Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Sociological Experiment

This weekend, the Curmudgeon will be off to South Carolina for a reunion of his junior high school class. Now, most junior high school classes don't have reunions, and this one will be the first for the Fairwold Junior High class of 1972.

It really all evolved from a series of Facebook friendings with classmates, followed by establishment of a Facebook class page--more on a lark than anything else--and then the half-serious suggestion: "hey, why don't we have a reunion?"

So, re-une we will.

But it's an auspicious time to get together. Forty years ago, in the fall of 1970, the kids attending Fairwold Jr. High were part of a large sociological experiment. That fall, in Columbia SC, where the Curmudgeon grew up, the public schools implemented a court ordered school busing plan to integrate schools that had largely been segregated for a hundred years. (The two prior years, the city schools had adopted a "free choice" plan that allowed black students to attend white schools, but few took up the "choice" in the face of considerable hostility.)

The way these plans usually worked in the South, mostly it would be black students taking the bus to a previously all-white school. The white schools were almost always better facilities, and black parents generally didn't object to their children being sent to such schools. In contrast, white parents were quite vocal when their kids were sent out on the buses.

Still, the busing plans required busing at least a few token whites to black schools to win court and Justice Dept. approval.

It just so happened that the Curmudgeon's white neighborhood got the designation to be bused to a formerly all black school--Fairwold. It was a bit of a shock, since the year before we thought we were going to walk a few blocks to our neighborhood Jr. High; but in the new plan, that school was turned into a high school.

Anyway, Fairwold wasn't bad at all. Built in the heart of one of Columbia's middle class black neighborhoods, it was a fairly new facility. So while the adults ranted and raved, us kids took the bus each day across town (and yes, across the train tracks) to Fairwold. That first year, Fairwold had an almost exactly 50-50 split between white and black students.

To make the whole thing more palatable to the white parents, the school district added a bunch of really good white teachers to the school, which already had a bunch of really good black teachers because it served the more elite black neighborhood.

As a result, we all got a good education at Fairwold. And kids like me met a bunch of very smart black kids for the first time in our lives.

Leave it to the adults, however, to mess things up. A lot of people, mostly white, resisted the plan. Each spring, riots would hit the high schools, and when they closed, the Jr. High's weren't far behind. (The Curmudgeon can remember sitting on a hill, in a mix of most of the white and black students at the school, watching a small handful redneck white kids battle a small handful of thuggish black kids. The rest of us were chatting together and wondering when they'd close the school and send us all home.) It wasn't long before parents (mostly white) were moving out of the city district to suburban districts, or putting their kids in private school, or parochial school, and over time, Fairwold essentially re-segregated.

But for the two years we were there (and for some time thereafter), it was a pretty good school. Today, the school is named for the then-principal of the school, W.G. Sanders, and it may well still be an excellent school, just with not very many white students.

Because so many students went so many different ways after Fairwold, the reunion is a chance to catch up with some people we haven't seen since the early '70's, and others we went to high school with (but still haven't seen in decades). Judging by what we've learned so far of what our former classmates are up to these days, the sociological experiment worked out just fine, with no lasting scars--lots of doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers (and professors), business people, artists.

We're looking forward to seeing everyone. Maybe we should take a ride together in a big yellow school bus!

1 comment:

vibram five fingers said...

wow,great!Your post looks so wonderful,just the style I am interesting,Such kind of post giving us various knowaledge,it worthy to read.
thanks for your kind sharing.