Book Review: Through My Eyes

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Through My Eyes

Author: Ruby Bridges

Author’s organization’s Facebook page:

Date: 1999

Publisher: Scholastic Press

ISBN: 0-590-18923-9

Length: 64 pages

Illustrations: many photos

Quote: “History pushed in and swept me up in a whirlwind.”

At the end of the spring school term in 1960, a small select group of African-American students in New Orleans kindergartens were given special tests. The students had not been prepared to pass the tests. Most apparently didn’t. The Bridges family, however, received follow-up contact from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, urging the parents to send little Ruby to the formerly all-White William Frantz Public School. “They said it was a better school and closer to my home…They said I had the right to go to the closest school in my district. They pressured my parents and made a lot of promises.”

When little Ruby was escorted into the William Frantz school building by four federal marshals, she was not admitted to an actual class but spent the first day in the principal’s office, watching other children’s parents as “they ran into classrooms and dragged their children out of the school.” When she left the building, again chauffeured by marshals, “seeing a [B]lack doll in a coffin…frightened me more than anything else.”

On the second day, a Northern-born teacher was appointed to tutor Ruby Bridges, and the two spent the whole day in an otherwise empty classroom. “I wasn’t allowed to have lunch in the cafeteria or go outside for recess,” Bridges recalls. “If I had to go to the bathroom, the marshals walked me down the hall.”

Outside, protesters were picketing the school. The hate was not really aimed at a little girl who had been chosen for her role in history partly because she looked helpless and harmless, “the littlest…girl you ever saw.” The women who “came to scream at” Ruby Bridges also screamed “at the few White children who crossed the picket lines and went to school,” and their foul language shocked even the earthy novelist John Steinbeck, who would later be scolded for recording some of the ugliness in a book. For the whole first term, while seventeen White children were also dodging eggs and rocks as they entered and left the building,  little Ruby was so thoroughly segregated from what should have been her classmates that she didn’t even realize they were there.

The men who hated enforced integration turned their hate on adults. Crosses were burned. A voodoo doll was made to represent Judge Skelly Wright, who had ordered the integration of William Frantz Public School. Abon Bridges, Ruby’s father, was dismissed from his job; rather than extending credit to the now wageless Bridges family, their neighbors banned them from the corner store.

By the next year, when the sky hadn’t fallen, the protesters resigned themselves to their defeat. Ruby Bridges spent grade two in a regular classroom, with a local teacher who scolded her for having picked up traces of her first grade teacher’s Northern accent. She stayed in New Orleans. Eventually she used her fame to set up a foundation to benefit inner city schools, including Frantz. She admits that “I was tempted to feel bitter about the school integration experience, not understanding why I had to go through it…alone. Now I know it was meant to be that way.”

Note: “was meant to,” rather than, say, “had to.” Why was so much hate aimed at little children? Historically, the desegregation of the New Orleans school system was yet another episode where the democratic alternative was ignored in a conflict between two dictatorial approaches to a problem. Segregationists were demanding that Big Government subsidize segregated schools; integrationists were demanding that Big Government force people to change the system their grandparents had worked out. Ruby Bridges was caught in the crossfire between the two totalitarian camps. Virtually no attention was given to the fact that school desegregation had been begun by private individuals approximately 120 years before the federal government was allowed to step in—and in Kentucky it had worked remarkably well.

Berea College hadn’t even been the only school where students and teachers agreed to try racial integration. Berea was the only college that made desegregation a requirement. Dozens if not hundreds of schools had been racially integrated before totalitarian segregation policies had been marketed as a Southern Thing. School segregation had been burdensome. Hundreds if not thousands of schools reintegrated themselves in 1954, when the Supreme Court lifted what had become the requirement that cities and counties maintain two or more separate buildings, and people had known for a long time that one would have been more cost-effective.

It’s good to read that, as a middle-aged woman, Ms. Bridges has been able to integrate her appalling childhood experience into a life dedicated to helping others…but her experience was so unnecessary. If government had consistently backed the alternative of school choice, children like Ruby Bridges and her White counterpart, Yolanda Gabrielle, could have gone to schools that had never been segregated. Both children were bright enough, and well enough brought up, to have succeeded in a system that distracted attention from racial differences toward achievement.

Through My Eyes is a Fair Trade Book. Though Ruby Bridges has not chosen to remain a public figure online, this book explains which charity should receive 10% of the cost of its resale, and why. If you buy this book online here, sending $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, I’ll send $1 per copy to the Ruby Bridges Foundation. It’s a long, thin book; you could fit at least a half-dozen copies into one package for a total of $35, or fit in other Fair Trade Books.

Official Morguefile Book Review Cat:

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What I Learned in School

(Topic credit: Michelle Obama: #62MillionGirls . This is, of course, about Malala Yousafzai, the bravest and most beautiful girl in her generation; and about the young ladies in the Himalayan region, on whose behalf efforts were once made to recruit me as a teacher; and about the “Stones Into Schools” and similar efforts to provide schools for them; and about Gordon Brown’s effort, which I believe is well-intentioned if misguided, to force schools upon them willy-nilly.)

Ultimately, what I learned in school was that choice is vital; that any monopoly, even a nonprofit government monopoly, is always a bad thing.

I didn’t learn reading, writing, and arithmetic in school. True, I read some books at school that I wouldn’t have had at home, and I learned the remaining four years’ worth of arithmetic from my hateful girl-bashing fourth grade teacher who walked us through math problems…but I was one of the handful of children who are able to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic before they reach school age. (Most of us grow up reasonably intelligent but not, by any stretch, the geniuses sympathetic adults used to call us.) I learned those things, and also spelling and a considerable amount of science and history, at home. That music was a required subject at my school may have helped, but I clearly remember learning music at home; there, too, I was no genius but a bit ahead of the group.

I spent my elementary school years being bored witless and waiting for the group to catch up. Though I learned that it was nice to have an official school friend (and inevitable to have an official school enemy), and I usually had one or two official school friends, they weren’t what I would now call friends because they weren’t doing the same things on the same level that I was. Like most “gifted” children, I wanted to have friends, but until I was ten and my brother was seven years old, all the people I enjoyed being around were adults.

I did learn some things in elementary school. I learned that many people are hostile and likely to attack on whatever level they can. I learned that little boys are as easy to hit, kick, and shove as little girls are. I learned that little girls are not so much nicer than little boys as they are more mature, more likely to be able to use words to attack. I learned to be a mean, spiteful little brat whose first thought on meeting other children was how to hurt them.

I learned that most of my teachers thought they knew more than my parents, that sometimes they knew less than I did, even about the things they’d studied at school, and that most of them hated their jobs and their students about as cordially as we hated them. Most of them were just competent. A few were not. I had teachers who told us that “girls are beautiful but dumb” (meaning stupid); I had teachers who relied on the “right” to hit us with planks to maintain any sense of control of anything that was going on; I had one teacher who thought I needed some sort of deliberate brain damage in order to be more “normal,” one who routinely left thirty 13-to-19-year-olds in a small room with a 15-year-old as “teacher,” and one who used illegal drugs and shared them with some of the boys in his home room. I learned contempt for the older generation at school.

Thank God, nobody tried to “help” me adapt even better to this toxic emotional environment, so I didn’t become an addict or a serious juvenile delinquent, as many of my generation did. Increasingly from grade seven on, the school system in those days weeded out the people who didn’t want to be there. This produced a huge improvement in the social atmosphere. We didn’t automatically become friends, but we could keep our hands to ourselves and maintain a good healthy distance, so the hostility level did automatically drop.

In high school I began unlearning the toxic lessons I’d learned in elementary school. In high school there was still a huge difference between school friends (read contacts, or acquaintances, in grown-up terms) and real friends, but courtesy and even good will became feasible. In high school there were classes where I actually learned new things, and enjoyed it. This was possible because, as the principal said on the first day, attending my high school was a privilege not a right. Teachers were able to teach those who wanted to learn, rather than spending all their time contending with obstructions. Nobody wanted to be an obstruction. Everyone who was there had chosen to be there.

My high school’s trademark was defying expectations. It was a small, poor, underfunded school and tended to get stuck with teachers whose own field of study was something other than what they were hired to teach, who were desperate and would work cheap. We learned through competition. Most subjects taught in high school could be made into some sort of competition. If there was a trophy, the question was who was going to bag it for our school. Quite often someone did. There was another small, poor, underfunded school that provided almost half of the competition we had at the regional or even state level. I learned after high school how many other schools there were in the state and how unlikely it was that two of those schools, two of the most underfunded ones at that, would meet each other in competitions every year…but we did.

I learned in high school that, although it was certainly possible to be an alcoholic, addict, or single parent, and in the 1970s plenty of adults would help a teenager do those things, not one in a hundred people wanted to do those things. We were as young and ignorant as any other lot of teenagers but, since our choices included doing part-time jobs and earning scholarships to college, very few of us wanted to ruin our lives instead. Even more than sex I think teenagers want freedom and self-determination.

Another big thing I learned in high school was that, although I wanted more freedom and better choices for myself and other children, some teenagers were really fighting for those things. Like the choice between public schools, private schools, church schools, or studying at home. That’s called school choice, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to my state school system. When children have alternatives to going back to class the next day, even a teacher who likes hitting children with planks has to find some other way to get their attention.

And somewhere down life’s road, I suspect it was after more than during my first college experience, I even learned that it was possible to respect and appreciate teachers. Younger people who’ve grown up with school choice often seem to grow up knowing this. When my generation were young we didn’t know it; we “knew” that teachers were our natural enemies. Y’know, dogs and cats, foxes and chickens, teachers and students…

I suppose there may be some girls, somewhere in this world, for whom school-without-choice is better than no school at all. I myself chose to attend a public school, and enjoyed it, after grade nine. Still, I suspect I might have learned more and better things, in high school and college, if I’d never gone to elementary school at all. My experience was that only when school became a choice for everyone did school become useful.


Should Students Hire Hack Writers?

I am a hack writer. So far this school term I’ve seen three job requests that I know for sure come from students.

There’s nothing unethical about students working with hack writers, especially foreign exchange students who aren’t seeking degrees in English and don’t want to be unfairly penalized for language issues, student teachers who want to test curriculum materials on reasonably well educated adults who majored in a different field of study, or even students who aren’t interested in the subject of a required course and can’t think of good ideas for projects or papers. There are, however, ethical and unethical ways to do this.

Students should do their own work. I can help you organize your ideas, polish your grammar, find appropriate references. I cannot go to classes for you, read your textbook, or work on a project with your classmates. And if I write your paper for you, I’m guaranteeing you a lower grade than you could probably get all by yourself.

Your teacher is looking for evidence that you remember what you have been paying the teacher to teach you. If you were able to use the same paper on which I or someone else got full marks at a big-name school, your teacher would probably knock at least one letter grade off your score, because, even if the paper were recent enough to look good to an unsuspecting teacher, it would not reflect your work in his or her class.

Hiring a hack writer to write a professional quality article that happens to meet the requirements for your term paper is probably at least as old a college tradition as fighting over girls (or guys) who don’t even care who wins the fight…and using that article as the term paper is almost as stupid and self-destructive.

You can certainly hire a hack writer to write one or more publishable articles on your topic. Hack writers love that kind of job. We get a free refresher course in a subject we might have enjoyed studying, too, ten or twenty or fifty years ago, even if nobody’s been paying us to keep up with that field. You get ideas about possible topics to focus on, ways to organize your outline, and books and web sites to quote. However, if your paper does not refer to things you did in class, you’re cheating yourself out of a grade.

An experience I had at Berea may be instructive. Returning to college after two years at a different college and six years in the workforce, I had to go back and sit through a mandatory general studies course with a lot of seventeen-year-olds whose high schools weren’t up to the same standard as mine. One of the topics for a writing project was particularly uninspiring. Around 9 p.m. on the night before the deadline, I finally thought of something that seemed worth writing about, that at least came from the right historical period. It was an A+ paper all right. It also began with different material than the class had studied, made minimal reference to the material the class had studied, and cited none of the teacher’s ideas. Not only did I have to argue the grade up from a C to a B, I had to make the case to the dean. “I have no idea where she got this, but it’s obviously not from my class!” the teacher griped.

I was able to show that the work was my own, but that teacher still hated me. Because he was a sexist jerk who didn’t want to give an A to a woman? He may have been that…but what I’d written was also a big fat ugly snub to him as a teacher. Granted, he’d wasted a lot of my time explaining to seventeen-year-olds who’d just come out of inferior high schools what my class had done in grade eight. Granted, I was more interested in exploring my own ideas as they had developed out of what I’d done in grade eight. Granted, my eighth grade teacher was a better teacher and probably a better man than that professor at Berea. But did my paper really have to rub those things in? Students can be arrogant, bigoted, overbearing bores, too. If you write a term paper that does not refer to your work in class, you are being one.

If your talents are for things that pay better than writing, and you want a professional writer to help you compensate for that fact, go ahead and hire one. But don’t cheat yourself.

If your school library does not have a collection of other students’ papers, or collects only dissertations and theses, and you need ideas, go ahead and hire me or some other English major–preferably two or three of us–to write sample papers on your topic. That is legal as long as you’re doing it as part of your research. You can use the same properly credited quotes, or read the same sources we’ve used and pick your own quotes. You can even use direct quotes from our papers; the correct form, depending on the style guide your teacher prefers, would be something like “Doe, John. ‘Medical Terminology in the Historical Plays of Shakespeare.’ Unpublished paper, 2015.” Just be sure that you’re working our ideas in with ideas of your own that reflect your class work.

If you want a professional writer to make sure your English is correct, you can pay for that too. Any decent hack writing site, including the one for which I work, will give you a discount if you state up front that you want revisions or corrections instead of independent writing jobs. Do your own research work, be prepared to exchange a few e-mails if your meaning is not clear, and you can legitimately take credit for writing your paper the way you would have written it if English had been your native language.

But I’ve seen some truly ridiculous proposals for writing jobs. One lazy student wanted somebody to write for him an assignment that was, basically, “Write about this week’s discussion in your project group.” How on Earth is any professional writer, anywhere, going to know what you discussed with your project group? There’s nothing wrong with asking me or some other professional writer to edit a rough draft that looks like “As the Project have discuss, One. J. Doe that the Trip for Smithsonian-Museums take have propose…”, but you have to deal with the shyness or laziness or whatever, write that rough draft, and then get help to rewrite it in standard English.

As a bonus, if you do have to write your paper in your native language and use a dictionary or translation software to obtain a very rough translation, a good writing site just might employ someone who recognizes the influence of your native language and can do a good translation. Just give us the chance.

Professional writers want to help customers, not hurt them. By doing their share of their work, students can make it possible for us to help rather than harm their grades.

(To sign off, for Google + purposes, here’s our Morguefile writing cat.)