Civil Rights and Community Control

David Wiles, Eaps 760


    The l960's witnessed the declaration of individual civil rights for all American citizens. Although affecting the meaning of citizen to the entire public service sector, the Civil Rights movement is identified with the reinforcement of desegregation mandates (Brown versus the Board of Topeka, 1956) and the Great Society efforts to deal with disadvantaged children and at risk conditions in the inner cities. While the right to a public education was still an issue of state authority and local emphasis, the expectation for individuals to be educated and literate to survive in modern America was also conceded. The federal government would invest in individuals and classes of folks who could demonstrate that their academic and intellectual status was truly disadvantaged. Further, the dream of high quality public education for all was seen as part of the American dream to be economically solvent and socially secure.

    The late l960's and early l970's were also a time of great social unrest and questioning of the limits of federal policy. The Great Society effort of Lyndon Johnson attempted to both fix the plight of the large cities (e.g., "urban renewal") and win what was called a "limited, police action" in Vietnam. Both initiatives had lofty and, perhaps, moral reasons for involvement but both had very complex characteristics. One lesson learned early on was that intention and implementation were two different things (see Pressman and Wildavsky for the intertwine of domestic jobs programs and military policy). Another lesson was that the cost to do either policy well exceeded the estimates to do both. The final lesson was that "winning the hearts and minds of people" ( domestic or foreign) is an issue of socialization and trust building as opposed to money and statistics about resource utilization.

    New York City became an important demonstration of civil right considerations that evolved into expectations of community control of public education. In l960, the City became the first major urban area in America where the public school teachers went on strike. Even more important, the strike was as a public service employee (American Federation of Teachers) in a labor-management collective bargaining issue as opposed to "just a teacher in discussions about children." In l968, the local community of Ocean Hill-Brownsville in New York City demanded control of the public school curriculum and hiring practices. Civil rights, race and community control weaves together as parents and local community members demanded "black studies" curricula, control over the budget and to hire teachers and principals for their school. The perceived enemies were the City central office and board of education on one hand and the "white, Jewish and commuter" teachers union on the other.

    The resolution of the community control confrontation came with the creation of thirty two area boards of education for elementary students throughout the City. Each board would have control of the budget and hiring of teachers would be a function of emphasizing non white personnel.

    During the l980's "magnet schools" became an important way for public education to offer specialty curriculums and emphasis on parental choice. Critics would argue that magnet schools were the public education establishment alternative created to stop the "choice and voucher" options. Others would state that curriculum choices were less important than a means to meet desegregation mandates without busing to achieve racial balance. In any case, public schools established "theme" curriculums that citizens could petition to attend. Improving racial balance is part of the magnet school expectation and a blind lottery system is often used for people choosing to attend a particular school out of their immediate neighborhood.

    In the mid l990's, increasing tension between local boards of education and the central board in New York City resulted in direct pressure on the school superintendent, Joseph Fernandez. The issue was "value clarification" in the curriculum and sex education policy. The result was the ouster of the chief school administrator.

    For educational administration, the l960's civil rights and community control emphases signaled the beginnings of "advocacy" management. The neutrality of the bureaucratic institution or the "semi sacred canopy" of political noninvolvement were gone. The school manager we assumed to be "sensitive" to the sociological, legal and political aspects of people and interest group dynamics. The administrator was to be "proactive" in school governance.

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