Three Word Wednesday - delayed, edge, focus - 5/21/08

Both of you who regularly read my blog know that I grew up in northern Idaho. At the same time a friend of mine, of about the same age, was growing up in North Carolina. The south was dealing with integration, desegregation, civil rights demonstrations, and violence generated by racism. I saw accounts of it on the television, but as with a lot of things that did not directly affect me, I basically ignored it. It was another world.

The only diversity that I was confronted was that some of my classmates had brown eyes. I noticed that in the 2000 census, Idaho was down to only 95 per cent white. A regular melting pot, we were (that sounded like Yoda). Oh, we had some Native American and Mexican students, but we really didn’t notice. The darkest skinned kid among us was Paul Richter. His photo is here. Though he had a very vile ethnic nickname (which I will not reveal here), he used his number 2 pencil to shade in the “white” circle on his SATs.

Most of us were third or fourth generation European immigrants with names like Dorendorf, Rinaldi, Birchmeier, McCoy, Burkhart, Blickensderfer (I think that is German for beautiful), VanHoose, Eixenberger, Wainright, Jasberg, Arnhold, and Schonewald. Our parents worked in the mines and forests.

My friend remembers white-only bathrooms and water fountains. Black people could not eat in restaurants, (my friend lived very near the Greensboro Woolworth sit in, were herded into the balconies of movie theaters, were banned from public swimming pools, and had to enter through the back door of businesses they were allowed into. I cannot relate to this. It seems impossible to me to fathom. Isn’t this America? Instead of worrying about the effect of the Berlin Wall, perhaps Eisenhower and Kennedy (Ich bin ein RACIST) should have looked at the apartheid in this country. Oh, that's right, blacks did not have the right to vote in the elections of either of these presidents. You do the math. But I digress.

I have since come to understand a bit more of what the south went through, particularly as it deals with education. During the hundred years of segregation following the civil war, each school district had to fund two separate schools. One black and one white. Since the south was very poor, that meant two underfunded and ineffective schools. Unfortunately for the black students, what scant funding there was ended up mostly in the white schools. Education was not paramount as about the only employment available was in textile mills and agriculture. One did not need to know the Pythagorean Theorem to prepare for a life of picking cotton or tobacco or making bedspreads.

In 1965, the schools were integrated and the black schools were closed. (Even though Brown vs The Board of Education, banning segregation, became law in 1954, its implementation was delayed in the south)

When the students were combined, it was found that the black students, through no fault of their own, were behind the white students. As a result, at least in my friend’s school, there was a distinct dumbing down of the white students to allow black students to catch up. The black students were pushed through with their age group. Students graduated with my friend that could not even read, let alone read at grade-level. The sons of wealthy white families had the alternative of private military school. But the girls, such as my friend, had no options.

My friend received a substandard education in North Carolina, while in Idaho I had the opportunity for a well-rounded and comprehensive education. I had some great teachers and facilities. Though through my own inattentiveness and fragmented focus I did not take full advantage of what was afforded me, I learned a lot by osmosis. If you throw enough paint at a canvas, you will eventually get a painting.

My friend is very intelligent but largely uneducated. As a result, she thinks of herself as dumb and lacks confidence. It greatly saddens me. She was a canvas that was never painted on. Of course, the upside is she mistakenly thinks I am smart. Who would have guessed that growing up in the wilds of Northern Idaho would give me an academic edge over anyone?