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← Discussion of Division Street: America (part 2/2)

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Showing Revision 4 created 03/20/2014 by pdoyen1.

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    [WOMAN] As far as the problem of white negro, being a girl from the South this is probably a little strange, but then I was a very stubborn, unusual sort of child who always liked to take the other side of the question. And as far back as probably 6th grade when we would decide to have debates on integration, segregation, and some not terribly bright teachers, who thought we would evenly divide up, um you know, said anybody could go on whatever side of the question they'd like. And very often it would be 29 students for segregation and me for integration, uh mostly because I like to fight the other side of the question. And, um, arguing it so strongly I became very firmly in favor of it, which did not please my family terribly well. And, um, but actually it was coming to Chicago - my first chance to even meet and speak to a negro person as another human being.
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    [STUDS] Interesting, you didn't know any negroes in Florida, in the town?
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    [WOMAN] Very, I mean I didn't really know any, I'd sort of had a secret conversation with 3 or 4 negro high school students who came in the store where I was working one summer, and we talked for about a half an hour. Which is a very improper sort of thing to do. And I never told my parents. And we never talked about anything very much, you know the weather, and football teams, or whatever else.
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    [STUDS] How old were you then?
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    [WOMAN] Oh, in high school.
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    [STUDS] Where do you teach the 5th grade, general science and math?
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    [WOMAN] This grade I taught in Columbus, OH last year and general science I taught here at Marshall High School in Chicago first semester and math second semester. That wasn't so much my choice as the need of the school, but I was delighted to have a chance to teach math.
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    [STUDS] I want to ask you about Marshall. The school you taught in Columbus, was it a white school?
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    [WOMAN] It was very strange, it was all white, but very similar to the neighborhood that we're in at Marshall because the children were all from the hills of Kentucky and West Virginia, and had no contact with cities and the kind of things that go on in cities, and had backwoods type ideas. I mean the best story was the one little boy who, we were talking about pets, and he'd never had a pet I guess, but um he knew something about animals and he told us about the morning they woke up and they went out on their front porch and it was covered with rattlesnakes, and so his granny got a broom and swept them off the porch! [laughs] You start to picture what kind of house and porch it is.
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    [STUDS] These were Appalachian kids whom you taught in elementary school in Columbus, and you find a strong simil... now you're teaching, haven't come to it now, we'll come back to your life later. You're teaching now at Marshall High School in Chicago. What's your relationship to the students? How do you teach? Are you strict?
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    [WOMAN] Oh, I'm strict when I have to be, but and I guess that's usually the first contact with the students is necessarily strict so that they know that I'm serious. But then it's more for whatever I think the student needs, there are some students that would never get any work done unless you were fairly strict with them. And then it's kind of puzzling because in the same classes there are other students that if you're just strict, they get rebellious and don't do anything, and so you coax them along, and you sort of love them, and I almost feel like sometimes I have to go hold their hand, you know, yes go ahead you can do the work, I know you're able to do it. And it's a very individual thing. I mean I like to get to know all of my students as well as possible, not only names but backgrounds and plans for the future, impressions of school in the city, and so on. And really work with they need for their particular situation.
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    [STUDS] So you do this then, you know each one as an individual?
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    [WOMAN] I try, I mean it's hard, with student's coming in and out of the school frequently and some not being there very often, because it's very poor attendance. But I make a very strong effort to do this.
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    [STUDS] Why is it poor attendance?
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    [WOMAN] I don't know. It's one of the biggest problems of the school, if not the biggest. I imagine a general just lack of interest in school. Which strikes me as being good and in some ways bad. It's almost delightful to see the lack of mean competition and wanting to get ahead to get to college and so on that you get in a suburban school. And I somehow think there's a lot less cheating that goes on in Marshall High School, or any inner city high school, because students have not placed such an unrealistically high value on education, or grades or getting to college that they're going to go out of their way to cheat to get their grades.
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    [STUDS] This is an interesting point you make, let's dwell on this just a bit. That you think that less of the mean competition you said that you would find there to get ahead here because, what they figure well, when they get out in the world, it may not stand them in too much good stead.
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    [WOMAN] Well, the main thing is there are plenty of students at Marshall that are, you know, very bright, excellent, they'll go on to college, they're honor students, they don't need to cheat, they know what they need to know already. Besides there's no one around to cheat from. And the people that have average ability or less don't feel this push from their parents to get ahead, to get better grades, to go to college, like your average student does in the suburbs. And it's your average student that does so much of the cheating in the suburbs or small town high school.
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    [STUDS] Have you had this experience? I mean have you observed this? Or you've heard of it, is that it?
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    [WOMAN] Hearing of it and in my own school.
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    [STUDS] You remember it.
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    [WOMAN] Yes.
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    [STUDS] That the average, uh, respectable, quote unquote middle-class to an extent, do?
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    [WOMAN] They go to college!
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    [STUDS] Yeah. For what purpose, to to make the grades to get to college, to get to college to make the grades to make the grade.
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    [WOMAN] To make the grade. And nobody knows where they're going, but the parents want them to.
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    [STUDS} Now with the negro, in this overwhelmingly negro school where many parents are one way or another trying to work, trying to scuffle, some mothers on ADC, look at another way, is that it?
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    [WOMAN] They'd like them to go to college but they don't have enough money to support them and unless they're, they really think the student is bright enough to win a scholarship or something, there's just not the push anywhere.
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    [STUDS] So there's double edge here, there's a sad part of not going to school but there's also the lack of the "mean competition". That is, education as a means to an end, and not for it's own sake.
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    [WOMAN] Um hm. It somehow seems more realistic about it, that the ones who are capable of doing college work go on but those that aren't don't overwork themselves trying to do what they're incapable of doing.
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    [STUDS] You look at this very indulgently.
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    [WOMAN] Well of course there's some that are, um, that don't think they're capable of going that I think are. I do my best to prod them along a little.
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    [STUDS] Have you had their own, you mean their own sense of pride? Personal worth? You find there's a lack of it, some day you try to instill it, is that it?
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    [WOMAN] Yes.
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    [STUDS] How? Can you think of cases?
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    [WOMAN] Well, specifically on that it's kind of hard. The main thing that I try to do, and very, very definitely and intentionally try to do, is to give them the feeling that if they want to do something badly enough and you know, really put their whole self into working for it, that they'll be able to do it. And I sort of shocked practically every student there the first day I walked into the math classes because I very clearly and plainly told them all, "if you want to pass math you can." I said anybody in this class who wants to pass math bad enough to really put some work into it, I said I'll pass you, you know, if you aren't doing quite well enough and I can see that you've put all your effort into it, that's fine. And that I hope everyone who fails, because there certainly will be people who don't wanna pass enough to do the work, that when the semester's over you'll come up and say Mrs. Fischel, I really didn't want to pass math! [laughs]
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    [STUDS] That's the way you do it, huh?
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    [WOMAN] But to just give them the idea that if they want to do it, they can do it.
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    [STUDS] Not that they're not worth it.
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    [WOMAN] Right. They're all capable of doing it.
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    [STUDS] Do the other teachers at Marshall use this approach? I mean, are the other attitudes different than yours towards the students?
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    [WOMAN] Oh, I know there are all kinds of attitudes and with 200 teachers it'd be hard to have them be very much alike. In general, it's a young faculty, both white and negro and very, I think, exciting attitude toward teaching. People that are happy and excited about working with your slower students because they can see more that needs to be done there. And of course there are always your teachers that are exceptions.
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    [STUDS] Do you hear complaints now and then that some teachers they don't like the school or the work?
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    {Woman] Well, not very plainly put, but sort of side comments that they don't expect that much from these students and that, you know, negro students are like that, are just naturally lazy, they don't care, and they're not very good at that kind of thing anyway. And this has come from very, very few teachers, but a few, and enough to make me wish they weren't there. They'd find themselves in all white suburban schools if that's what they want.
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    [STUDS] You'd just as soon see them there?
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    [WOMAN] Yes.
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    [STUDS] You prefer this to, you prefer teaching at this inner city negro school than a white suburban school?
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    [WOMAN] Very definitely. And I've got other teachers who would agree with me. Of course in some ways it's more of a challenge, and then this unrealistic competition isn't there. I'm not quite sure what it is, but I've heard other teachers say they don't like the spotlessly clean, you know, beautiful suburban schools with everything just so that they were happy to be back in the inner city, after having been in the suburban schools back to the peeling paint in the halls, and the students running around, which wasn't a very accurate picture really, but they were just delighted to be there. And I'm not quite sure how to explain the reason.
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    [STUDS] What do you think, do you think there's more of a sense, how can I put it, I don't wanna say what I want to say. Do you think there's more of a sense of life there?
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    [WOMAN] Yes, definitely, definitely. I don't know. It's less of the high socialite type thing, and of course it is exciting to work with the surburban, or would be the suburban students that are gifted and doing work comparable to college work, you know extra science projects or whatever you have, but somehow the students here are more down to earth, they're more realistic about life in general. They know that there are problems, that there are slums, problems that your suburban youth are almost oblivious to. They sort of intellectually know that they are there, but they don't have any feeling about it.
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    [STUDS] I know you have thoughts and observations classrooms since you've taught in Ohio, Columbus, with the Appalachian kids, who probably came from Kentucky and Tennessee, and Negro kids in Chicago. Any memories or thoughts or pictures which you think might be insights that come to mind?
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    [WOMAN] Well, of course there's just a million stories that anyone who's ever taught could tell about particular students. I don't know if we want to call them favorite students, or un-favorite students, but the ones that stand out. And to a large extent the experiences that stand out in my life have been my attempts at playing psychologist in a way, kids that have pretty bad problems of one sort and another. And the most outstanding of these was a little boy in Columbus, a fifth grade boy named Danny who was basically a very bright boy.
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    [STUDS] Appalachian?
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    [WOMAN] Appalachian background, I think he'd actually been born in Ohio, but his family had come from there. Very, very bright. One of the brightest in the class. If he had done any work. The first marking period he came up with almost straight failures and until then I was really very little aware that he was capable of doing much more. He would turn in blank papers, or not turn in papers and a teacher who's never noticed, a child who's not been in that school, is not aware, you know, whether it's because he can't do it or whether he's decided not to. His mother came in and talked to me, she was pretty shocked, he'd never failed anything, he'd always been a good student. And so I talked to the boy after school several times and found out that he'd gotten mad at me about, I don't know, somewhere in the first week of school, for something silly like i wouldn't repeat a spelling word for the fifth time. You know you go over all the words and they say what's number 13, and I say it, and go over them all again and finally I say Now this is the last time and I won't say them again, and he asked me again and I said "I'm sorry I said I was not going to say it again" and so he had not turned in the paper. And I had not realized that it hadn't been turned in. And so he got mad and didn't turn in the next one either, hoping that I would notice and maybe I would notice and I would scold him and he would just get more and more mad. He had explained this to me, he had done beautiful artwork and then had thrown it all away before I was able to get any kind of a grade for his art grade. It was through the art that I was finally able to get that through to him again because I told him he absolutely had to make up the work that he'd thrown away, that he had to come after school every day and paint pictures until he had as many as the other children had in their folders. And he was furious, you know, having to stay after school every single day. And of course he did and did beautiful work and was very happy. It was while he was doing this that he started talking and he finally explained that he was mad at me because of the spelling words. And I don't know, it's little things like this, trying to talk to students and trying to find out what's bothering them, that I guess I get the most pleasure from. One of my classes had about 30 students that all needed to be spoken to individually, which is sort of a hard thing to do all at once. And one of these students was especially exciting to work with. He's the one that I mentioned before that was trying to teach me how to cheat with dice. A very interested sort of person who was a freshman in High School and 17 years old, which means that somewhere along the line he'd gotten behind. The beginning of the year I was teaching science and he was in my class and did absolutely nothing. He'd come in with his black leather jacket, which is against the rules because jackets belong in lockers, and his hat on which is against the rules, and he'd go to the back seat and slump down in it and either go to sleep or pretend that he was sleeping. But he came so seldom that when he came as long as he wasn't going to bother anybody I wasn't going to bother him very much, you know because obviously you're not going to learn very much if you come to school one day every two weeks or something. And they sent him to another school for attendance problems and the next semester he came back and somehow ended up in my math class. And the first day he walked in with his black leather jacket and his hat on and he didn't look very changed. He went to the back seat in the math class and he slumped down and half way through the period he, uh, you could tell something was happening, he sat up and he looked at me and I don't know what I was explaining, something to do with probably fractions, and he raises his hand, he says, "Say, aren't you my science teacher?' [LAUGHS] He really wasn't very sure, and I asked him, I says Well you oughta know, I says Am I your science teacher? He says "You sure look like her", and then for the next two weeks he became a completely changed person. He would sort of flit into the room, strut around, make some bright wise crack in completely uncomprehendable slang, meant nothing to me, one day he says "say there, you just crawl out of the ol' shopping bag?" I says "I don't know!" And I made a habit, you know first I had to figure what in the world do you do with people that say things like this? So I made a habit of asking him what they all meant, and that one meant, say are you accusing me of doing something wrong? So I would comment on how interesting these various things were, that I would go home that night and try it out on my husband. And at the end of about 2 weeks he stopped, and he's not said anything said anything like that since then, at least not blatantly in front of the class to get it's attention. And he all of a sudden became a student. He worked at his work and so on, and came up from knowing no multiplication tables, had no idea how to do anything you'd expect a high school student to do in math, to doing passing work which was quite an accomplishment. Very, very exciting to work with children and see them change like this.
  54. Ne Sinchronizuotas
    [STUDS] Of course