One day, perhaps a hundred years hence or two, it will be received wisdom that the Civil Rights Movement was one of the worst tragedies ever to befall America:
My 2300-student-plus, suburban high school was integrated that year. The formerly all-white student and teacher body received three — yes, only 3 — newly enrolled black students, and one — yes, only 1 –new black biology teacher. Our new students were just like us in all ways that counted. They dressed like us. They talked like us. They studied like us. Back then, a middle-class American was pretty much interchangeable with every other middle-class American.
But our new black biology teacher was in all ways different from our heretofore all-white teacher brigade. She spoke without regard to the rules of English grammar. She rambled through hours of class time, telling stories from her life rather than teaching. Her tests were either taken from the teacher’s text or were so badly written that no student could even decipher the questions. The complaints about this new teacher flooded the principal’s office. Parents demanded her firing before the school year had even gotten past the first holiday. These parents weren’t racists; they were just responsible citizens demanding qualified teachers.
The teacher stayed. The fix was in. The principal put his “integrated faculty” accolade above his students’ education.
Parents became surrogate biology teachers or hired tutors. Some of us students took novels to class to dull the boredom. Others passed notes.
But no one complained once the new code of silence about the uneducated new black teacher was accepted as Orwellian reality.
The death-of-public-education die had been cast.