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to children—and I would like, if possible, to show how this can begin to happen to a decent child when he is still at a very early age.
I am speaking as a resident of the Negro ghetto of Boston, as a former Fourth Grade teacher in the Boston Public Schools, and presently as a teacher of Fifth Grade children in the public schools of Newton. I speak as a white person who has remained in close communication with the families of my former Negro pupils, who has seen their despair over the ruin of their children's lives, their helplessness and disappointment in the face of an oblivious school system.
There are several ways, it seems to me, in which the schools that I have known tend to alienate pupils and plant in their hearts the seeds of future violence. There is, first of all, in the case of a ghetto schoolhouse, the area of simple, obvious, stated prejudice. It was in the Boston Public Schools, for the first time in many years, that I openly heard a word like nigger being used by supposedly educated white adults. Soon, I noticed, some of the white pupils in the school began to pick up the same word to designate the Negro children, learning their lessons, as it were, from their white teachers.
Another problem was the excessive and often unjustified use of corporal punishment. Many people who live in other cities do not know that children still are beaten with a thin bamboo whip in the cellars and cloakrooms of the Boston schools, and sometimes, for no greater offsense than failing to show respect to the very teachers who, behind their backs, have called them niggers. I would like to give just one example: A child at my school-an orphan-of whom it was well known that he was emotionally disturbed received a series of beatings all year long. I remember one instant in the cellar when I observed a couple of wildly angry white teachers gripping him by the arms while sending up for a third white teacher, as a sort of reinforcement, in order to break him down and whip him. When I asked one of my superiors if whipping him really helped at all, the honest answer was that it obviously did not. The teacher was frank and said that a child as disturbed as that boy wouldn't be altered by any number of whippings all year long. When, however, I asked--and in fact pleaded-that this child be given psychiatric care, the answer I received was that kids like him would just go in to a psychiatrist's office and tell him that the white teachers were prejudiced at school. The child was an orphan, a State Ward, he weighed sixty pounds. The time I saw them holding him down there, I noticed that one of the teachers was virtually gleaming with a kind of excitement over what was about to happen. There was a kind of punitive energy about him and certainly the expression on his face conveyed anything but distaste for the whipping he was giving. A comment from a passing teacher that I remember: "The little bastards don't mind acting up but when it's time for them to take their punishment they suddenly lose all their nerve." Advice to me once from an older teacher about how to make it hurt worse: “Leave it over-night in vinegar or water if you want it to really sting the hands."
There are some rules about these whippings. For example, a child is never supposed to be whipped without a witness and without a card being filed. An older teacher in my own school, however, confirmed what I had already suspected to be so: which was, in effect, that these cards were very seldom filed because the whippings were given far too frequently.
One member of the Boston School Committee has said that the trouble with all of these charges is that they depend upon pupil testimony and you obviously can't accept the things the pupils say. My own experience in the Boston School System leads me to believe that the exact opposite is the case-that, in any confrontation between opposing testimonies of teachers and children-it is the children who would have to be believed. Only the teachers have a real stake in lying because it is only they who have a myth of fair play to maintain. The Negro children can be quite blunt about it: THEY KNOW THEY ARE BEING CHEATED. The teachers, for their own sanity, have to deny it.
An an epilogue to the incident about the little boy-the orphan: I noted that one white teacher was doing such decent things as arranging for summer camp for one pupil, who was white, and entertaining at home the mother of a child in our class, along with the child-and that child also was white. So I took the boy I have described over to Cambridge one day, spent an afternoon at Harvard College, walking around and visiting with friends, and another time I took him out to Lexington and Concord with some friends and other kinds to have a few hours in the country. Finally, with the permission of his social worker and foster parents, I helped to obtain a psychiatric consultation for him. For this I was severely castigated and lectured on the fact that it was against school rules to have anything to do with a pupil outside of school. I was forbidden ever to
do anything of that sort again. Now this disturbed me very much. I did not understand why-if one teacher could arrange summer camp for a white boyanother could not help to get medical aid for a Negro orphan. I did not know why-if one teacher could entertain a white child and his mother at her home-another could not take a Negro child out for one day in the country. I could come to no other conclusion but that the code which dictated a separation between teachers and children was being understood at our school, and being interpreted in precisely such a fashion, as to militate severely against Negro children, and, in short, to keep the Negro neighborhood and the white faculty apart.
I remember a day when I saw this little boy all curled up in one of the corners of the auditorium which is what we were given for our classroom. I went over to him and tried to get him to look up at me and smile and talk. He would not do either. He remained all shriveled up there and he would not cry and would not laugh. I said to him: "If you curl up like that and will not even look up at me, it will just seem as if you wanted to make me think you were a little rat." He looked down at himself hurriedly and then he looked up at me and he chuckled grotesquely and he said, with a pitiful little laugh: "I know I couldn't be a rat, Mr. Kozol, because a rat has got to have a little tail!" I never forgot that and I told it later to a child psychiatrist, whose answer to me made it more explicit and more clear: "It is the absence of a tail which convinces him that he has not yet become a rat." Perhaps that is overly absolute and smacks a bit of psychiatric dogmatism, but in this case I do not really think that it carries the point too far. For it is the ghetto schoolteachers themselves who for years have been speaking of the Negro children in their charge as "animals" and the school building that houses them as "a zoo". And it is well known by now how commonly the injustices and depredations of this kind of school system have compelled its Negro pupils to regard themselves with something less than the dignity and respect of human beings.
It is of no satisfaction for me to relate this, but in a bitter way my judgment of this boy was vindicated. For a certain period of time that spring, he resorted to various forms of minor juvenile delinquency. At last his morale collapsed entirely and he was institutionalized. That little boy today is a resident in a home for the emotionally disturbed. I am not one of those who attempt to blame all the difficulties of society upon a single school, but it is hard for me to believe that a country as rich as America could not have given this orphan child a better deal.
I would next like to describe to you briefly the physical squalor in which Negro pupils are being educated within the Boston Schools, and in which they are being taught-more than any other single lesson-how little their country respects them and how little respect they can feel for their country in return. The class in which I taught my pupils was not really a classroom but the corner of an auditorium. Bad overcrowding and the school system's refusal either to bus or to redistrict had obliged the school for several years to pack two classes into the corners of this auditorium while still using the central portion for other activities. Singing, sewing, conferences, drama, and remedial work of various kinds of all took place simultaneously on many mornings. Torn curtains, rotted window-sashes, broken blackboards, and a faded U.S. flag highlight my memories of that classroom: these, and the dirt on the panes, the cardboard covering over broken windows, desks without tops, walls of peeling paint and, over it all, above it all, looking down upon it all, a portrait of Abe Lincoln. I used to feel torn with shame to stand and place my hand across my heart each morning and recite with my pupils a pledge of loyal allegiance to that flag of promised democracy which he included almost everybody in America except those who were poor, and young, and Negro.
The atmosphere in the cellar of the school had qualities belonging to a Dicken's novel; rank smells, angry shouts, a long grim corridor leading out into the schoolyard. I remember one teacher who used to post himself down there next to the toilets and coal-furnace every morning during the beginning recess. There in the gloomy half-light, he would stand watching the lines or herded children, holding the long thin rattan ever at the ready in his hand. If a small boy walked too slowly, took too long in the bathroom, laughed to another child, or did any other little thing that might be wrong, that bamboo rod began to threaten. I've seen him whip it at a boy on several occasions. I've also seen him do this: He would grab a child, one who was really little, maybe only three and a half of four feet tall, and, swinging him by the collar, actually bash him up against the wall. Whatever the pretext, the vehemence of the rebuke was always a hundred times too
strong. One day I noticed him virtually hurling a first-grade pupil down the length of the long corridor in the general direction of the door. I might add in this regard, when people speak of anger and turbulence in many of the Northern urban areas that the first experience of officially sanctioned violence in the life of a Negro child in Boston is the raised bamboo stick in the hand of a white teacher prepared to lash him for the smallest or errors and often for the most innocent of childish crimes. If we teach violence to children, it seems obvious to me that they will give violence to us in return; and many children in Boston today are learning that lesson of violence directly from their teachers.
Curriculum, too-teacher attitudes and classroom textbooks-have taken their toll upon the poor and Negro kids in Boston and have further alienated them from any fruitful involvement with their State or Nation. I would like to speak of just one or two books-the first of them a book that was not given to our pupils but given to me to use for reference. It had been used for years (it bore a school seal with all the scribbled names of various children), although it was now no longer being issued to the children. Nevertheless it was recommended and I was told to use some of it in a unit on the desert and on Africa. It was described to me by my superior as "an excellent book."
These are some of the things I found as I looked through this book to pick out some appropriate parts: "The streets of this oasis city of Biskra are interesting. There are many different people upon them. Some who are white like ourselves have come here from Europe. Others are Negroes with black skins, from other parts of Africa. And many are bronze-faced Arabs who have come in from the desert to trade in the stores. . . ." There next is a description of an Arab family:
"These people are fine looking. Their black eyes are bright and intelligent. Their features are much like our own, and although their skin is brown, they belong to the white race, as we do. It is the scorching desert sun that has tanned the skin of the Arabs to such a dark brown color." When I read this I could not think for what imaginary "we" the book was written. It left out 20 million Negroes and it also left out many other races and colors and kinds of people in America. It made one feel a definite relief that the Arab was not Negro: "Although their skin was brown, they belong to the white race, as we do."
I flipped ahead in the same book and found the chapter where the African Negroes were discussed: "The black people who lived on this great continent of Africa were afraid of the first white men who came to explore their land. They ran and hid from them in the dark jungles. They shot poisoned arrows from behind the thick bushes. They were savage and uncivilized."
This was a description of two of the Negro children:
"Yumbu and Minko are a black boy and a black girl who live in this jungle village. Their skins are of so dark a brown color that they look almost black. Their noses are large and flat. Their lips are thick. Their eyes are black and shining, and their hair is so curly it seems like wool. THEY ARE NEGROES AND THEY BELONG TO THE BLACK RACE" (my capitalization).
I flipped the pages again and ready by contrast the following little description of a different and a presumably more attractive type of child: "Two Swiss children live in a farmhouse on the edge of the town . . . These children are handsome. Their eyes are blue. Their hair is golden yellow. Their white skins are clear, and their cheeks are as red as ripe, red apples."
This book was called Our Neighbors Near and Far, published by the American Book Company over thirty years ago, and it goes without saying that the teacher who recommended it to me did not intend that I read those parts to the class. But what I consider devastating, and quite a comment on American education in general, and that of Boston in particular, is that a book which even contained such material could have been seriously recommended. It seems to me of immense importance that this book was not given to me by a sinister or evil person. It was, on the contrary, given to me by a highly ethical and serious woman. She was someone whom I personally liked and, in certain ways, professional admired. Yet she recommended this book to me and made comments at times which were not wholly discordant with its attitudes. Now, if segregation, combined with the punitive atmosphere of this kind of ghetto schoolhouse can have an effect like that upon a well-intending teacher-what is it going to do to the thousands of others? And if a serious woman-a person ethical, earnest and quite religious-can be so affected, and so delimited in her own eyes by the
degrading atmosphere of this kind of schooling, what then will it not do to those teachers who are simply average human beings? And how can this attitude of education-degrading to both teacher and child-be permitted to continue even for another month or for another year?
I would like to add, in regard to textbooks, that even the newer books used within our school were at times scarcely better than the old ones. Books given to Boston schoolchildren as recently as 1965 spoke of the Negroes of the African grasslands as "fine, big black fellows," asserted that "most Southern people treated their slaves kindly," "-that there was no real right or wrong about the Civil War. Other books told children that "the people of South Africa have one of the most democratic governments now in existence in any country,3 that "the white men who have entered Africa are teaching the natives how to live.
It may be imagined how much cynicism and contempt this kind of material engenders in an average child, and how little respect such a child is likely to feel for a teacher or a society that would perpetrate such evasions in the classroom. Sometimes it is ironical to remember that Boston is the city of William Lloyd Garrison, of Henry David Thoreau, of Ralph Waldo Emerson, of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Several schools in Boston carry the names of such men, and among them are some of the most highly segregated and most hated. One such school is the William Lloyd Garrison-according to School Department figures, approximately 97 percent Negro. I once talked to a group of pupils from Garrison. I asked them if they would tell me the most important things they knew about the man for whom their school was named. No one had the slightest idea who he was. No principal, no teacher, it appeared, had ever told them.
I remember I went up and down the row, hoping against hope to find an answer. But no answer was forthcoming. Some of the children had been in that school for six years. They had all studied history and geography and had, presumably, talked sometimes about current events. They were in a school named for the greatest of all the Abolitionists. Yet not one child could say what kind of man he was. Surely there is a great crime of intellectual violence being carried out within an educational structure of that sort. It would not surprise me at all if a child who had spent six years within the Garrison School were to look back later on with considerable scorn and cynicism upon a school and upon a society which had deprived him of so much self-knowledge and, by evasion, lied to him in effect about his own heritage.
If we are to ask seriously where American violence begins, I think we might guess that it begins, for many ghetto children, in the smashed idealism engendered by that kind of classroom.
The same kind of evasion that took place in the Garrison School was evincedin a much more explicit and direct fashion-by the same older teacher in my school to whom I have already referred. It was expressed at a time when I sought her permission to bring in some material having to do with slavery and the production of cotton. She objected to this suggestion not with hostility to the children but with imagined compassion:
"I don't want these children," she said, "to have to think back on this year later on and to have to remember that we were the ones who told them they were Negro."
Often I felt I could see the seeds of resentment already taking root within a child's eyes. There was a Fourth Grade in our school-one of thousands in the Northern ghettoes-in which the children were treated all year, first to a grossly incompetent and emotionally unstable teacher, then to a succession of nearly a dozen subsitutes. I remember a particular young girl within that room who showed her hatred for school and teacher by sitting all day with a slow and smoldering look of cynical resentment in her eyes. Not only was she bright but she also worked hard and she seemed remarkably sophisticated, even though she was still very much a little child. I felt that she might easily have been a most distinguished pupil, and found her way ultimately into a superior junior high, and finally into a decent college, had she not been a Negro and not been a victim of this catastrophic class. For two years now she had had substitute teachers, and for most of this year, a permanent teacher in a state of perpetual breakdown. Her eyes, beautiful and sarcastic, told that she understood exactly what was going on. I used to look at her sometimes-at those thoughtful, angry
1 Journeys Through Many Lands, by Stull and Hatch; Allyn and Bacon, 1952.
2 Our America, by Townsend; Allyn and Bacon, 1953.
3 Our World Today, by Stull and Hatch; Allyn and Bacon, 1955.
eyes and I would think to myself: Right there our nation has just produced a willing candidate for any future riot, rebellion or uprising. She is bright, she is young, she is normal-and she is very nearly ruined. And her school has done it to her.
Which of us, I wonder now, can be totally exonerated?
Teachers in our school avoided the community in almost the same way that the textbooks did. The school stood like a fortress in the neighborhood. Parents who came up to P.T.A. meetings sat way over on one side of the auditorium-the teachers way over on the other. Faculty members, as I have already indicated, were discouraged from involving themselves with the community. I often felt that I had committed a cardinal sin by having been friends with some of the children before I ever came to be a teacher. Even a Negro teacher who lived in the immediate community was advised by the principal to watch out for her "professional dignity" if she should chance to run into the parents of any of her pupils in the supermarket.
I was advised by my superiors that being a close friend to the children would make my teaching task more difficult. And this was probably so, if, by teaching, the school meant suppressing the individual reality of every child, and reducing a classroom to a uniform mold of bland obedience. Undoubtedly it did make it considerably more difficult to browbeat or to whip a child once you had made the discovery that he, like you, was a real person, not a cipher in the classroom. But this, I felt, was precisely the kind of discovery that the school considered dangerous. Characteristic of the advice that I was given was this warning offered by one of my fellow-teachers:
"Don't let them get too close to you. No matter how you feel. The ones you help the most are the first ones who will axe you in the back."
In my opinion, if you look for the axe, you are going to find it. There is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The school that expects brutality and cruelty in a minority race may very well create it, and a white teacher who predicates the axe in the hand of a Negro child is precisely the one who helps to place it there.
How can a child's own real life and real world be brought into a classroom? It should not be all that difficult. The books are available. Good Negro literature. of course, has been with us all along. I was myself dismissed ultimately, in almost the last week of my school year, for bringing into the classroom and distributing to my pupils precisely the kind of literature most meaningful and most exciting to them-in this case, a very moving poem by a notable Negro author, Langston Hughes. The formal complaint against me was that this poem was not part of the school curriculum. I think you may wish to have an example of the kind of poetry that was a part of the curriculum. Among the books within my classroom, 50% of which were over ten years old, was included a "course of study" which recommended a number of characteristic poems :
"Dare to be right!" read one of these selections, by an author designated as Anonymous. "Dare to be true: The failings of others can never save you. Stand by your conscience, your honor, your faith; Stand like a hero, and battle till death." Another quotation recommended was by a person bearing the name of Susan Coolidge: "Every day is a fresh beginning, Every morn is the world made anew; You who are weary of sorrow and sinning, Here is a beautiful hope for you-A hope for me and a hope for you." A person described only as Faber wrote these words: "For right is right, since God is God. And right the day must win: To doubt would be disloyalty. To falter would be sin." Another, by somebody named C. B. Searles: "Christmas, Christmas, blessed name, To rich and poor you mean the same-In every land beneath the sun All Christian hearts just think as one." Another, by a poet bearing the name of P. F. Freeman: "There is beauty in the sunshine An' clouds that roam the sky; there is beauty in the Heavens, An' the stars that shine on high. There is beauty in the moonbeams That shine both pale an' fair-An' it matters not where'er we go There is beauty everywhere." The gap between the world described within these poems and the kind of world which stares the child in the face every day at school may be sensed, I think, by comparing the above poems with some of the honest statements written by my pupils. I would like to read three of these brief fragments to you, written by eight- and nine-year-old children:
"In my school (began one) I see dirty boards and I see papers on the floor. I see an old browken window with a sign on it saying, "Do not unlock this window are browken." And I see cracks in the walls and I see old books with ink poured all over them and I see old painting hanging on the walls. I see old alfurbet letter hanging on one nail on the wall. I see a dirty fire exit I see a old