My first full-time job was as a long-term substitute teacher of special needs children (labeled “mentally retarded” in those days) at the Dearborn School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1963-1964. It was also my first immersion in the United States’ longest-running wars—the wars against people of color and the poor.
The racism at the Dearborn was not universal but it was pervasive, virulent, hostile, destructive.
I loved my students, ages 6-9 with a wide range of challenges, mostly poverty-related. They were so eager for and responsive to kindness, respect, encouragement, affection. I tried to promote their active engagement in learning, having them help each other in the process–serving as peer leaders, and collaborating to master assignments–much like what Bel Kaufman advocated in Up the Down Staircase and I later did in the college seminars I taught.
The teacher in the next classroom was appalled at my “naivety,” my failure to exercise constant control, my inability to see that “those children” were the enemy, the threat to the stablished social order, the disrupters of peace and safety, the dangerous advance troops of a neighborhood whose complexion was becoming darker.
She let everyone including the children know she saw them as stupid, dirty, disobedient, trouble-making, and unworthy of her efforts. A lesson unlikelyto be forgotten.
Millions of taxpayer dollars have been poured into “The War on Poverty”–a war the country is losing royally, because there’s no commitment in the ruling class to eliminating poverty. What gain can they see for themselves from removing barriers to equality and social justice for those they tread down?
It is “The War on the Poor” that occupies the White power structure, and they seem to be winning that war and their War on Color, terrifying millions of otherwise decent people into supporting programs destituting many while generating obscene profits for the few.
Evidence of their success is documented in the work of Jonathon Kozol, who published Death at an early age in 1964, exposing the destructiveness of the school system in which I was teaching. His later books, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2006) and Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (2012) illustrate clearly the nature of the lambs being sacrificed to the gods of profit and prejudice.