Even though the Richmond County Board of Education has its ideological and racial spats, there is general biracial consensus that the school system is ready to come out from under federal court desegregation supervision.
How to pay for upgrading inner-city schools kept ending the court order at bay. Now, with passage of the school bond issue, the plaintiffs in the 1972 desegregation suit are obviously pleased.
Could 1997 be the last year of operation under the order? It's significant that the local plaintiff's attorney cautiously shares this assessment.
The main legal requirements for desegregation have been met - ranging from the student/faculty racial mix to transportation and extracurricular activities.
Trustee Kingsley Riley still loudly complains about racial staffing ratios, but Superintendent Dr. Charles Larke feels minor staff adjustments through transfers could easily pass court muster.
It's especially galling, though, when Riley repeatedly says whites can't properly teach black students.
How ironic. In 1972, white racists were saying just the opposite - black teachers could never teach white kids.
Leave it to Ruth Crawford - the respected administrator of the Shiloh Comprehensive Community Center - to put in perspective how far her beloved school system has traveled.
In her just-published memoirs, The Woods Afire, Crawford recalls a skeptical white principal asking her if she could teach white children. Her response is a wonderful rebuke to the Kingsley Rileys and David Dukes of the world:
"Just remove the word `white' and I can answer your question. I see children as children. Not as black or white. Children are not a problem to teach. The problem is created by parents and our society."
Our community schools deserve to come out from under a federal judge's thumb and - as many black and white Augustans already acknowledge - the sooner the better.
There's no more need to fixate on numerical ratios or judges. The classroom focus, as educator Crawford underscores, must now be to "teach as if the woods are on fire."
"I sort of saw myself as a fireman who would never dream of quitting but just goes on battling to overcome the blaze that was seeking to destroy knowledge."
God give us more teachers who share this apt philosophy!
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