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city kid library book story

Looking back over last year's lj entries for my end-of-year updates, I really liked that I had a few childhood memories in there. It's so random and interesting, what we remember from childhood. So this year I want to post more old stuff like that... just to get it out, have a record, that sort of thing.

In the third or fourth grade we had to do a big project about a country, any country. I think I picked France first. It turned out that like five other kids were doing France, I got one school library book about it but others were checked out. Our teacher said we were welcome to switch countries if we'd picked a popular one. I agreed to switch, she said no one was doing a report on Finland so I did that.

In the meantime, a girl who sat near me was sticking with France and asked if she could just borrow the library book I'd checked out on it. I was fine with that.

But then she never returned it to the library.

After bugging her for a week or two I told the library why it was overdue. The librarian shook her head when I said the girl's name and just answered, "We've had some other problems."

So then I tried the ultimate solution: have my mom call her mom! That always works, right? Except it didn't. It took lots of phone calls for us to even reach her mother. Then when mom finally talked to her, it was just... weird. Mom just got off the phone and was sort of unclear on how the conversation had gone, something about how the woman at the other end was just yelling at kids and not really understanding the issue, or something.

I had to pay for the book. Actually, maybe mom gave me the money for it, because at that age I rarely my our own money. It was like $13. Mom was nice about it. She said she was sorry things couldn't just be worked out, sorry that something bad happened to me as a result of trying to help a classmate out. She also said situations like this are good to teach us lessons, and $13 for a lesson isn't so bad. There are plenty of books in the $50-$75 range, she said, good thing I didn't lend out one of those.

I was still confused about why the girl couldn't just return the book, but sort of chalked it up to general "city kid" weirdness. "City kids" tended to be a little unpredictable. The school I went to was in a district that was doing a desegregation program... they bused kids in from the city to enhance the diversity of our classes. It was a controversial program. As an elementary school kid I didn't understand the implications, all I knew was what I saw. The kids who were bused in weren't friends with us, they only hung out with each other. They never stayed in our school more than a year or two. They never did well. They misbehaved. They also fell asleep in class a lot, but I later learned that their bus ride was like two hours every day, so they were up incredibly early to get to the bus. All of them were black, and most of us were white... in fact I only remember one of us who wasn't white. He was a kid named Mitch who rode our bus. He was good in school and really good at drawing and did not hang out with the city kids, it was easier for him to be the one black kid in his circle of friends. His presence kept us from stereotyping black kids, but I do wonder if he ever felt stuck between the very segregated worlds of our "desegregated" school.

Anyway after going to school a few years with city kids, I just got used to the idea that their world was different from mine. In the few conversations we had about that book my classmate sounded so weirdly chaotic and defensive I just didn't know what to make of her... one more experience with the city kids.

Something about desegregation failed there. Just throwing us all in together obviously wasn't enough. I wonder if the grownups noticed or just us? I feel bad now, looking back, for all those kids, being in the minority, riding buses forever and having to switch schools every time some bureaucrat redrew the lines. Living in the inner city of St. Louis is weird enough without somebody's bad idea making things even harder, am I right? Did they get any benefit from going out to our "better" school? I was young but even I realized that my confusion over the book was not a big casualty in the whole situation.



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 12th, 2011 02:52 am (UTC)
They did the whole desegregation thing where I grew up too (in the late 70's, early 80's). It was a colossal failure. The towns already didn't like each other and this just made it worse. To this day, the damage has never been repaired. Parents in my town scraped every dime together that they could find to send their kids to church schools. I was sent to a Catholic school, having never been religious. It was a definite shock to the system. Funny thing is, the Catholic school had whites, blacks and a few hispanics. We all got along just fine. It was just the schools where it was forced that had the problems.
Jan. 12th, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
Same here, except it was the late 80's. Huge failure. The schools were old when I went there (from the 60's) and are still there and in horrible conditions. State is stepping in and taking over because it has gotten so bad.

It's a shame, cause I have 10 aches of property out there and would love to build my dream home...but would never consider it because the school system is so bad. The only option is private and I am not convinced they are any better. :(
Jan. 12th, 2011 03:12 am (UTC)
When I was in Boston I volunteered through my university in a program called "little siblings" (basically a school-run big brothers big sisters).

I worked with a little boy named Shaka, who was 7. This was the first experience I ever had with "bussing" (the desegregation and long bus rides you are talking about). What I didn't like about it at the time was that there were four kids in the home I worked with, and they were all bussed not only each one to a different school, but the schools were nowhere near each other. The mom hated it because if she had to pick the kids up for extracurriculars or visit teachers, or pick them up early for some event or whatever, she had to drive all over the city.
Jan. 12th, 2011 04:47 am (UTC)
I find this interesting, I am from very rural NE Ohio, and honestly never saw a black person in real life until I went to college. Obviously busing desegregation wasn't an option the bus ride would have been forever, but I often wonder how different I would be, and my attitudes would be had I gotten an earlier exposure to diversity.
Jan. 12th, 2011 07:16 am (UTC)
Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, we had two sets of kids bused in, the black kids from North Philly and the 'Decateur kids' (I think they were Irish, which in Philadelphia could mean 2-3 generations back). It didn't help things that the one group of kids got to leave grade school half an hour early and the others a full hour early (possibly my memory is off and it was 15 minutes and half na hour) because of the length of the bus ride. We did have some of the separations you describe but not as bad, and there were some friendships made, though it's hard as a kid when you can't play together after school. At least one of the former bus-ees says being sent to that school saved his life. (We're in touch on FB.) He's grown into a pretty amazing man, does a lot of mentoring and has seen a heartbreaking number of young men killed, so I'm very sure he knows whereof he speaks. A lot of those who were bussed as kids still kept coming out to the Northeast through high school when I think they had more options, so I think it did work for them, at least educationally.
Jan. 12th, 2011 08:45 am (UTC)
thanks for this entry. it's very illuminating, as are the comments, cos there's no such thing here.
Jan. 12th, 2011 09:21 am (UTC)
same here. i'd heard vaguely of these programs at some point but never really thought through the implications.
Jan. 12th, 2011 04:36 pm (UTC)
You may think something about desegregation failed and it may have for you but for those kids being bussed in it was successful. Those kids are minorities but they are insulated in their communities. The chaos of their lives is pretty unimaginable for someone growing up in a rural area(like myself). On the other hand being bussed out to a rural area where everything is quiet, organized and much calmer is a boon to those kids.
I went to a school with only one family (two kids) but no desegregation was even considered because the rest of the school was pretty evenly divided between latino & white kids, so we had all sorts of cultural diversity.
On looking back though, we could have benefited from it because even though our school had shades of color most everyone was settled rural folk with outwardly functioning families and no clue on the unpredictable chaos that went on with our distant rural neighbors.

Jan. 12th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
Maybe she'd never seen a library before and didn't know what to do?
Jan. 12th, 2011 10:23 pm (UTC)
well, it was the school library, our whole class went once a week. I think just the chaos and lack of discipline in her life went through to library books, she probably lost the book or just saw no reason to turn it in if it wasn't in her name (free book?) who knows.
Jan. 12th, 2011 10:34 pm (UTC)
My parents sent me to Catholic school as opposed to the Kansas City, Missouri public schools, which also participated in busing. Neither of my parents were religious, but the wanted me to have a quiet education they did not think would be available to me if I was exposed to the hate and discrimination that was so prevalent in the city schools.

What is interesting to me is how much my parents based their lives on my education. It was a financial hardship for them to pay for private school, and went to church every week because it was required to attend school there (which would have never happened otherwise, and never happened again after I started public school). Then my parents decided to spend the money they were putting towards my education on a house in a better public school system, which is when we moved to Overland Park. My extended family still looks down on my parents for leaving their "roots" just to "spoil" me with a good education and more opportunities.

As a side note, I only know of 1 person out of every kid I knew in Kansas City that went on to college. I'm still the only person in my family to graduate college, and my Grandmother was the only other member who ever attended college. I hear the Kansas City schools are slowly improving, but I don't think there are many people who feel busing was a positive experience for anyone in KC.
Jan. 12th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
I was working as a nanny over the summer, and the toddler's mom lent me a very interesting book called Nurture Shock (I believe the website is straight www.nurtureshock.com).

One chapter in particular that stuck with me was regarding children and racist attitudes - one fact that parents and educators couldn't wrap their heads around was that children in more diverse environments would often have more racist attitudes. However, this depended on whether or not their parents had discussed the topic of race with them - even basic conversations acknowledging that different people around them had different skin colours.

Goodness, I need to reread that book - the rest of the chapter is escaping me! But I thoroughly recommend the book, in any case. Controversial-lite, but interesting.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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