Madison in the Sixties — the 1967/68 school year.
As the school year begins, a majority of teachers have no classroom experience. And due to the continuing pay gap, only a third of the individual teaching contracts offered are accepted. The new school year brings new disciplinary problems—in the first four months of the 1967–1968 school year, there are 346 suspensions from high schools, up from 144 over the same period the year before.[i]
In November—Superintendent Douglas Ritchie writes to principals and teachers, urging them to take “immediate steps” to stop the “irresponsible defiance by troublemakers under the popular guise of independence and rightism.” Decrying “actual refusals to obey, disgusting outbursts of foul language, and threats,” Ritchie warns that the number of arrogant and defiant students “is increasing in number and in intensity. The most alarming feature of this is parental attitude which actually borders on approval of irresponsible behavior.”[ii]
December 19—Fifteen-year-old Robin Zeldin, son of activist Lea Zeldin, is suspended for three school days from James Madison Memorial High School for refusing to shave his mustache. In mid-December, the five senior high school principals “unanimously reaffirm their intentions to ban students who appear with extremes in dress and grooming, including unshaven conditions such as mustaches, sideburns and beards.” In January, Judge Richard Bardwell grants Zeldin a temporary restraining order preventing the Board of Education from suspending Robin again for not shaving his mustache.[iii]
January 15—West High School principal Orris C. Beottcher bans students from bringing the current issue of Connections into the school because he finds some of the artwork in the current issue “obscene.”[iv]
In late February, the school board rejects the request by the Council of Parent-Teacher Associations for more discussion, and adopts a dress, grooming, and conduct code subjecting boys to suspension and expulsion for wearing facial hair. “The youth of today need boundary lines,” superintendent Ritchie says in pushing for adoption of the rules, which all principals had endorsed. The board first rejects, then unanimously approves, a motion by board vice president Mrs. Ruth B. Doyle that pupils facing expulsion get a written notice of charges and the right to a hearing with representation. Veteran board member and longtime UW baseball coach Dynie Mansfield says that police working on drug issues have told him that “all the boys arrested were of the long hair variety. Some say there is no connection, but our principals feel differently. Behind the mustache, the beard, the long hair and improper dress lies the real reason for their actions: a defiance of authority, lack of discipline, disrespect for rules and regulations, disobedience to their parents, as well as school personnel.”
The new rules also require dress that is “neat and appropriate to the occasion and in keeping with good taste,” and provide that “extremes in hair length and style will not be permitted.” Pupils are also required to “adhere to school rules, regulations and directives; exhibit respect for the school staff, and develop standards of personal conduct which exhibit respect and deference to authority.” Amid continuing controversy, the board in fall reopens consideration of the code for further discussion. Fifteen-year-old Robin Zeldin remains in school and still wears his mustache.[v]
April 1—Longfellow School, 210 S. Brooks St., is in “critical trouble” due to a continuing decline in enrollment, School research director Clifford Hawley tells the board. He says that the school census has dropped by half since 1955 — primarily because hundreds of homes in the Greenbush neighborhood have been torn down for the Triangle urban renewal district.
April 9— Superintendent Ritchie keeps schools open during the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., directing building principals to use their own judgment in deciding how to impart the significance of King’s life.232
A month later, Ritchie acknowledges to the Citizens Committee for the Teaching of Negro History in Madison Schools that he could “identify no thread of continuity” in how the schools present any nonwhite history and culture. “The blind spots are so vast, they’re appalling,” says school board member John MacDonald.233
May 22— “Our Negro citizens are growing very discouraged, and time is running out,” Betty Fey, chair of the EOC’s Education Committee, says two days later, urging the board to create a human rights curriculum supervisor and a director of human relations. Black children “are not having anywhere near an equal education,” she says, due to the “climate and prejudicial attitudes” of white pupils and teachers who “don’t have the background and understanding” to relate to blacks. The much- ballyhooed 1964 Human Rights Curriculum Guide is “merely gathering dust,” EOC director Reverend James C. Wright adds. The job would be challenging; “There does not yet exist an American history book which includes the role and impact of the American Negro in history,” Fey notes. A new “Human Relations Progress Report” later documents the trouble Madison is having hiring and keeping Black teachers; of the 1850 professional staff in the system, only 16 are Black. ‘Negroes have excellent employment opportunities, and We are unable to attract many applicants” Ritchie admits.
June 11—Students for a Democratic Society is trying to foment youthful rebellion, Madison’s director of secondary education tells the Citizens Advisory Committee, citing the young activist group High School Students for Social Justice and its underground newspaper, the High School Voice. Conan Edwards claims the student paper shares a publishing address with the underground paper Connections and contains stories outside the realm of “normal decency.” High School Voice chairman Jonathan Lipp and editor Allison Steiner deny any ties to SDS and call Edwards’s charges a “reflection of a paranoid fear that local high school students are capable of organizing themselves independently against the authoritarian attitudes of school administrators.” The group has about forty members, mostly from West and James Madison Memorial High Schools.[vi]
And that’s this week’s Madison in the Sixties. For your award-winning mask wearing hand washing socially distant WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan