“Do School Changes Baffle You?”
– Charlotte News headline, 1960
Last month, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials had the last of their items moved out of the Education Center, an employee found some large binders in a trash bin. They didn’t look like they should be trash.
There were four in all, dark blue and dusty. They were filled with old newspaper clippings.
“I opened them and went ‘ohhhhhh,’?” said CMS spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry, who had the binders brought to a conference room at the Government Center. “I saw names like Garinger. I’d only known that name on a school.”
The clips begin in 1958, a year after Charlotte schools integrated. They end in 1964, four years after the city and county school systems consolidated. They include news stories and features, editorials and photos. They are charming and disturbing and maybe a little too recognizable, in that way history can be.
Charlotte was at the front end of a boom then, and the clips reflect a city growing like a gangly teen. “Suburban school trend already apparent in Charlotte,” said a prophetic headline to one 1959 article. Another, from 1963, examined a proposal to purchase 20 mobile classrooms for $100,000. It was, school officials stressed, a solution that was “temporary.”
There’s plenty more to make you smile. “Today’s kids mature faster,” said one earnest 1959 headline, while one photo, also from 1959, featured Superintendent Elmer H. Garinger’s secretary, Miss Jean Little, sitting tidily at her desk. “Beauty in Business,” read the photo’s headline, almost quaint in its political incorrectness.
Then there were the Observer articles about the N.C. Medical Society protesting what it saw as the promotion of socialism in school textbooks. The Medical Society, according to one clipping, believed the textbooks endorsed a philosophy that had Congress on the verge of legislation guaranteeing health care for all.
“Socialized medicine,” the group called it.
Recognize that? How about this big-type headline: “BOARD PONDERS BIGGER OPERATION, LESS CASH.” Or: “Your children will find classrooms more crowded.” Or this: “West Side of Charlotte Feeling Neglected.”
Those headlines topped budget-related stories that examined the debate over how much the city should spend on new schools, which neighborhoods should get them, and which were feeling like they weren’t getting much of anything.
And as now, it all was argued against the backdrop of class and race.
“School Board Hears Demand,” read one 1960 headline, which outlined student assignment friction between Charlotte’s blacks and whites. Since integration, blacks had been pushing for their children to attend better schools in white neighborhoods, even if it meant transporting students across assignment lines.
“I will exhaust every remedy to see that my son will receive a desegregated education,” said one mother, trying to get her son into a Dilworth school. It’s not hard to imagine those exact words, and that geography, in a story on this page today.
And yes, the issues then were triggered by different dynamics. Budget writers were deciding on which programs and services to add, not the cuts we’re facing now. Schools were moving away from segregation, not inching back toward it, as critics say CMS is now.
But pull the lens back, and we’re essentially asking the same questions of ourselves – questions about money and fairness, about balancing what’s best for our kids with what’s good for someone else’s.
And still, even now: How equal can we make separate? And is that the kind of equal we want?
Fifty years – and the answers still elude us.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
“Do School Changes Baffle You?”