Academic journal article Education

Telling It like It Is about the African-American Students' Plight

Academic journal article Education

Telling It like It Is about the African-American Students' Plight

Article excerpt

The most segregated time of every week in America, it has been said, is eleven o'clock on Sunday mornings. On the Sunday morning of January 12, 1992, Milwaukee School Superintendent J. Howard Fuller made his way to Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, on the Northwest Side, to talk about what he was trying to accomplish in the public schools. As an ongoing part of the Crusade to Save Our Children, Fuller had been doing this pretty much every Sunday, but on this particular one his cool composure finally cracked. It happened during the question-and-answer period that followed his talk and it had to do with Chapter 220, the program that allowed students from city schools to attend suburban ones and vice versa. Since its inception in 1976, the program had been, like so much else that involved the tentacles of race, an intricate flash point of anger, resentment, and opportunity. Many people wanted to see the program abolished altogether.

A Teacher Explains Problem

In any case, a woman stood up and identified herself as a member of the faculty at Shorewood Middle School. She was concerned, she said, that there wasn't enough money in their budget so that `your kids' could stay around after school to get extra help and still have a bus to take them home. "My view," Fuller said, "is that when a kid comes into your school district, that is your kid." She didn't respond to that. She simply said it was her understanding that nothing could be done about the situation. Fuller didn't agree. The question is what do you think ought to be done for those children and what do you do for the children in your district?"

They Are Suburban Students

"If a Milwaukee kid decides to come to a suburban school, in my opinion that kid now belongs to that suburban district, just like any other kid. If you all think that these kids should all have these experiences, they are your kids, so you should think about how you are going to come up with the resources to be sure that your kids have what they ought to have, because they are your kids. If they are sent to your school district and they are not your kids, then whose kids are they?"

Fuller Wanted All Children to Come First

This was why Fuller took the job of superintendent, to make sure that all children came first, and that their interests were served. To know intellectually that a Shorewood or a Wauwatosa was reluctantly opening its hallowed halls but not allowing Milwaukee kids to feel fully welcome was one thing, but to hear a teacher so openly raise the polarizing issue of whom they belonged to was quite another. It was more than Fuller could stand. Children deserved more, much more, than being caught up in an endless spiral of red tape and bureaucracy, than being viewed as outcasts, surrounded by bickering and hair splitting about who was responsible for them. What galled Fuller about the 220 situation was the overall fact of its inequity: MPS guaranteed that 10% of the spots in their magnet schools be reserved for suburban schools only admitted kids from Milwaukee based upon availability (making it far too easy to say there's no room at the inn).

Excuses Instead of Solutions

The Catch-22s of race the multitude of ways in which barriers and hurdles, fine print and caveats, rear their sinister beads and scuttle attempts to level the playing field would appear to be limitless. In education, in housing, in employment, in obtaining a loan: someone, somewhere, was always at the ready, it seemed, lurking in the background, in possession of some ingenious scheme that enabled institutional racism to continue. Wasn't it bad enough that a child had to be labeled a "220 kid"? But to not have a bus there so that a child could stay later and get extra help especially when blacks had borne so much of the brunt of busing seemed yet one more bitter irony. Was it any wonder that Howard Fuller wanted to ultimately get rid of busing altogether? …

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