In 1966 I became part of New York City's School busing program. The challenge was that students from neighborhoods such as mind, the predominantly African-American Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn would attend schools in neighborhoods such as, at that time, the predominantly white Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
This program was to solve some of the inequities and create a sense of desegregation in the inner city schools.
From six to seventh grade, I would travel on the yellow school bus that would pick me up in my neighborhood and travel what felt like an eternity to my new school. The pick up would include cruising through various areas of Bed-Stuy collecting other African-American and a few Latino children to be transported to our various destinations throughout the Flatbush area. We often joked among ourselves as the bus approached the Fulton Street L, that we were crossing the tracks mimicking the Mason-Dixon line that separated the north from the south.
Please do not get me wrong; this was not necessarily an entirely unpleasant experience. I got to socialize and meet those who would become a friend or two on the bus, and become privy to a better quality of education, but the confusion for me was, if the school busing program was to desegregate schools, why were so many of the black and Latino students placed in classes all to themselves? Was that not a form of segregation?
Looking back, I can only surmise that this had something to do with the low level of academic training received by those of us attending an all black school in the inner city. There seemed to be very little recourse or effective planning for students though intelligent were lacking in skills. And there were those who had succumbed to the self-fulfilling prophecy:remaining stagnant in the ideas of others who believed that black students could not do well simply because they were black as if it was an inherent characteristic.
I was one of the black students who was placed in the classes of predominantly white students. I struggled with the work for that first year. Besides being in culture shock, I realized that I was quite behind in academics as opposed to my new classmates. Yet, I had been considered one of the brightest and capable students at my old school.
Luckily the teacher recognized and appreciated my efforts and gave me the extra attention I needed. I was able to catch up and once again become confident in my abilities.
With that problem being solved for the most part, I entered junior high school in the same neighborhood. No more yellow school bus; we would come and go on our own utilizing New York City transportation. I would like to think that the completely empty MTA buses that awaited us outside of the school each day was an act of courtesy, but my instincts tell me that it was to ensure that we would be out of Flatbush and expediently deposited into our own hood.
As a retired educator, I wonder what has really changed? What was the real purpose of those school busing days back in 1966? It seems to me it was an effort steeped in delusions.