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Power, Protest, and the Public Schools

Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Power, Protest, and the Public Schools
    Book Description:

    Accounts of Jewish immigrants usually describe the role of education in helping youngsters earn a higher social position than their parents. Melissa F. Weiner argues that New York City schools did not serve as pathways to mobility for Jewish or African American students. Instead, at different points in the city's history, politicians and administrators erected similar racial barriers to social advancement by marginalizing and denying resources that other students enjoyed.Power, Protest, and the Public Schoolsexplores how activists, particularly parents and children, responded to inequality; the short-term effects of their involvement; and the long-term benefits that would spearhead future activism. Weiner concludes by considering how today's Hispanic and Arab children face similar inequalities within public schools.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4980-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Unlocking the Golden Door and Unpacking the Great School Myth
    (pp. 1-10)

    “They are our children, not yours!” a Jewish mother shouted in Yiddish at members of New York City’s (NYC) Board of Education who refused to improve the overcrowded, and vocationally oriented schools in their neighborhoods even though thousands of Jews had been working toward this effort for years. Forty years later, in 1957, Harlem mothers, known as the Harlem 9, fed up with the segregated, crumbling, overcrowded, and vocationally oriented schools in their neighborhoods, stood in the mayor’s chambers demanding to know, “How long are we expected to sit back patiently and sacrifice the future of our children?”¹

    In 1937,...

  5. 1 New York Cityʹs Racial and Educational Terrain
    (pp. 11-33)

    Many sociologists and historians would have us believe that Jews’ and African Americans’ experiences in America, and in American public schools in particular, could not have been more different. The usual tales depict Jews as hardworking, intellectually gifted immigrants who used innate abilities to rise through the ranks of America’s racial and class hierarchies. On the other hand, African Americans are often looked at with contempt by the public and politicians, or with pity by sociologists, as a group that, unlike Jews, did little to improve their social, political, and economic situation or as agency-less individuals trapped in a racist...

  6. 2 Resources, Riots, and Race: The Gary Plan and the Harlem 9
    (pp. 34-71)

    As dawn broke on October 17, 1917, thousands of Jewish children and their parents crowded the streets of the Lower East Side, Brownsville, and Flatbush. In Yiddish and English, they chanted and carried signs reading “Down with the Gary System!” They passed women and boys on street corners railing against a plan that condemned half a million Jewish children to crowded and crumbling schools that featured vocational, rather than academic, curriculum. As immigrant children and parents converged in front of schools converted to the Gary Plan, they showered the buildings with stones and bricks. For a week, Jewish children turned...

  7. 3 Resource Equalization and Citizenship Rights
    (pp. 72-96)

    America’s public schools have consistently embraced some students while marginalizing immigrant and minority children as racial others. Vocational classes, discriminatory teachers, and poor resources relegated minority children, who were consequentially unable to compete for college acceptance and white-collar professions, to second-class citizenship. NYC’s Board of Education relegated Jews and African Americans to the worst schools, with the meagerest resources, and the most discriminatory teachers and curriculum. Jewish children experienced an intensifying decline of resources in the schools, which replicated their position on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, coupled with citizenship training to strip them of their culture. Schools...

  8. 4 Contesting Curriculum: Hebrew and African American History
    (pp. 97-129)

    In 1946, a seventh grade teacher at P.S. 37 in Queens demanded that her only African American student read “Plantation Memories,” advising him that if he used the proper emphasis in his oration, he would “receive a good mark.” Mrs. Sasser used the poem, describing slaves as “carefree, light-hearted Negroes of the South,” to teach her mostly white students “the truth” about “colored people,” believing it to be a “beautiful” depiction, “typical of a group of people,” which the class received “very well.” Aware of the text’s racist underpinnings, William Townsend refused to complete the assignment, and upon learning of...

  9. 5 Multicultural Curriculum, Representation, and Group Identities
    (pp. 130-153)

    Curriculum debates are, at their root, ideological debates about who belongs within the American populace. Textbooks written from a Eurocentric perspective, as they often are, exclude the (hi)stories of indigenous peoples and minorities and teach children that these groups are neither full members of the American citizenry nor equal contributors to American history. More than just ignoring minority student experiences, this curriculum, as part of a “civilizing mission” (Ladson-Billings 1999: 21), has, for centuries, attempted to strip minorities of their cultures and customs. Lacking power within the school system, especially curricular control, minorities also lack influence over the racial meanings...

  10. 6 Racism, Resistance, and Racial Formation in the Public Schools
    (pp. 154-166)

    For students of America’s public school history, New York City’s rejection of activists’ claims may not be a surprise. Throughout American history, public schools, often touted as a universally available institution, have operated as central mechanisms maintaining America’sherrenvolkdemocracy, with democratic citizenship rights reserved for whites and denied to subordinate groups. At their inception, public schools established whiteness as the true American identity by excluding African Americans, maintaining racial boundaries and ensuring a rigid racial hierarchy. This perpetuated African Americans’ inferior status as uneducated workers, facilitated the equation of whiteness with intelligence, and relegated them (and later, Native Americans,...

  11. 7 The Foreseeable Split: Ocean Hill–Brownsville and Jewish and African American Relations Today
    (pp. 167-176)

    When most people think about Jewish and African American struggles in NYC’s public schools, they instantly recall the Ocean Hill–Brownsville (Brooklyn) conflict of 1968–1971. In this conflict, Jews and African Americans faced off against each other as they battled for control of the schools. However, they did so with conceptions of the schools that had been diverging for decades, beginning with the conclusion of the Hebrew case in the immediate post–World War II era and continuing through both African American cases. Therefore, the story presented here would be incomplete without connecting these cases to both the 1968...

  12. Conclusion: The Future of Minority Education and Related Scholarship
    (pp. 177-182)

    These historical struggles and their results offer contemporary scholars, activists, and theorists new insights into processes of education, identity formation, and movement trajectories. Jews’ and African Americans’ inability to promote change by attacking the mechanisms perpetuating and ideologies underlying deeply rooted racial inequalities raises large questions regarding the potential role of schools today to alleviate racial inequality. This is particularly true when we consider that Jews did not achieve their demands until they became white, which many new immigrant groups appear to have no interest in doing. Lacking the privileges imbued in whiteness, these groups also lack sufficient political power...

    (pp. 183-188)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 189-214)
    (pp. 215-234)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 235-250)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-252)