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Power, Protest, and the Public Schools

Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City

Melissa F. Weiner

Publication Year: 2010

Accounts of Jewish immigrants usually describe the role of education in helping youngsters earn a higher social position than their parents. Melissa F. Weiner argues that New York City schools did not serve as pathways to mobility for Jewish or African American students. Instead, at different points in the city's history, politicians and administrators erected similar racial barriers to social advancement by marginalizing and denying resources that other students enjoyed. Power, Protest, and the Public Schools explores how activists, particularly parents and children, responded to inequality; the short-term effects of their involvement; and the long-term benefits that would spearhead future activism. Weiner concludes by considering how today's Hispanic and Arab children face similar inequalities within public schools.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

Countless people have aided me in completing this project. To thank by name everyone who offered me intellectual, moral, and emotional support during these years would be impossible. Below are those who have had the most impact on me. For those unnamed, know that if I knew you between 2002 and 2009, you I could not have completed this project without the aid of the librarians ...

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Introduction: Unlocking the Golden Door and Unpacking the Great School Myth

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pp. 1-10

“They are our children, not yours!” a Jewish mother shouted in Yiddish at members of New York City’s (NYC) Board of Education who refused to improve the overcrowded, and vocationally oriented schools in their neighborhoods even though thousands of Jews had been working toward this effort for years. Forty years later, in 1957, Harlem mothers, known as the Harlem 9, fed up with the ...

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1. New York City’s Racial and Educational Terrain

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pp. 11-33

Many sociologists and historians would have us believe that Jews’ and African Americans’ experiences in America, and in American public schools in particular, could not have been more different. The usual tales depict Jews as hardworking, intellectually gifted immigrants who used innate abilities to rise through the ranks of America’s racial and class hierarchies. On the other ...

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2. Resources, Riots, and Race: The Gary Plan and the Harlem 9

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pp. 34-71

As dawn broke on October 17, 1917, thousands of Jewish children and their parents crowded the streets of the Lower East Side, Brownsville, and Flatbush. In Yiddish and English, they chanted and carried signs reading “Down with the Gary System!” They passed women and boys on street corners railing against a plan that condemned half a million Jewish children to crowded and crumbling ...

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3. Resource Equalization and Citizenship Rights

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pp. 72-96

America’s public schools have consistently embraced some students while marginalizing immigrant and minority children as racial others. Vocational classes, discriminatory teachers, and poor resources relegated minority children, who were consequentially unable to compete for college acceptance and white-collar professions, to second-class citizenship. NYC’s Board of Education ...

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4. Contesting Curriculum: Hebrew and African American History

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pp. 97-129

In 1946, a seventh grade teacher at P.S. 37 in Queens demanded that her only African American student read “Plantation Memories,” advising him that if he used the proper emphasis in his oration, he would “receive a good mark.” Mrs. Sasser used the poem, describing slaves as “carefree, light-hearted Negroes of the South,” to teach her mostly white students “the truth” about “colored ...

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5. Multicultural Curriculum, Representation, and Group Identities

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pp. 130-153

Curriculum debates are, at their root, ideological debates about who belongs within the American populace. Textbooks written from a Eurocentric perspective, as they often are, exclude the (hi)stories of indigenous peoples and minorities and teach children that these groups are neither full members of the American citizenry nor equal contributors to American history. More than just ignoring...

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6. Racism, Resistance, and Racial Formation in the Public Schools

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pp. 154-166

For students of America’s public school history, New York City’s rejection of activists’ claims may not be a surprise. Throughout American history, public schools, often touted as a universally available institution, have operated as central mechanisms maintaining America’s herrenvolk democracy, with democratic citizenship rights reserved for whites and denied to subordinate groups. ...

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7. The Foreseeable Split: Ocean Hill-Brownsville and Jewish and African American Relations Today

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pp. 167-176

When most people think about Jewish and African American struggles in NYC’s public schools, they instantly recall the Ocean Hill–Brownsville (Brooklyn) conflict of 1968–1971. In this conflict, Jews and African Americans faced off against each other as they battled for control of the schools. However, they did so with conceptions of the schools that had been diverging for decades, beginning ...

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Conclusion: The Future of Minority Education and Related Scholarship

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pp. 177-182

These historical struggles and their results offer contemporary scholars, activists, and theorists new insights into processes of education, identity formation, and movement trajectories. Jews’ and African Americans’ inability to promote change by attacking the mechanisms perpetuating and ideologies underlying deeply rooted racial inequalities raises large questions regarding...

Methodological Appendix

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pp. 183-188

Notes

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pp. 189-214

Bibliography

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pp. 215-234

Index

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pp. 235-249

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813549804
E-ISBN-10: 0813549809
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813547725
Print-ISBN-10: 0813547725

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 7 illustrations. 7 black and white halftones
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Discrimination in education -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Jews -- Education -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • African Americans -- Education -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Jews -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Social conditions.
  • Racism in education -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Race relations.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Social conditions.
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