Interview with Sandra Feldman

What was your specific role? Did you have to try to convince teachers to go along with things? What was your specific role in Ocean Hill-Brownsville?


Well, initially, ah, when I asked to go out there I was asked to go to one of the schools where a community group had been agitating, ah, about improving the school. And when I went to meet with the teachers, first of all, I saw that the school was in bad shape. The school, ah, unfortunately we, we, we have these conditions even today. The school needed a lot of, in the way of repairs and maintenance and cleaning, ah, and supplies, ah, the discipline in the school appeared to be out of control. And when I met with the teachers I urged them not to be defensive. This was a very integrated staff. A junior high school in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. And they had immediately felt defensive because this community group was agitating about the school. And of course, I had come from a background of nothing but agitation and organization--organizing in the Civil Rights Movement. And I said, "Look, you know, there are problems in this school. It's obvious that, that there are resources needed here, that there are changes needed here. Why don't we try reaching out to work with this group and see if we can make it a positive experience?" And, um, teachers did, teachers thought about it and said, "Yes, let's try to do that." Teachers generally want to have a good relationship with the communities that they serve. They don't, they, and especially in a period when teachers are in great demand, ah, when there are, like today, lots of other options, places for them to be, ah, jobs for them to get. Teachers can't do a job if they don't have parental support, if they don't have community support. And they want that kind of support. And they're willing to try to work towards getting it. And I found that the teachers at Ocean Hill-Brownsville, even though they were wary, this was something very new, ah, they had been used to working in a very centralized system where the orders come from on high. They were willing to experiment with voice, hoping that there would also be voice in it for them.