We really wanted our school to be the center of the community. So we arranged to use our school kitchen.

The Puerto Rican parents cooked for the Italian parents one day. One mother remarked, “You know, when I was invited to eat in a Spanish restaurant I said I would not because to me Spanish food represented those people whom I didn’t know and didn’t understand. I actually thought they were pigs. But now I am here. I saw the food being cooked. I liked it and I am going to cook it for my own family!”

What followed was a kind of cultural exchange that many teachers could profit from for they need to be honest about this with parents. Do not code it over with words like “tolerance” because tolerance is a poor substitute for acceptance, understanding and celebrating individuality + commonality.

Mrs. Lurie, the principal of this East Harlem elementary school, was herself native born Puerto Rican. Freely and legally selected by decentralized, District 4 Community School Board, she took her Puerto Rican school parents and her Italian school parents into an active partnership in behalf of every child’s education. Quite an accomplishment! One would think the Board of Education and NYC would rejoice at such a bridging of rich cultural differences. But Oh No! 

Because this Puerto Rican woman principal was quickly replaced with a white non-Hispanic man who claimed he was the victim of reverse discrimination. He charged that he had been passed over for the principalship by a heavily Puerto Rican community school board and he claimed the post was rightfully and “white fully” his. The argument went that his qualifications were superior to Mrs. Lurie’s and that she had received the job based solely on ethnic grounds. Lurie actually held the same qualifications as white boy, but never mind. It went all the way to the NYC Commissioner of Human Rights who ruled that the complainer had indeed been passed over because of his national origin( White Land) and Mrs. Lurie was removed. Sound familiar? Sound like 2021?

Eventually, white boy died of old age and his obituary was quick to mention that he took up Financial Advisor as his post educator career path. After all, he had certainly kept his eye on his OWN bottom line. The obit also stated that our human rights victim was always passionate about social justice. But not so passionate that he felt moved to allow legally selected Principal Lurie to lead her Puerto Rican and Italian school parents in a classroom movement squarely centered on children.

And so we continued to cripple youth and destroy their spirits and their hungry minds. It was how the “system” worked. That was how the cookie crumbled in White Land. 

The 1970’s Open Corridors program meant opening minds and buildings to parent participation and to new ways of doing things. Black and Brown students marginalized, alienated and diminished by centralized, bigoted pedagogy finally stood a chance of being seen and nurtured. But there were many company men and women who were having none of it. They were comfortable with the old way of “doing business”. They put in their years, got the correct credentials, kissed the appropriate asses and believed themselves ENTITLED to a position of personal preference, current liberating movement be damned.

White boy and his friends had spent decades presiding over East Harlem schools, steering them to the widely regarded designation of Worst Ever! They were dead last on standardized reading tests, plagued with chronic absenteeism, raging gang violence, drug deals in the boy’s bathroom. A regular Blackboard Jungle. This was the proud legacy, the manufactured crisis that the “victims” of reverse discrimination wished to maintain.