In the course of the more than 300 oral history interviews we did for the Bronx African American History Project, we found that the greatest in school contributors to educational success, separate from family, church and neighborhood influences, were personal relationships developed with teachers, coaches, arts instructors and school counselors. Such relationships were mentioned in literally scores of interviews we conducted with Bronx residents, most of them African American, who grew up in the borough from the 1930's through the 1960's. They developed during school hours, in practices and rehearsals that took place after school, and during night centers and after school programs. In some of the interviews we conducted, mentoring by teachers, coaches, music instructors, and advisors to students publications was described as "life changing."
If this evidence is at all persuasive, and I think it is, then we need to ask why virtually every dominant education policy makes relationship building and mentoring so difficult. Today, many Bronx schools lack sports teams and arts programs, have revolving door teaching staffs, and lack the counseling staffs to adequate serve their student population. Moreover, few have the after school programs and night centers which were fixtures of Bronx schools in the 1950's and 1960's. Policy makers are so obsessed with raising test scores, and shutting down schools where test results are deemed inadequate, that they put teachers and administrators under such pressure that they have no time to develop relationships with students.
How schools without arts, sports, school publications, plays and concerts is supposed to be a place which inspires students from low income neighborhoods to succeed, in school or in life, is a paradox no one has adequately explained.
But because economic elites support this stripped down model, that is exactly what we see being promoted in poor communities from the Bronx, to Detroit to Chicago and Philly and Buffalo.
It is failing miserably, and reaping a harvest of bitterness that we will suffer from for years to come
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