Schooling the Poor: A Social Inquiry into the American Educational Experience

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview

8
The Other Side of Segregation: Ethnographic Glimpses of an Inner City Junior High School

The images of the modern inner city school are familiar in all the ethnographic studies of the past, where their purpose was to illustrate the realities of racial and economic segregation. 1

These observational studies sought to alert the citizenry of the nation to the disastrous experiences minority and poor children were having in outdated and impersonal state institutions. A steady stream of such studies was published, and, for a while in the 1960s, it seemed that something might be done about these caretaker agencies. If the soul of U.S. citizens momentarily shrank from the sight of these dreaded houses of confinement that seemed to undermine all efforts at education, it soon adopted more familiar responses of national denial and despair.

One such study was of an inner city junior high school situated in the South Bronx of New York, a poor and segregated community near Yankee Stadium. 2 This school was very much the detention center that its stark architectural design suggested, surrounding itself with high metal fences and windows covered by steel gratings. Many bars, cast- iron doors, fences, locked entrances and exits, flourescent lighting, and barren uniform classrooms confronted the students and teachers as they prepared to do their work each day.

As for the ethos of this urban junior high school, the story is by now a familiar one: the decision to place students from seven surrounding junior high schools at Urbanaire meant that its first pupils were the

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