The race riots of 1964 resulted in a mass exodus (known as “white flight”) of white people from the city of Rochester, NY. Down-sizing of major companies (Kodak, Xerox, Baush and Lomb) in the 1980’s had a ripple effect causing many smaller businesses to close down completely, pushing the city into major economic decline. The latest statistics I’ve seen are that 46% of Rochester’s population are on welfare.
The Rochester City School District (RCSD) is one of the worst in New York state. Standardized fourth-grade testing shows that only 33% of RCSD elementary school students are “at or above grade-level”. The drop-out rate is phenomenal, and there are allegations that the rate reported is much lower than the actual rate. As a matter of fact, when our newly elected major asked to access the RCSD statistics, the RCSD declined. Mayor Duffy then had to file legal action to obtain the previously requested information.
Despite these troubled times, (or perhaps because of) the RCSD announced a new curriculum. The new curriculum includes black history in every subject. Prior to this, Black History was a separate offering, taught only during February (Black History Month). The student population in RCSD is 65% black.
I should point out that I don’t actually live in the city, but since it’s the major economic and political hub of the county what happens within the city limits effects, directly or indirectly, the entire county. As a county resident I keep up on city events, even though I don’t pay city taxes. But, really, why should I be concerned about the RCSD’s curriculum, when all schools are expected to meet state standards? First, as I pointed out before, RCSD is not meeting state standards at an acceptable level. But I’m really writing this article because of the second reason.
The second reason is based on a funny thing that happened to me. Not a funny ha-ha thing, it was more like a revelation, although that sounds so dramatic. What happened was, I was reading an AC comment that said something to the effect that we (the reader) always assume that the subject is white, unless otherwise specified. That comment took me off guard, because I have always done that and never thought twice about it. So when I asked myself why, a couple things came up. Number One: I’m white, so naturally, being white is my personal point of reference. Number Two: Weren’t all of the people we learned about in school white, unless otherwise specified? I’m not trying to justify, rationalize, or make excuses for myself. I’m speaking honestly. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks.
In a school district whose population is 65% black, how do black students relate to learning about primarily white achievement? It was like a bell went off in my head. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, but I’ll point out that I was a good student way back when. Now that I’m trying to think of black history, I remember learning about Frederick Douglass (a Rochester, NY resident), Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But those were the only three that readily came to mind. If I put a lot of time into it I could come up with more: Sojourner Truth, Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Shirley Chisolm; to name a few, but that’s kind of cheating. As a matter of fact, I think I learned about some of those people after graduating, and being in the real world. The point is that our Black History curriculum is sorely lacking.
There have to be hundreds, nay, thousands, of black people that have achieved greatness in all fields. To introduce all children to this during their formative years is a tremendous service to society as a whole. For black students who feel disengaged, I hope this instills pride and motivation in them. For white students who, like me, have an ethno-centric mindset, I hope this will open their eyes. I’m hoping that all the students of RCSD find the new curriculum to be inspirational. Thank you, RCSD, for taking a step in the right direction!