowledged that a large school districts cannot fully integrate. “In some situations, certain schools remain all or largely of one race until new schools can be built or neighborhoods change.” A “freedom-of-choice” school district in New Kent County, Virginia was seen as unconstitutional, since every white child chose their neighborhood schools and only 15% of blacks attended the white schools. Washington v. Seattle School District also found that magnet schools actually increased segregation, much in the same way. The aforementioned Keyes case (1973) outlawed de facto segregation, but Miliken v. Bradley (1974) determined that judicial remedies could not be used to correct de facto segregation. The Miliken case stated that the suburbs could not be used to help integrate a city school system, which allowed concerned parents to move their children away from the bad city schools and out of reach of integration.
Whatever the reason for Milwaukee’s current system of de-segregation, the city spends $58.1 million yearly on busing. The Supreme Court did not set any mathematical ratios for the mixture of races, but everyone in the Milwaukee system knows a little bit about the numbers game. My experience as a substitute teacher has assured me that white students still do not bus into all black schools, including North Division, a relatively new and nice building. Whites will, however, bus into all black neighborhoods in order to attend a specialty school, which then becomes a mostly white school, and integration is once again successfully avoided.
We called it “The Big Cheese,” and I dreaded hearing its loud whine as it approached my stop every morning for two years. I had been spoiled, I suppose, by being able to walk two blocks to school. My sister came down to 88th Street School for one year, and I also had two other friends on the bus, so year one wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The ride was still too long, at about a half an hour each way. Year two got worse, since I was on another bus route, and I wasn’t friends with anyone on the bus. There were some constants from both years that bear some consideration.
The bus always showed up, no matter how much I wanted the stupid thing to forget me. There were always some rowdy students, myself possibly being one of them on occasion. The ride was always at least a half an hour long, and I was near the end of the route, so we can assume 45 minute rides or more for some lucky kids. Nobody ever got anything done, like homework. I’d like to use my words carefully while discussing the bus drivers, but the fact is that they were responsible for too many kids and a vehicle, while earning just over minimum wage. I’m not sure what society expects from its minimum wage employees, but you get what you pay for.
The busing aside, I was a fairly happy student at 88th Street School. I had started to become active in sports, especially baseball, and my athletic ability in school also helped me to become a popular student. I pretty much learned the same kind of stuff everyone else my age was learning, except for most of it was in French. We still had reading and spelling in english. We also didn’t always have books in French, so social studies or science was in english, though not every year. All in all, je sais assez bien le français. It is a part of my life, just like all of the memories and experiences I had throughout my years in MPS.
Little League Baseball
Jovan got me thinking about race when I was in fourth grade, saying that one day he could be black, and the next day he could be white. He was actually half of each, but I began wondering what it might be like to actually be black. I still hadn’t been to any of my black friends’ homes, and when I did go to Jovan’s for his birthday one year, he had a white mom, a black dad, and a house similar to my own. I supposed there was something else that created his sometimes-blackness.
I thought I had all of the answers about blackness when I finally made it to middle school. I found a lot of new black kids there, and Eric, who had been there a year, demonstrated how a cool cat had to have a special walk, reminiscent of Richard Pryor teaching Gene Wilder how to walk in “Silver Streak.” I, of course, adapted my own walk, which I used to look cool while navigating the halls of Wilbur Wright Middle School. I later learned that it takes more than a Detroit Shuffle to understand blackness.
My best friend in school became Orlando, while Mark was still my neighborhood friend. Orlando and I were very good friends for two years, before he transferred out to another school. In fact, our friendship was on of attrition from the outset. Orlando, P.J., Rahman, and Bill were the only four guys left in my class from 88th. Bill left during our sixth grade year, and Orlando left a year later. The big exodus had actually been after fifth grade, though, when about half of our class had decided to attend different magnet middle schools.
I had always felt that I was getting a good education in the French Immersion School, but I knew early on that other schools were “better.” Ted, the smart kid, left our school for an “academically talented” school, Golda Meier Elementary, way back in second grade. Later, we were all given a choice of schools upon graduating from fifth grade, and I remember Roosevelt (the arts) and Morse (academically talented) being popular choices. The immersion program, however, cannot add students, so everyone we lost would not be replaced at Wilbur Wright, a school in my neighborhood with a bad reputation.
I really enjoyed my years at Wilbur Wright. There were some bad elements at the school, and we put up with some wild hallway antics, but the school was alright. Wilbur Wright is where I learned about the differences between races, too. The general population of the school was split three ways: the French, German, and Spanish Immersion; the neighborhood kids; the bused. For anyone but the immersion students, Wilbur Wright was not a magnet school. Most of the kids had likely applied somewhere else first, and I knew quite a few that had gotten thrown out of other schools, as well.
I was a neighborhood kid in a neighborhood school, but nearly all of my classes were with the French or German students. My best friend had to be Orlando because he was there. Besides, P.J. and Rahman had to be best friends. Bill was left out. Eventually, when Orlando left, I became P.J. and Rahman’s third wheel, but I don’t think they minded. They both came to my house twice. Orlando had been there about four times.
P.J., me, and Al-Rahman at my house
The common ground that we all shared with the rest of Wilbur Wright were the elective classes, namely gym. I got to know many of the other students, some of whom lived mere blocks from me, until that point unbeknownst to myself. I met John Baho, who would become a friend in middle school, but more so in high school. We had gym together, and we became friends, but I also learned how important my basketball skills were in making friends. The black guys liked me because I could play. By eighth grade, I was the first player chosen, black or white, and talk about an ego-booster! I once even made mention in homeroom that my great-grandma was very very dark, and before long my basketball ability was being explained through my possible heritage. I was popular with blacks and whites. I got good grades. I could handle the rock. I was in the middle of something important when I had to pick a high school.
Magnet schools are not the same as a choice or voucher system, mainly because of spelling. All three types of schools could easily be called Integration Schools. They all attract students to attend, and parents to send their kids in. The problem becomes who is being attracted, who is being denied, and what is being accomplished. In a study of New York magnet schools, the author concludes that “the existence of magnet schools creates an inequity in the sense that 1/5 of the students did not apply to the magnets, and 1/3 of the students who attempted to enter magnet schools were unable to do so.”
School Choice has been promoted as a new solution to the problems in big city schools. The poorest students are allowed to choose which schools they will attend. The concept seems simple, but the question of equity comes up. Why should only the poorest students get to choose, especially if we cut off the working poor? Also, choice schools are located all over the city, so the problem of busing is not addressed. In the study done on Milwaukee’s choice system, Professor Witte found that our program boasted a 35% attrition rate, and with graduates, only 53.5% of students came back for a second year. He also found that the students gained in reading and fell behind in math, though parental attitudes and involvement were good. Parents might think that one school is better for their kids than another, and no matter what the school’s accomplishments, they won’t change their convictions, because they want to believe, or they even need to believe.
Religious schools are a new battleground for government money in education. While watching “Hoop Dreams,” I am always hit by the comments that the families and educators make about the schools. Arthur Agee, one of the boys who commutes three hours daily to attend St. Joseph’s, comments on how the hallways are so clean “way out.” His mother and father are certain that he can realize his dream of being an NBA star by going to Isaiah Thomas’ old school. Even Arthur’s guidance counselor from Marshall City High (Chicago), comments on how much money they put into their religious school. Why would religious schools, with such a wonderful existence, want to participate in a school voucher system?
I always just go by what Jesus says in the Bible to decide if church and state should be separate, Mark 12:13-17(also Matthew 22:15-21):
‘ teach us the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give or shall we not give?’ But he knowing their hypocrisy, Jesus said unto them, “Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny that I may see it.” And they brought it. And he sayeth unto them. “Whose is this image and superscription?” and they said unto him, Caesar’s... And Jesus answering said unto them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”
I bet most of us don’t even know how many different religions practice in America, and though some of them don’t exactly need state support, many of religions might find $4000 per student to be Godsend. If our country can handle paying for the education and recruitment of witches, Muslims, separatists, Taoists, Atheists, Buddhists, Confuciansists, Hindus, Branch Davidians, Pagans, and Everyotherist, we’re more open than I thought.
A full voucher program, like the one Mayor Norquist would have, has drawn bipartisan support as our next magic bullet. The equity is there, since everyone would get to choose, at least in the city (remember Miliken v. Bradley). The unconstitutionality is also there, however (remember New Kent County, Virginia). A voucher program would increase segregation in big city schools unless a quota system is used, which then turns the voucher system into a city-run lottery system, which Milwaukee already uses. A voucher system would also encourage me to buy stock in busing companies, since parents inevitably choose a school that is not in their neighborhood, and if they do choose a neighborhood school, they could be denied access.
I waited too long to choose my high school. I figured that it was my neighborhood school, and I was in the French Immersion Program, which continued at John Marshall. I chose Marshall in the second wave of applications in the spring. I didn’t even make a second choice. A few weeks later, I received notice that I would be attending Washington High School in the fall. Washington was at least three high schools further away than Marshall, and it had a very high black population. I had no reason to want to go there. I didn’t know anyone else who was attending Washington. My current best friend, Casey, also applied to Marshall, since his parents had told him that Pius XI was too expensive. Casey, too, was denied access to his neighborhood school.
I was able to straighten the situation out. I had a guaranteed slot in the French Immersion Program. Casey ended up at Pius XI. We were both whites from mostly white neighborhoods who wanted to attend a neighborhood school that had reached its white quota. Thus was the beginning of four years of racism, confusion, and hatred. Somehow, it was also four of the best years of my life.
I started school a month early because I was on the freshman football team. None of us had played before, like they sometimes do in the suburbs or at parochial schools. I was chosen to start both ways (offense and defense). We were good, very good. We blew away a team that would, three years later, go on to win state. In fact, we shut out Hartland Arrowhead, a suburban school, 20-0. We went on to shut out the next three opponents, and were only scored on a handful of times. We had only one blemish, a tie with a very good Washington team.
Terrance lived one block from Washington, but he played for us. He could have taken his own school over the top. Hell, I could have taken them past Marshall had I gone there. T-Bone wasn’t the only Marshall player with ties to another school. Charlie lived closer to North. Anthony lived a few blocks from Vincent, as did Harold. Actually, I only know of two black freshmen who lived near Marshall. During the school year, I moved into a new house right near Juneau, but I was too dedicated to the team to leave. Rusty was accepted to King (academically talented) during the year as well, but he was dedicated.
Continuing the trend from elementary and middle school, I did not see any of my black friends at their homes. They didn’t come to my place, either. P.J. and Rahman had both gone over to Riverside, nowhere near either of their neighborhoods. Most of the girls from our class tried to get into King, and Erin, Bekki, Allegra, and Nicole succeeded. Lisa was forced to come to Marshall (her neighborhood school) with me. Marcia, who lived two blocks from Custer, and Matinah, who lived near Washington, also came to Marshall.
I don’t know when it happened, or why, but I didn’t hang out with the football team all that much, nor with the black kids. The white kids seemed to band together, not out of racism, but sort of out of fear. I wasn’t too scared because of my size, but I think some of the guys were, as were most of the girls. If you imagine how rough it must be for the minority few black kids in a suburban school, we had the opposite problems in an urban school. Apparently, whoever the majority is, the minority suffers.
Our school traveled downtown for a job fair when we were sophomores. There was some tension in the air as every school was represented. There seemed to be some rival gangs talking smack to each other, and we all left a bit early. The attendees of the job fair were mostly black, and a very large group of boys from another school began calling the white people names like cracker and honkey, not that most white people are even offended by such remarks. Most of our group quickly made their way to the bus, but Sean and I, two tough football players, walked calmly toward safety. Suddenly, a group of around twenty black guys came flying across the street, and both Sean and I received multiple punches to the head as they ran by. Later that night, my father called the TV stations to report the hate crimes, but white people aren’t victims, and nobody ever knew about the incident.
Racial tension certainly existed in the school as well. When I broke my ankle, one black girl went off on me, saying that I deserved it because I was white, and threatening to knock me off my crutches. Other black girls decided that they would grab the white guys’ asses, and not in a way that showed their attraction. Essentially, they sexually assaulted many of us for the few weeks that they enjoyed the behavior, and none of us told anyone because nothing could or would be done. We knew that much. I attended black history programs where many of the black kids were disruptive, and often made very hateful comments after the program ended.
The pinnacle of race relations at Marshall, however, was our “white kill day.” Reminiscent of the freshman kill day, which I had successfully attended freshman year, white kill day promoted the same mentality: see a white person, beat them up. Enough white people skipped school and called the authorities that this one made the news. I was pretty lonely when I actually showed up on white kill day, since none of my white friends came to school. Whites made up a little over %25 of Marshall’s population, though we felt much smaller at times. I was big enough and I knew enough black kids so that I was safe, but this one guy named Jason got his ass kicked and his shoes stolen. I still don’t know what white kill day was all about.
I had some days in high school when I really disliked black kids. Not the ones who were my friends, mostly the athletes, but I just didn’t like the ones who constantly intimidated the white kids. I even began to ask how people in the suburbs, or my family on the farm, could be so racist, when it was me that had to put up with all kinds of crap from the black kids. I know from a conversation with a white girl at Vincent High School recently that the white kids still feel the same. We felt that if the black kids left, our school would be so nice. You may call me a racist, but it was next to impossible to feel any different. Did they belong in my neighborhood school? Did I deserve to be treated as inferior? Was this integration worth it?
A telling picture of separate but equal Homecomings. (Upper left is all black for football; upper right is nearly all white for soccer; separate queens below)
Neighborhoods have to integrate, not schools. The school must be an integral part of the community, and only neighborhood schools succeed in bringing a community together. We can look at a large city as many small towns weaved together,not just for the sake of government, but for the sake of each resident of that city. Professor Mangiamele from UWM’s Urban Planning Department sees each part of the city as an urban village that would be self-sustaining. The village would be on a human scale, where people would be able to walk places, and the heart of each village would be the children.
The village would have to educate the child in order to thrive as a community. Being on a human scale, regardless of racial makeup, the child must attend the community school. The schools should be the centers of the community, and the role would not end at 3:30. A school always has facilities that would be important for neighborhood relations, including an auditorium and/or gymnasium. Schools also have a library or media center that could be open to the public. A cafeteria might become a trendy coffee shop at night, with outdoor seating for the summer months.
We are all too scared about “strangers” at schools, kidnapping or shooting our children. One problem with our kids, however, is they are isolated from adults for a longer period of time, likely until they graduate. They don’t see Mrs. Johnson down the block, or Ricky the electrician. If the children not only meet, but interact with their neighbors, a sense of belonging follows. The students at community schools would also be expected to work in the area dealing with “problems of community renewal, the environment, and social services.”
If the school is not our local gathering place, where should it be? Milwaukee has many taverns for parents and neighbors to frequent. One might shop at a grocery store, or check out the local library. Some people join athletic clubs, or attend book readings. All but the drinking could be done at a local school. People have to want their schools to get better, though. We need to stop expecting something for nothing. Parents and neighbors need to get involved, and I mean daily. People have to actually care, and teach the kids to care, about themselves and their community. In a recent article about the possibility of going back to neighborhood schools, most of the parents interviewed were most concerned about the safety of their children. Isn’t it sad that parents are so concerned about the safety of their children in their own neighborhood that they ship the children off to be some other community’s concern? We must work on fixing our own problems.
The $58.1 million could go in many other directions rather than for a bus ride. The establishment of successful integrated neighborhoods is much more important than busing towards imaginary integration. A school as a community center would be a hit, but would also cost money. More teachers never hurt a school, either. Most of all, every dollar that is spent on MPS students should help to improve their present and their future. Only community schools can do both, while also improving neighborhoods for everyone.
Senior year came, and I suddenly felt that I was once again on the verge of something important in my life. I had the grades and the test scores to attend just about any college. I was very popular in school with both blacks and whites. I was happy, and I actually used that as my self-description on a few college applications. My classes were pretty easy, but I did have an English class that kept me thinking. Mr. Morris was our teacher, and on most subjects he was full of it. I did agree with one statement he made, however: “White people have the right to move as far away as they can, and black people have the right to chase them.” He made it all seem so comical and light. I began to think about the whole subject, and it was pretty funny. Why were they chasing me, and what did I have that they wanted? I always had wished that the black people would chase the whites out in the suburbs; the whites who hated blacks for no reason; the whites who have decided that the mini-integration of Chapter 220 is too much of a hassle; the whites who I don’t belong with. I realize now, however, that the blacks must first catch me.
Morris reminds me of an observation that I’ve made. MPS teachers are not bad teachers. Politicians and the media are quick to blame teachers, but one planning lecturer put it in simple terms for me. He said that if you take all of the teachers at Nicolet (one of Wisconsin’s best schools) and stuck them in North Division (one of Milwaukee’s least successful schools), nothing would change. The students could switch schools instead, and still nothing would change. The reasons might be socioeconomics, attendance, parental involvement, attitudes. It is true, though. I got a good education in MPS because I would have gotten a good education anywhere.
Charlie, like Mr. Morris, used humor one time during senior year in order to shine a light on our race relations. He lived in one of the worst neighborhoods (by crime stats) in the city, but this was his joke for me during baseball practice: “Hey Jaeger! Guess what?.... A white family just moved into my neighborhood last week, and do you know what I said?..... There goes the neighborhood!” I couldn’t help laughing quite loudly, and we joked back and forth for some time, but we never solved anything. We never could actually solve anything, because Charlie still lived where he lived, and I wasn’t going to move there.
I know there are many black kids like Charlie with who I made lasting friendships, and I maybe wish there were more. The fact is, I haven’t seen Charlie or Terrance since we graduated from high school. I don’t live near them. I had always played against Charlie in Little League, but those days of young neighborhood pride are long gone, except for John, Casey, and Jeff. I still hang out with them, partly because of the bonds we made while playing sports, but mostly because we lived close enough to create lasting friendships.
I don’t doubt that all of my old black friends still see me as a friend, but the problem is that they don’t see me. I am just another white man until they get real close and see who I really am. I wonder if they will have to send their children all across the city, trying to catch the white people in the schools. Nous devons habiter ensemble, ou nous ne sommes pas ensemble.
My summer baseball team. John Baho with arms folded.
In a culture shock of my own, I attended UW-Milwaukee upon graduation. I was not used to so many white people, and so many of the kind that I didn’t really like. But they all saw me as part of their world, even if I wasn’t. More disturbing was the fact that I had no place with the black students, either. They saw me as just another white guy. Everyone now sees me as that, at least until I get my tan on, and then I’m mistaken for a Puerto Rican quite often. See, I was very close to something important at Wilbur Wright and at Marshall, but I will not be allowed to fulfill whatever it was. I guess I just wanted to realize who I was, and therefore who I now am. The simple answer is my job, my family, my friends, and my neighborhood, but I have no simple answers, only more questions.
I do feel strongly about the people who have helped to shape me, black, white, and other. I also know that I have helped define whiteness to a number of my black peers, and I’m glad for that. I somehow feel that my time in MPS was too superficial. I was forced into being someone else in order to survive, but I have now become that person. I know that I could have understood blacks and how I stood in relation to them if I could have lived next door to them, rather than been forced to be with them for 180 days of the year. Integration is , or should be, about more than just numbers. Integration affects lives. I know from the way that the white students banded together at Marshall, how our city team played the suburban school, and even by how the black students hang together at UWM that a sense of community is important. A student will seek out their community, even if it’s miles away from home. Our communities and our children should not be miles away from home, and we all know it. We must work on our neighborhoods in order to make every student proud to attend their local school, and play against the school one community away. Some neighborhoods might be happy in their singularity, while others in their diversity, but they must all be allowed to succeed as communities. The time has come to do something radical in education-- allow the students to succeed.
Michael Kirst and Katrina Bulkey. “’New, Improved’ Mayors Take Over City Schools.” Phi Delta Kappan, March 2000.
Mayor John O. Norquist. Urban Planning 141 Lectures. UWM. AUP Lecture Hall, Milwaukee. 2/25/97
Jane Adler. “Developers and Educators Join Forces to Open Good Public Schools That Will Keep Middle-Class Families in the City.” Chicago Tribune 2 Feb. 1997, final ed. : Real Estate1+
Truman A. Hartshorn, “Ethnicity in the City,” Interpreting the City: An Urban Geography, John Riley and Sons, New York, 1992, p 294.
The Editors ofSalem Press. U.S. Court Cases Volume 1, , Salem Press, Pasedena, California, 1999
Fischer, Louis; Schimmel, David; and Kelly, Cynthia. Teachers and the Law. 5th ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1999. p.335
Ibid p. 336
Joe Williams. “MPS Changes May Keep Students Near Home.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 11 Mar. 2000. Final ed.: B1+
Robert Crain. “New York City’s Magnet High Schools.” Rasell, Edith and Rothstein, Richard, ed. School Choice: Examining the Evidence. Washington D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, 1993. p. 93
Ibid. John Witte p. 101
Ibid. Vernon Smith, Robert Barr, and Daniel Burke p 65
Ibid p. 65
Adler, Jane .ÒDevelopers and Educators Join Forces to Open Good Public Schools That Will Keep Middle-Class Families in the City.Ó Chicago Tribune 2 Feb. 1997, final ed. : Real Estate1+. The author takes a stance that Chicagoland schools are not up to par, so parents are pulling their kids out. The vicious circle of concerned parents taking good students from declining schools is the real issue. No mention of racism or classism are made, but even a dopey reader knows that schools donÕt just fall apart for no reason.
Brown, Stephen Gilbert. Words in the Wilderness: Critical Literacy in the Borderlands. Henry Giroux, ed. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2000.This book describes what must be done in order to educate the marginalized. Community awareness and involvement are important to the author. The newness of the building also doesnÕt make the kids better students, itÕs the desire to learn.
ôain, Robert. ÒNew York CityÕs Magnet High Schools.Ó Rasell, Edith and Rothstein, Richard, ed. School Choice: Examining the Evidence. Washington D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, 1993. Crain finds that magnet schools donÕt work like advertised, but he looks to find ways that they can. The idea appears to be sound to him, but the equity must be worked on.
Editors of Salem Press, ed. U.S. Court Cases. Vol. 1 and 2. Pasedena, Cal: Salem Press, 1999. This book has a bullet format, where it gives a summation of the case. I used it as back up to the other court research I had done, and I found interpretation differences of actual cases to be interesting, but too complicated to use in my paper. The books featured many ofthe cases that I used, but I stuck mostly to the actual use of the other book, Teachers and the Law.
Fischer, Louis; Schimmel, David; and Kelly, Cynthia. Teachers and the Law. 5th ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1999. Questions and answers that deal with the legal rights of teache
rs, students, and schools. Many U.S. Supreme Court cases are cited and explained. No fancy arguments, just the use of precedence.
Hartshorn, Truman A. Interpreting the City: An Urban Geography. 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1992. This textbook style offering describes why cities are the way they are, but mostly how cities deal with what they are. The concept of white flight is addressed herein, as are other race issues, but mostly on a statistical basis. Facts, charts, maps, and stats used to describe urban environments-- a bit cold, but informative, nonetheless.
Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984. The Bible is an excellent source for defeating the idea of religious school chice, especially with the tension between church and state when Jesus lived. The Bible also dictates my views on others. I needed some conversation with God during this paper.
and Bulkey, Katrina . ÒÕNew, ImprovedÕ Mayors Take Over City Schools.Ó Phi Delta Kappan, March 2000. Mayor Norquist is among a group of mayors who want to take over the schools and make them better. The authors were worried about the control of schools shifting from a school board to one person. NorquistÕs planning ideas are sound, as are his ideas for minimal government, but there is no minimal way to take over all of MPS.
Kozol, Jonathan. On Being a Teacher. Oxford, Eng: Oneworld, 1993. Author discusses methods of teaching children where the children are first. Also some references to schools and the teachers duty to know the truth about their business. Kozol explains how to build relationships with other teachers, parents, and the children.
Kunstler, James Howard. The Geography of Nowhere. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993. A history of New World settlement from the Puritains to today. Detailed are all of the planning decisions that were made or avoided. The title is often used by planners to describe the suburbs and current suburban development. The loss of community is described, but urban renewal and better development can help bring community back. One of the Gospels of current urban planning.
McLaren, Peter. Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education. 2nd ed. White Plains, NY: Longman, 1994.Methods of reaching inner-city kids are explored using diary-style. Educators criticize the author for leaving, but the fact that he was there gives him some credabilëity. Some very socialist arguments that would be hard to sell in the mainstream, making conclusions difficult to implement.
Norquist, John O. Urban Planning 141 Lectures. UWM. AUP Lecture Hall, Milwaukee. Spring, 1997. The mayor took a hard line against MPS in its current form, and proposed a school voucher system. Many of his other ideas about New Urbanism and Urban Renewal are used in my paper. I quote him where I remember his words, and some of them made me angry.
Noll, James, ed. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Educational Issues. 8th ed. Guilford, Connecticut: Dushkin Publishing, 1995. This book has a compilation of essays, each taking a side on eductional issues. I used some of the information on school choice to ma
ke my assumptions for this paper, but funding issues, teaching strategies, and community issues are addressed.
Rasell, Edith and Rothstein, Richard, ed. School Choice: Examining the Evidence. Washington D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, 1993. A compilation of essays that argue for or against school choice and other alternative schooling methods.The authors are mostly college professors doing studies on the effectiveness of various alternative educating. The statistical evidence was important for my paper, but so were certain ideas about community education.
Ravitch, Diane. ÒSomebodyÕs Children.Ó The Brookings Review. Fall, 1994. The author takes a stance against school choice and religious school choice. Many of her arguments are used in my paper, as they are the conventional anti-choice ideas.
Rybczynski, Witold. City Life. New York: Touchstone, 1995. The author describes American development in the context of pragmatism. He writes the history of American cities and city living from the colonial days.H
ïe acknowledges that cities continue to grow, but some die while others grow. This idea is unnerving for the leaders and citizens of one of the dying cities, and questions whether we should work to save ours.
So, Frank and Getzels, Judith, ed. The Practice of Local Government Planning. 2nd Ed.Washington D.C.: International City/ County Management Association, 1988. This one really is the Bible of planners, with al kinds of zoning and court information.It teaches how to make a general plan, like a five year or twenty year plan. Planning can be useful in schools in order to help keep the schools running smoothly in the future, even if economic or social change occurs.
Wilkinson, J. Harvie. From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration 1954-1978. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. A detailed description and interpretation of Supreme Court cases that shaped current integration in schools. The authors assumptions about the direction of integration is swayed by the recent Bak?ke case and its possible repercussions. Very detailed accounts of a few court cases, with a biased argument.
Williams, Joe. ÒMPS Changes May Keep Students Near Home.Ó Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 11 Mar. 2000. Final ed.: B1+ This particular article and the Journal Sentinel in general report the current debate over what must be done in MPS. After much debate, the school system wants to go back to some form of neighborhood schools. Parents are most concerned about the safety of their children, which is sad in oneÕs own neighborhood. Also, I got the amount spent on busin öfrom here.
Witte, John. ÒThe Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.Ó Rasell, Edith and Rothstein, Richard, ed. School Choice: Examining the Evidence. Washington D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, 1993. Witte uses stats to show where the choice program in Milwaukee was going in 1991-1992. The conclusions by the author are for more extensive choices, whereas I see it as a failure.
Wright, John ed. The New York Times Almanac. New York: Penguin Reference Books, 1999. The almanac is a great source for information on religion, court cases, and statistics of all kinds. The numbers are normally just presented, without much interpretation. I found MilwaukeeÕs racial makeup as compared to other large cities, as well as our crime, wealth, and all kinds of info.