After posting my last blog on the community control movement in New York State, I was invited to speak on the topic on a couple of online talk shows that focus on education: the Parent Teacher Student Check In and We the Parents of WNY. As I spoke on the topic, I realized that there are so many caveats to the story that I didn’t include in the previous blog but are just as important.
Although the community control movement, also known as the parental control movement, only lasted for a brief period of time it is provocative because it is a story of race, class, and power in education. It was a moment that spotlighted the feelings of the Black community. It revealed to us what was on the hearts and minds of young Black mothers and fathers as they sent their kids to segregated schools. Black schools also referred to as “ghetto schools,” at that time, were at the top of their list of things to fix for the next generation. It is exhilarating to see that the issues that they cared most about then are the same issues that we care most about today: Black pride, Black identity, and self-determination.
But what happened to the parental control movement and why does it appears as though Black parents are no longer interested in organizing to improve the schools in their community?
In the 1950’s Black parents were fed up with the public school system for numerous reasons. There was a deep lack of trust between the community and the school districts. They felt as though the time had come for America to reform its inequitable school system and do right by the disenfranchised, Black community.
The Black community did not trust the school district for the following reasons:
- Overcrowding in Black schools (but not white schools)
- Blatantly Racist, Anti-Black teachers
- “No teaching going on”
- 15 year-old textbooks
- Lack of supplies
- Broken boilers
- An absentee principal who had been absent for 7 years in Brooklyn
- No lesson plans
- No teacher evaluations
- The Dance of the Lemons (reassigning ineffective teachers to “ghetto” schools)
- White teachers referring to Black children as “retarded”
- Teachers leaving their classrooms to place bets at the track
- A teacher who was an insurance agent who would lock himself in a room and take care of his insurance business
- Non-responsive teachers and principals who were unavailable to speak with parents
- Teachers taking collective sick days all on the same day
- Lack of accountability of faculty and staff
In 1955, a group of parents organized and formed The Parent Workshop for Equity in NYC Schools. They expanded and merged with other parent teacher associations (PTA’s), as well as six chapters of the NAACP and several chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to form a new organization called The New York Citywide Committee for Integrated Schools. Together they came up with the following agenda for parental control of schools and threatened to boycott the schools if the following demands we not met:
- Expenditure of local, state, and federal funds
- Hiring, firing, training, and reprogramming of all staff
- Site selection, design, and naming of schools
- Awarding and supervising construction contracts
- Purchasing of books, supplies, equipment, and food services
- Education policy, curriculum and programs
In order to avoid further boycotts, marches, and rallies, and most importantly to stop the teachers from striking, the Mayor of New York City agreed to parental control but referred to it as “decentralization.” However, decentralization and parental control are not one in the same. In fact, the Board of Education (BOE) did not define what it meant by decentralization in 1967 when it had approved an experiment in three neighborhoods in New York City. The lack of clarity and delineation of duties made it easy for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president, Albert Shanker, to mince words and create a divide between the Black community and other white people who were in support of parental control of the schools, specifically some members of the Jewish community. Many Jews were members of the Teachers Union (TU), which supported the Black Freedom Struggle. However, since the TU was supported by the Communist Party, the government sought to destroy it. In fact, the 1930’s and 40’s were the height of Black-Jewish collaboration and in 1938, when 7,000 Black people had joined the Communist Party.
In 1968, when the community control board voted to reassign teachers from the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district, the union president Albert Shanker, reported to the media that they were terminated, which was a deliberate reporting of false information. Such language was sensational to the news media and created distrust of the Black community. Al Shanker took it a step further and created a bogus anti-Semitic leaflet; sent it to all of the teachers in New York City saying that it was from the Black community control board. The media blasted that misinformation all over the news as well. Charles S. Isaacs reported in Inside Ocean Hill-Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education 1968-69 that, “The Anti-Defamation League investigated the leaflets and concluded that they were the product of the UFT along with other hate literature.” They also found that the union leadership had committed multiple fraudulent acts. However, the news media never reported those findings.
By successfully creating this race and class divide, the UFT was able to merge with the TU and together cut a deal with the NYC Mayor and NYS State Legislator. Behind closed doors, they privately wrote the 1969 Decentralization Act in a sinister plot hatched to circumvent the federal and state constitution as well as the civil rights law of 1965. It was white rage at its finest.
According to Carol Anderson, the author of White Rage, this is when white people write policy to systematically undercut democracy. Mayors, governors, legislators, business leaders, police chiefs and in this case teachers, “go into the wood-paneled rooms of city hall, in chambers of city council, in marbled legislators, and in sheriff’s offices” to quietly, deliberately, subtly, mercilessly wreak havoc on Black progress. Anderson traced back 150 years of white rage noting that after Reconstruction, whites created Black codes and Jim Crow laws. After the Great Migration, whites created red lining. After the Brown vs. BOE decision, whites created zoning. After the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the parental control movement, whites created the 1969 Decentralization Act.
This law actually took away power from the parents by stating that the community cannot hire or fire teachers in New York State. Today, in schools in NY State, the scenario goes:
- In private schools, parents dictate to the teachers what will be taught;
- In suburban schools, parents and teachers discuss on the same level what will be taught; however,
- In city schools, teachers dictate to the parents what will be taught.
Ever since slavery, poor whites have been paid to manage enslaved Blacks as overseers, patrol, and police. Today, the educational system continues to manage Black people in the same way by excluding them from the democratic decision-making process in their own schools. No other community is policed in this way.
In School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, Derek W. Black wrote, “those with the power are behind the scenes and they want a much different system of government than the one our founding fathers put into the federal and state constitutions.”
To listen to the full conversations click the following links: