The North's Backyard
"Our job is to keep the lid on the garbage can."--Solly Klein, a teacher in THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE
The attempt to give minority groups equality, even when no discriminatory laws exist, can be painful. On Manhattan Island, there are nearly twice as many Negro and Puerto Rican students of elementary and junior high school age as there are white students. Because of residential patterns, however, white students tend to congregate in a few good New York public schools which send large groups of students to college. Negroes and Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, crowd the "difficult schools," where a lack of experienced teachers and a downgraded curriculum destroy any opportunities they might otherwise have.
A "difficult school" is one is which the average I.Q. of the students is below 89, or in which more than 25 per cent of the students do not speak English. 188 of New York's 734 elementary and junior high schools satisfy this definition.
Unofficial segregation is nothing new. But in its attempt to do something about it this year, the New York municipal government has been caught in a vise of public opinion. William Jansen, Superintendent of Schools, has been pressured on one side by the parents of "segregated" pupils, and on the other by the Teachers' Guild. Last month 150 teachers quit rather than teach in "difficult schools." Jansen called for volunteer replacements from New York's 40,000-man school staff. He got 25.
Last spring the Board of Education appointed a Committee on Integration, which recommended that teachers be compelled to transfer to the less desirable positions. The Guild called this "blackjacking."
To make up for the lack of experienced teachers in these schools, the Parents in Action Against Educational Discrimination, a Negro and Puerto Rican group, has charged that Jansen "sends in 22-year-old girls right out of college." Moreover, a great part of the teaching is done by substitutes who are, to understate the case, inadequate. One man with an art instruction license is teaching social studies, math, English, science, and health education. This disturbed him not at all. "These kids don't know very much and don't want to learn anything anyway," he stated.
A second approach has been to transfer students instead of teachers. According to Jansen, 5,000 students, mostly non-whites, have been transferred to less crowded schools. But in over one-fourth of the cases, this entails traveling as much as two miles to class.
The remedy appears to lie in fully integrated housing. But this seems far away. The Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs bill now in the New York Legislature would seek to enforce stringently nondiscriminatory policies in private housing. This is being fought by people who fear that an influx of non-whites will decrease property values. Unofficial covenants between property owners have long kept a pattern of tenants satisfactory to those in the better neighborhoods. When these covenants break down, trouble and violence--such as the recent riots in Levittown, Pa.--result. New York is in for a long struggle in its effort to reach the ideal it preaches to the South.