The editors of the Duluth News Trib gave school board candidates a heads-up two weeks ago that we could send them a 500 word column for their paper for this year’s school board campaign. I sat on it for a while then woke up one night and cranked out a piece with lots of suggestions for the District. Last night I woke up with a rather different approach to a column and pounded a different one into my cell with my index finger. This morning I went over it a couple times not remembering that once formerly 700-word-columns had shrunk down by 200 words in these leaner and meaner days of journalism.
But I had written a 640 word essay. I had to cut 140 words from it. Such is the life of a writer. Well, before I trim my column down to size I’m going to share the original with my eight loyal readers. In a week or two you will be able to see whether I was able to preserve the sentiments in my column before I began whittling away at it.
This is a writer’s dilemma but its not one for a blogger. There is one risk. The Trib often warns people who submit something to them that they will not publish anything that was submitted to a rival publication. (That wasn’t expressed in my email invite however) I think they would be hard pressed to call my blog a rival publication. Its strictly not for profit and besides that, by the time I trim one fourth of this verbiage away the Trib will be hard pressed to claim that I made the original column public before they got hold of it. Stay tuned and see how well my message translates to newsprint after its blovia-ectomy.
Looking Back to Move Duluth’s Schools Forward
Ten years after the Supreme Court legalized “separate but equal” facilities my grandmother road her horse to an all-white Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. 56 years later her first grandchild, Harry Welty, was born, the Supreme Court ruled that Monroe Elementary, now a segregated all-black school, was unconstitutional. In part, the court ruled that even if white and black schools were equal, forbidding black children from attending schools with white children treated them as inferiors not as equals.
Three years after Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education I attended another formerly all-white Elementary not far from my Grandmother’s Monroe school. In the first week of school a hundred black children from all-black schools were marched into our classrooms. Five years after that I was one of 14 white children in a 6th grade class with 16 black kids and an Osage Indian. I was in the minority and, as the Supreme court had hoped, I was vaccinated against any thought that I was superior to my black classmates.
My social DNA was formed in an integrated school fifty years ago, but my school’s integration was the exception. Over the years to follow our nation’s schools would re-segregate. When my Dad was offered a job teaching law in Mankato, Minnesota, I found myself, once again, in an all-white sea of school children.
Nonetheless, the issue of equity took root in Mr. Ross’s classroom and came with me to Minnesota. In 1968, the year of Martin Luther King’s assassination, I slept in a room with the first black student ever enrolled at Mankato High School. An Ethiopian foreign exchange student, and a Muslim to boot, Bedru Beshir was our family’s guest for the year.
I moved to Duluth to teach in another all-white Minnesota school in neighboring Proctor 45 years ago. Not long afterwards, I learned of Duluth’s dirty secret – the 1920 lynching that scared black Americans away until the Cold War brought Duluth a military air base.
Among the alarms I sounded about the Red Plan was its uneven division of Duluth. A district that had found a way of integrating its schools was now about to re-segregate them. Along with this the Red Plan’s bad bargain required the trading of 100 teachers (10 million dollars annually) for new buildings. Today, Duluth’s schools are not only more segregated, but the surviving teachers have many more students in their classrooms.
I can’t spell out the solutions in a mere 500 words, but I have spilt millions of words on the subject into my twelve year old blog. It began two years after I finished serving my first 8 years on the Duluth School board. Since then I’ve served four more years and I’m offering my considerable experience for another four-year-term.
As bleak as our school’s current situation may seem I sense a tremendous opportunity to restore our schools with a new superintendent and a new school board. Even as the Red Plan bond repayments drain our school spending I think we can have schools that rival the best public schooling Duluth has ever offered in its past.
As we work towards this new birth of excellence, we must take account of the rising of the oceans, the parching and flooding of a paved and denuded land, and a sixth extinction on our doorstep. We need to educate our children to face and tame these menaces.
I read in the Tribune not long ago how Duluth’s St. Mark’s church, founded by freed slaves, is inspired by the African principle of Sankofa. It “symbolizes a sense of needing to look back in order to move forward.” To that I say, “Hallelujah!”
If I am elected to serve my 4th term on November 5th that is the spirit I intend to bring to the Duluth School Board.