Inside Oakland High School - by Karen Gordon
Last week I visited Oakland High School for the first time. I parked easily and was taking pictures of the murals along the retaining wall, when I discovered I was on the wrong side of the building. A group of students who were sitting on the steps told me that I had to go around to the other side on MacArthur. This was easier said than done since at this junction, MacArthur Blvd looks like a one-way street going the wrong way. There is nothing clearly marked that shows the uninitiated how to get to there from here. But I had to get there because I was audio-taping the freshman English class of my friend, Diana Arbas.
Diana is student teaching at Oakland High this year. Today she was discussing the book, Warriors Don’t Cry, with her students. This memoir, by one of the nine African American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 Arkansas, deals directly with some concerns of Diana’s students: racism and adolescent school life. I was especially impressed with the thoughtfulness of the students’ reflections on the book, as well as Diana’s ability to cope with an occasionally chaotic class. A certain level of noise and inattention is part of the hum of the classroom, but there was also a great deal of insight and even healthy debate between students over the story. One young woman pointed out that white people have a color, though this point was not picked up for discussion. Diana led the discussion in a very egalitarian manner, one that respected the students as intelligent people with opinions of their own. I had the privilege to be a fly on the wall, a somewhat big fly with a tape recorder and boom mike, but one that was pretty much ignored. I felt that what I was seeing was an authentic day in the classroom, one in which I learned a lot.