Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Segregated high school proms divide Georgia's students

Being socially rejected can of course be hurtful but life is full of rejections and part of maturity is learning to deal with that. People will always prefer to associate with others who are similar to themselves and the differences in the lifestyles of most of the black and white graduates are undoubtedly going to be great in the years ahead. Many clever brains have been racked to find a way of bridging the black/white achievement gap but nothing has ever worked to a significant degree. So letting a privately-organized Prom be an introduction to that inevitable separation is an exercise in realism, whatever else it may be.

In late grade-school age and early High school age in the late '50s and early '60s, I was myself something of a "n*gger" -- i.e. rather socially ostracized -- but I was barely aware of it. I was as interested in books as most of the rest of the kids were interested in sport. I just saw the other kids as lacking and thought no more about it. There was always another world of books to enter! I remember going into the local library and reading parts of Marx's "Das Kapital" when I was about 14 and I had certainly read most of the Greek canon (Plato, Homer, Thucydides, Euripedes etc.) and had a close look at the Holy Koran and learnt a bit of Ancient Greek by the time I sat down for my final High School examinations. I was weird! But happily so. So get on with your own life regardless of what others might think of you would be my advice to the upset lady mentioned below -- JR

Kera Nobles' senior prom should have been a high point of her life, as she celebrated graduation from her home town's school system after 13 years of education. But instead it has left the normally bubbly 17-year-old smouldering with anger. For, following a local tradition that seems extraordinary in a country which has elected its first black president, there was not just one formal dance for the 54 classmates who graduated from Montgomery County High, but two. On the first night, a prom was held for the school's white students; the following night came the celebration for Miss Nobles and the school's other blacks.

"I don't like segregated proms, there's no need for it," she said, her eyes still burning with hurt. "We went to school together and we all graduated at the same time. I feel like I've been deprived of something that was important to me."

In early summer when Georgia peaches are at their sweetest and high school seniors can't wait to be loosed on the world, separate proms are part of the bitter aftertaste of segregation that persists in parts of America's Deep South. For nearly 40 years state school pupils have been educated together. They have played sports together and developed close bonds of friendship, before finding themselves face to face with a cruel ghost from America's past.

"It was heartbreaking," said Miss Nobles, who will be leaving home to go to university this autumn. "It was the one night to see all your friends dressed up and I'm told, I have to wait until the next night because of the colour of my skin."

The annual prom held by high schools across America near the end of the academic year is big event, for which students and parents spend months preparing. But in a handful of Southern towns, parents still insist on whites-only proms which blacks are not allowed to attend.

The election of Barack Obama did nothing to change attitudes that go back generations in the small rural towns of Montgomery county, Georgia; the surge of pride black people felt in the election of the first black President was met by frosty silence by whites. The county, which is two thirds white, voted overwhelmingly Republican last November and attitudes have hardened as the months have passed.

Barred from attending the white prom, Kera still stood outside to show moral support for her closest friends, cheering and taking photographs as they arrived and did the "senior walk" into the community hall with their boyfriends or their fathers. Then she left, with her black friends.

Next evening her own white friends encouraged her and took their own pictures as she and her friends dressed in lavishly coloured dresses and rented dress suits for their own event at the same venue. She was close to tears. "Every (school) class we sat beside each other," she said, ticking off the names of her best white girlfirends, Harley Boone and Cierra Sharpe. "We love each other. But there's a lot of hidden history here, and while everybody gets along there's always something... If your parents are a certain way nine times out of 10 you're going to think the same way."

Blake Conner, 17, who is white, did not want to go to the prom at all, but was persuaded to attend by friends. "There's a lot of people I went to school with, who are my friends that I wish could have been there," he said, lifting sacks of sweet corn from an elderly farmer's pickup truck into farm shop where he has a summer job. He believes it would be hard to have a successful integrated prom for what he calls "cultural reasons." "My friends tried to organise a joint prom but they just couldn't agree on the music or even a theme," he said.

For two white sisters, Terra and Tamara Fountain, both of whom have black boyfriends, prom night was especially trying. "I wanted to go to the black prom," said Terra, 18, "but my mom wouldn't pay. She doesn't like me talking to black people anyway." She now lives with her black boyfriend, Gary Carswell, but neither feels comfortable living under scrutiny in a small town. Her sister Tamara, 16, added that she cannot be seen on the street with her boyfriend Ken Troupe. "Its terrible, everybody's so racist round here," she said. "If they see you in public with a black guy they just stare at you with hate in their eyes."

Montgomery county's time warp seems to be rooted in institutionalised racism. Until relatively recently the black community of this town lived in terror of the lynch mob. In one infamous killing in early August 1930, a prominent 70-year old black politician was taken from his house by a mob and tortured to death. In 1944, after a one-day trial by an all white jury, a maid was convicted and later executed for shooting dead a man who was sexually assaulting her. Racially motivated killings continued through the 1950s, and in the late 1970s a white man was shot dead for having an affair with a black woman. No one was prosecuted.

Officials insist that the once powerful Ku Klux Klan is no longer active. "The Klan is now history and thank the Lord for that," said one. "They are gone now, we are just dealing with some old attitudes."

It's those attitudes that kept last month's proms segregated, since the parents of white pupils refuse to support it another way. This year's "white folks' prom", as it is known, was a lavish affair for which tickets cost over $200 a head - out of the reach of most black pupils, who are from some of the poorest families in the country.

The sadness of the black pupils was captured by Gillian Laub, a freelance photographer who reported on the town's segregated events for the New York Times Magazine.

Harley Boone, a graduating white student who posed by her parents' outdoor swimming pool, told her: "There's always been two separate proms. It don't seem like a big deal around here, it's just what we know and what our parents have done for so many years. "In our school system it's not really about being racist or having all white friends or all black friends. We all hang out together, we're all in the same classes, and we all eat lunch together at the same table. It's not about what colour you are." Miss Boone's comments outraged many and she found herself cruelly caricatured as a racist on a YouTube video that has been widely viewed.

Betty McCoy, the editor of the local newspaper, the Montgomery Monitor, has watched with dismay as segregated proms continue year after year. "It's really the fault of a few families," she said. "This is really a friendly and well integrated community."

Pastor F Lee Carter of the African Baptist Church - who once marched for civil rights in Selma, Alabama with Rev Martin Luther King, has little patience with those who demand separate proms. "Political life is intertwined; educational life is too," he said. "So why shouldn't our social life be intertwined as well?"

But the school superintendent, Leon Batten, pointed out: "The most segregated hour of the week is 11 am on a Sunday morning when white and black attend separate churches." Even so, Mr Batten has decided it is time to end the segregation - and next year there will be an integrated prom, arranged by the school instead of the parents, he told The Sunday Telegraph. "It may not be a great success at first, but we will persist and over time the segregation will be history."


You can't ban parents from taking pictures, British schools told

Parents who want to take photos of their children in school plays or at sports days can once again snap happily away. The privacy watchdog says authorities that have banned parents taking shots for the family album are wrongly interpreting the rules. Relatives wanting to take pictures at nativity plays, sports days or other public events are often told that doing so would breach the Data Protection Act. But the Office of the Information Commissioner has said this interpretation of the law is simply wrong. It decreed that any picture taken for the family photograph album would normally be acceptable. This guidance can now be used by parents and grandparents to challenge 'barmy' rulings relating to the upcoming school sports day season.

Deputy Information Commissioner David Smith said: 'We recognise that parents want to capture significant moments on camera. 'We want to reassure them and other family members that whatever they might be told, data protection does not prevent them taking photographs of their children and friends at school events. 'Photographs taken for the family photo album are exempt from the Act and citing the Data Protection Act to stop people taking photos or filming their children at school is wrong.'

The guidance, sent to education authorities across the country, says: 'Fear of breaching the provisions of the Act should not be wrongly used to stop people taking photographs or videos which provide many with much pleasure. 'Where the Act does apply, a common sense approach suggests that if the photographer asks for permission to take a photograph, this will usually be enough to ensure compliance.'

Specific examples of what is allowed includes a parent taking 'a photograph of their child and some friends taking part in the school sports day to be put in the family photo album'. The video recording of school nativity plays is also listed as being acceptable.

The guidance says that, in some cases, official school photographs or visits by newspaper photographers may be covered by data protection laws. But provided that parents and children are informed about what is happening, there should be no problem in these cases. Earlier this month, the Mail reported how parents at Mrs Ethelston's Church of England Primary School were upset after being told they could not take pictures of their own children at sports day.

The village school in Uplyme, Devon, cited changes to child protection legislation for the ban on cameras. Headmistress Andrea Rice said 'vulnerable pupils' needed to be protected. There has been a string of similar cases in which parents were stopped from taking pictures at school events.

Margaret Morrissey, of pressure group Parents Outloud, said: 'I am really pleased that common sense has broken out. We have to be sensible about this and allow families to build up histories of their children and stop spoiling life for those parents who want to be involved.'


Australia: Leftist NSW government still bullsh*tting about horror school

A recent successful bullying claim has put the spotlight back on Farrer high school.

IN THE days when boys were allowed to be animals at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School, the end of each school year was marked by "the rumble". Year 12s stood at one end of the oval and the rest of the school at the other, with mattresses padding the intervening ground. At the squeal of a whistle they would launch themselves at one another - 13, 14 and 15-year-old boys against 18-year-old men - in a mass wrestle. Anybody caught punching would be whacked by the principal with a stick. It was an exercise in catharsis for the boys, who had suffered a year of brutal discipline at the hands of the year 12s, but was stopped in the early 1990s after a series of broken bones.

The NSW Department of Education says the Tamworth school now adheres to rigorous anti-bullying policies, promotes friendship between boarders and day boys through the "Farrer Friends" program and has a student welfare system that is regarded as best practice.

But the bullying claim brought by a Farrer old boy that resulted in a payout of nearly $500,000 in the Supreme Court on Friday has whipped up a squall in the community of students, alumni, teachers and parents known as the "Farrer Family". Some have accused David Gregory of whinging and money grabbing, but others have said his experience was neither isolated nor historical, and continues at the school.

"It's a totally traditional thing, in that what went on 20 years ago still goes on, and it's absolutely historical," said one mother, who withdrew her son last year after he threatened self-harm. "In year 7 you've got no rights; in year 12 you've got all the rights."

The conditions for bullying were fertile at Farrer during the 1990s when Mr Gregory was a student, because the school's philosophy was to give year 12s responsibility for the discipline of their juniors, creating what one former student described as a Lord Of The Flies effect.

Old boys have told of punishments such as having their heads held between speakers on loud volume, being forced to fill a pond on the prefects' lawn one cup at a time from a tap 50 metres away and being stripped naked and thrown into an icy pool in midwinter.

Karen Strachan, whose son Jeremy was a contemporary of Mr Gregory, said he was still damaged from his six years at Farrer, which included six boys tying him up one night and simulating sexual acts upon him to humiliate him. "Jeremy asked me not to take it any further, so I didn't. He had a horrific time when he was there. He went in the army and the army is pretty tough but he said his time at Farrer was worse than the army."

Parents say practices to which Mr Gregory was subjected, such as "gnome duty", which requires students to stand outside the year 12 dormitory holding a broom and a rubbish bin lid, still occur at the school. Moreover, they say, a rivalry has developed between the boarders and the day boys, and the school is reluctant to respond to complaints.

Lianne Penfold withdrew her son from the school in 2007 after he complained of bullying, much of which involved fights between the boarders and day boys, and often resulted in his arriving home with cuts and torn clothing. "We thought the selective school and all-boy environment with good role models would be good for him … but he was very unhappy," she told the Northern Daily Leader. "He never had friends over, and he would come home from school and go to his room and stay there."

The other mother, who pulled her son from the school last year, said her day-boy son was a target at Farrer because he was more brains than brawn. "The kids who were bright weren't treated the same as those on the footy team," she said. "Farrer footy team is the golden egg over there, and they were treated differently to everyone else." In this environment a boy such as Mr Gregory, who enjoyed politics and literature, might always have been regarded as an eccentric. But former students say the school has little tolerance for those who are different.

Simon Smart, who attended the school in the 1980s, said he enjoyed it because he fitted in, but he could see in retrospect that it would have been a difficult place for outsiders. "It was a very aggressively heterosexual environment," Mr Smart said. "It had the potential to be a great school, but its great failing was the inability to protect the vulnerable kids."

The NSW Department of Education said it did not accept that there was rivalry between boarders and day boys and conducted regular anonymous surveys to spot concerns including bullying. S"Any incidence is dealt with strongly and thoroughly, through the school's welfare and discipline procedures and by providing necessary counselling and support," a spokesman said.


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