Where Ghetto Schools Fail

n this second of a two-part series on ghetto schools, the author, a thirty-year-old Harvard graduate and novelist, describes the sequence of events that led to his dismissal from one of Boston's Roxbury schools—for bringing into his classroom reading materials he felt bridged the gap between the ghetto environment of his pupils and the prejudices and irrelevancies of their antiquated textbooks.

Turning to a section on Europe, I read the following description:

"Two Swiss children live in a farmhouse on the edge of 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."

Curious after this to see how the African Negroes would be treated, I turned to a section on the Congo Valley:

"The black people who live 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 jungle. They shot poisoned arrows from behind the thick bushes. They were savage and uncivilized....

Yumbo and Minko are a black boy and a black girl who live in this jungle village. Their skins are of so dark a 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 that it seems like wool. They are Negroes and belong to the black race."

Perhaps without being conscious of it, the Reading Teacher had her own way of telling the children what it meant to be Negro.

Not all books used in a school system, merely by the law of averages, are going to be consistently and blatantly poor. A large number of the books we had in Boston were only mildly distorted or else devastatingly bad only in one part. One such book, not used in my school but at the junior high level, was entitled *Our World Today*. Right and wrong, good and bad alternate in this book from sentence to sentence and from page to page:

"The people of the British Isles are, like our own, a mixed people. Their ancestors were the sturdy races of northern Europe, such as Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes and Normans, whose energy and abilities still appear in their descendant. With such a splendid inheritance what could be more natural than that the British should explore and settle many parts of the world and in time build up the world's greatest colonial empire?...

The people of South Africa have one of the most democratic governments now in existence in any country...

Africa needs more capitalists....White managers are needed...to show the Negroes how to work and to manage their plantations....

In our study of the nations of the world, we should try to understand the people and their problems from their point of view. We ought to have a sympathetic attitude towards them, rather than condemn them through ignorance because they do not happen always to have our ways....

The Negro is very quick to imitate and follow the white man's way of living and dressing....

The white man may remain for short periods and direct the work, but he cannot...do the work himself. He must depend on the natives to do the work....

The white men who have entered Africa are teaching the natives how to live...."

Sooner or later books like these will be put to pasture. Either that, or they will be carefully doctored and rewritten. But the problem they represent is not going to be resolved in any important way by their removal or revision. Too many teachers admire and depend on such textbooks, and prefer to teach from them. The attitudes of these teachers are likely to remain long after the books have been replaced.

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