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James Clement, Mrs. Barry Norton, and Pearl Shaw discuss Chicago schools ; part 1

BROADCAST: 1965 | DURATION: 00:18:42


Discussing the "Chicago Schools Challenge " and interviewing James Clement, Mrs. Barry Norton, and Pearl Shaw.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel You know, the lead article in the May 20th issue of "The Saturday Review" deals with Chicago, specifically Chicago schools, written by Charles and Bonnie Remsburg, and it's called, the title is a rather interesting one, "Legacy of an Ice Age, " and deals indeed with the city, the administration of the former superintendent of the schools, and we have three guests, very conversant with the theme of education in our city and even our state, because it's also at the moment being discussed in Springfield, too, the matter of money. James Clement, former member of the Chicago Board of Education you may recall who resigned during a certain dramatic moment, for certain dramatic causes, a distinguished patent attorney of our city, and Mrs. Barry Norton, who was the state legislative chairman for the state PTA, or, to use a more a phrase more of an active, a lobbyist for the PTA, and lobbyists such as these are greatly needed indeed. And Pearl Shaw, who is the principal of Richard Yates School, in a changing area of our city. Now, where do we we, where do we begin? With the, with the article itself, which is a very strong piece as an indictment, isn't it, Jim Clement?

James Clement Yes. I consider it a very perceptive and incisive analysis of the problems of the Chicago Public Schools. I told you before we were on the air, Studs, that in one respect I wanted to correct one of the quotations that was attributed to me. The Remsburgs wrote that I had said that the reason that Dr. Willis was retained for so long was that he had served the power structure of the city. I've never said that, but I have said that Dr. Willis somehow persuaded the business community and the political leaders of the city that he was serving them well in spite of his divisiveness and in spite of the actual low level of achievement overall of his administration. But I thought I thought the article was a very hard-hitting and, and quite accurate article.

Studs Terkel I suppose this then offers a challenge, doesn't it, Mrs. Norton and Pearl Shaw? A question of there's a new superintendent, but the problem is still there, the question of -- we're speaking now specifically of Chicago schools, where Mrs. Norton concerns herself with the schools throughout the state. So, what is the challenge now? The challenge is manifold, isn't it? Mrs., well, Mrs. Norton, you you

Mrs. Barry Norton Well, of course when the legislature is in session, you see, people like me, who, who spend a great deal of time in Springfield, who and are -- and who are specifically concerned with what legislative enactments that concern the schools will be produced by this General Assembly, we're very money-oriented right now. Now, this is not to suggest that, you know, the schools have no problems except money, but the money is the solution to most of these problems, and we get to the point, and I get to the point where I could hardly see beyond these blinders that have dollar signs on them, because this is the period, this six-month period is the period that will determine how much money the local school districts are going to have from now until two years from now. This determination has to last for 18 months, and we have only this one period in which to make it. And so as shortsighted as it may seem, this is a time when at the state level, money is what you have to concentrate on. And that really has been the thrust of my work.

Studs Terkel Pearl Shaw, you were thinking as

Pearl Shaw Well, as far as the article is concerned, most of us feel that it's a wonderful shot in the arm for the citizens of Chicago, we hope who will read it and and be startled and to -- more concern, more willingness to do for the schools of Chicago because the whole future of our city, the whole future of the world depends upon what's happening in the classrooms all over the city and all over the country, all over the world today. And we regret that there wasn't anything in the article about the fact that there is a good deal of excellence in Chicago. There are very, very creative teachers doing an outstanding job. I have a staff like that at my school

Studs Terkel Would you mind describing the nature of your school?

Pearl Shaw Yes, we I have an elementary and upper-grade center, two separate buildings where we have seventeen hundred and fifty children from kindergarten through the eighth grade, and the the seventh and eighth-grade children come from four different schools all within our area. The population is largely in in-migrants from the Southern Appalachian mountaineers and from Puerto Rico. We have a good many DPs. We have a certain percentage of American Indian children, and a very small hard-core of old residents of the community who haven't fled as yet, but it's been in the 10 years that I've been there, it's been pretty sad to see so many of the good solid community residents leave because of the difficulties that they've encountered with the in-migrants coming in and changing the character of the neighborhood. However, these children are just as important, just as precious, just as, as good possibilities for good citizenship as any children that you'll find anywhere in the world. And they -- the heartbreak for us is that although we're doing a superhuman job in maintaining a fairly good standard of achievement in the school, we know that we have several hundred children every year that go through our school and come out with very little benefit from having been in our school. And it's these that we are concerned about, as well as the fact that the teachers are working inordinately hard to achieve the success that they've had.

James Clement Mrs. Shaw, you spoke about the new children coming into the neighborhood who are of a different cultural background, and you implied that it presented new problems. Don't you feel that it if the school system were today meeting those new problems as it should that this would be a very strong influence to stabilize the community and to help that community develop into the kind of, of cosmopolitan community that, say, the, the comprehensive plan for the City of Chicago envisages, a community where people of diverse backgrounds can live together

Pearl Shaw -- And

James Clement And enjoy it and benefit. Sure. So that, so that it isn't just the fact that you have different children, and I knew that wasn't what you were suggesting, but I want to make it quite explicit, that if the schools would give the attention to quality of education that they should, and would achieve the quality of education that they should, that this would by itself be a tremendous stabilizing influence in a city.

Studs Terkel And as you're talking, Mrs. Shaw, Mr. Clement and Mrs. Norton, since you mention some Indian children at your school, too, and Jim Clement's point about indeed, the new cultures can add richness to the area and to the old residents, Benny Bearskin is one of the leaders of the Indian people of our city, and he's talkin' about school, Indian kid in school, if I can just read this one paragraph, and you could take it from there. He says, you know, "The teacher," thinking about teachers generally, "the teachers there do a certain function. I think perhaps the teacher feels these pupils are like a bunch of bumps on a log. And you know, it's going to be a difficult thing for specifically an Indian child," and you can substitute Appalachian or Negro child here or Puerto Rican child, "who in his family life and all the association of family, learns to establish relationships on a person-to-person basis." Indian child, now, and he finds this absent in the classroom, "and the difficulty follows, and frequently the parents go to talk to the principal," not Pearl Shaw, happy to say. "To talk to a teacher. But since they already have a preconceived philosophy, it's like going over there talking to a brick wall," and they figure you just aren't hip, something's wrong with you if you don't conform, that's just too bad. And then

Pearl Shaw Well, but you see, this is exactly the the thing that we need money for. We -- these these several hundred children that I say we fail with every year, our children who need small group experience, one-to-one experience

Mrs. Barry Norton Eyeball to eyeball, we call it in the PTA.

Pearl Shaw We need to, we need the benefit of the wonderful, the wonderful innovations in education today that they -- that educational leaders are talking about and they have been proved successful. We don't even need to experiment with them anymore. The team-teaching approach, for example, where you have aides to the teachers, where you have auxiliary personnel, where the child can have a one-to-one relationship with somebody. We have a man, an elderly gentleman, who is a provisional teacher in our school. A charming gentleman who loves children and he's been in the business world, he's an insurance agent, and he wanted to come back into teaching. So he happened to land at our school. We have him teaching science for intermediate children and he goes into the first-grade rooms and works with science with those children. Just recently, the children were asked to draw pictures, the primary children of their favorite teacher, and many of them drew pictures of Mr. Buckley, and one of them said on a picture, "Dear Mr. Buckley, I wish you were my father."

James Clement Gee, isn't that

Pearl Shaw This is so moving, and you, and you see these children who in the kindergarten for for example, have so much beauty and so much potential and and so much promise. And and you know that you're not going to be able to help them all, because you don't have the facilities!

Studs Terkel So, you know Jim

James Clement Excuse me, Stud. Mrs. Shaw, you referred to lowering class size and to getting additional facilities. And then you told a story about a very fine teacher who may make my point seem out of place, and yet I think this applies to many, many teachers. Many other teachers in the city who are faced with children of different cultural backgrounds are kind of frightened by them, and don't know how to relate to them and need the kind of training in human relations that the human relations experts can give them. We know how people of different cultural backgrounds should get along, and these teachers ought to be given that help. But we don't have the time and the money, or in the past we haven't taken the time and we haven't had the money to give them this kind of training. Perhaps in the teachers' training institutions is where it should start, but right on the job today too there should be in-service training in human relations. It's it's obvious to anybody who's had any experience with children that children respond to what is expected of them, and if you have high expectations for a child, then he's going to achieve by and large. If you don't, then he's not going to achieve, it's only the rare one then who does.

Mrs. Barry Norton Now wait, you said it's obvious to everybody. Now, I think there's a great deal that isn't as obvious to everybody as, as, as some of us would like to believe. And I think that the that the chief thing that's not obvious to everybody, and really the situation with -- which creates a kind of climate with which we struggle here, is that I don't think it's obvious to everybody that every citizen of Chicago, childless, children grown, what have you, including and maybe even especially the business community, has a tremendous stake in what happens to the children in Mrs. Shaw's schools who come out incapable. You know, these children as they become adults are not going to go away, they are not going to disappear. There has to be a way to absorb them into the economy. They become voters. They have to be turned into people who can participate as citizens and as electors, as producers, as consumers. And you see, you can't -- in other words, this isn't just a matter of being nice to these kids, this isn't a matter of charity. It's a matter of survival! Now, how

Pearl Shaw And the lack of money and the lack of facilities are perpetuating evils that are going to be haunting us

Studs Terkel Before we touch on money, I know Mrs. Norton is -- discussed the theme of money, which obviously is the sine qua non here, but before we discuss that, the question of climate, the subject of understanding, you speak of certain -- of the respectables, the middle class who see no problem other than that these kids are of less worth than the kids they know, and you remember, there are so many cases, I know teachers who teach in Appalachian schools, or Negroes, who speak of the tremendous -- if they get the kid involving in something he knows, his day or a certain story told by his grandmother or an Appalachian song, if the teacher herself has some understanding, [match strike] suddenly there's beauty in the class, there's imagine, there's excitement

Pearl Shaw But in defense of the teachers, let me say this, Studs, that understanding them thoroughly and completely and being completely empathetic with 'em, doesn't always make it easier to live with them.

James Clement Oh, well, but I think if you

Pearl Shaw combine We

James Clement If you combine that with smaller classes, so the burden on the teacher wasn't so great,

Pearl Shaw Well, we'd like to be able to be flexible in our schools. We'd like to have the kind of physical structures. This business of building more and more of the same kinds of schools, no matter how, how modern the outsides may look, isn't serving the purpose. We need the kinds of schools where we have small group possibilities and large group possibilities and laboratory possibilities, where we can give the children what they need, even in the, in the better schools this is a need. Where there are some places where children can work independently with with machines, with programs, with tapes and that sort of thing. Then there ought to be places where one child can work with one teacher or a teacher's aide. Let's remember this: the teachers are just coming of age professionally. Remember that it's not too long since teachers were two-year normal college graduates. Today, they're all university graduates, and this makes for an entirely different method of dealing with them.

Mrs. Barry Norton Yeah, but their

Pearl Shaw You can't push them around.

Mrs. Barry Norton Their background is so different that's another

Pearl Shaw Remember, too, that you've got a doctor who is working with one patient and how -- and solving the problems of that one patient, the medical problems. How many auxiliary personnel does he have? He has a laboratory technician, he has an anesthetist, he has a thermometer holder, he has

Mrs. Barry Norton Has a nurse!

Pearl Shaw A pulse taker. And here you have a teacher with anywhere in our Chicago schools from thirty to forty-five children sitting in their classroom who's got to do the job all alone.

Studs Terkel You know, there's no doubt

Pearl Shaw Isn't that silly?

Studs Terkel Mrs. Shaw, what you're talking about, and Mrs. Norton, is all true. This is -- we're talking now about a material need, a physical need, obviously you have less of it -- but there's something else involved here, we still have to dwell on the matter of climate. You raised that point.

Mrs. Barry Norton Yeah, and I, I don't, I really don't want to keep dragging you back to money, but I want to say this. It seems to me -- now you understand, I'm not an educator, I'm not a professional, I'm just a parent who has exposed herself to a great deal of this, that the lack of money is based on the climate. In other words, if the climate was right, the money would be provided by public demand, by public understanding, so that I don't think these things are disconnected.

Studs Terkel No, they are connected. That's the point. So, at least the money would come if the climate -- people considered education

Mrs. Barry Norton Of everybody's

Studs Terkel As important, say, as the convention hall.

Mrs. Barry Norton Of everybody's children

Studs Terkel -- Everybody

Mrs. Barry Norton Not just their own, you see.

Studs Terkel No, of everybody's children.

Mrs. Barry Norton Because you know that the school districts all over the state are passing bond issues, they're passing tax rate increase referenda, for my child in my school in my town -- nothing is too good. But no concern for the general overall picture, so that every child needs a certain amount of education. This is what we don't have.

James Clement Well, you know, Mrs. Norton, I think there are some encouraging signs. Take the somewhat analogous situation of open housing. I think it takes a while for some members of the middle class, the white middle class, to realize that open housing in the long run is going to make the City of Chicago and State of Illinois a better place to live. It's going to make it better for them and it's going to make it better for a lot of other people. But specifically for them, because they'll have stabler communities and it will give members of minority groups who now don't have the opportunity to to make a contribution to society, it will give them that chance to grow and and mature. Now recently, through a combination of pressures, there was established the Council on Open Metropolitan Communities, and this is a group that has a heavy representation on it from the business community. It's headed by James W. Cook of the Illinois Bell Telephone Company and they have planned what they call "Project Good Neighbor," which is going to be a very strong educational program that's going to be carried out in the next couple of months. So here's one area where the business community has, many members at least the business community have realized, that their own enlightened self-interest requires a change in the patterns of society. Now what we need to do is to point out to the business community what you were talking about before, that if we don't educate our children better, then they're going to become a terrible burden on society. With the -- well, first of all I like to point out that the society will lose the contribution that those children, many of those children, could give us if they had a real opportunity. But then if you move on into the negative rather than just the loss of the positive benefit of good education, as you were suggesting, public aid burdens will go up, the rehabilitation

Pearl Shaw Crime. Delinquency.

James Clement Problem, lawbreakers will go up, and I was, I was pleased to see that the president of the Chicago Board of Education, Frank Whiston went before a committee of the Illinois General Assembly last week and made this very point, he pointed out that in Chicago there are some 250,000 persons on relief, and 450,000 persons at a very subsistence level, making 700,000 persons. Well, now, if those could be -- if we could help them by, by adequate public education, I'm sure that many of them would become consumers, which was what you pointed out. And the rest of the state would benefit from that. Now, somebody has to sell that to the business community, you're quite right, and to the rest

Pearl Shaw And Jim, if the schools don't do, nobody will.

James Clement That's right.

Pearl Shaw Because this is where they have to be. They don't have to go to church. They don't have to go to social centers or welfare places, but they do have to come to school.

Mrs. Barry Norton Yes, and there's no reas--

Pearl Shaw And this is why they're compelled to come to school and therefore we need to meet these needs

James Clement We've really had this basic problem for a long, long time but it's been possible to sweep it under the rug in the past because there was a great pool of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, where if you didn't educate your kids, well you could shrug your shoulder and say, "Well, sure, they'll find a place to to support themselves." But today that's no longer possible with the increasingly industrialized and automated society and the economy we have. They've got to have some, some pretty extensive skills in order to find their place in society.