High school course for girls looks at relationships among students of different races and backgrounds

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After racial disturbances at several Minneapolis high schools last year, human relations programs are appearing in high schools.

Central High School has a course called "Woman, Search for Herself" that deals with relationships among high school girls who come from different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Teachers want to develop areas of communication. Students with different backgrounds tend to interact very little with other groups. There is little dialogue between black and white women, but when there aren't men in the classroom women start talking to each other. They have common concerns, illustrated by discussions about what it means to be a woman. The teachers talk about Women's Liberation and different student opinions about it.

Inserted song sung by Nina Simone. Content of course comes out of rap sessions with students.


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DULCIE LAWRENCE: Racial disturbances at several Minneapolis high schools last year served to illustrate that a lot needed to be done to teach racial and human understanding along with the algebra and biology. So human relations programs have blossomed this fall in many high schools. But at Central High, a new dimension has been added, human relations between women of the same and different races.

It's a course called women's search for herself, designed by English teacher Mary Jordan and counselor Kathy Urtel, Central High school is the perfect setting.

KATHY URTEL: Like many of our schools which are strictly neighborhood schools, Central draws from a very diverse population. It is a neighborhood school. But we also had last year, 200 magnet students. And they are essentially students who have chosen to come to the school outside of their district because there are some special kinds of classes and opportunities available to them.

So Mary and I first got talking about this. We felt that we had a microcosm of society right in our building. We seem to have every racial and ethnic group and socioeconomic group.

So we were chiefly concerned, I think, in the course of developing some areas of communication between specifically women but women of all sorts of backgrounds. I think when people come from different backgrounds and different values, they have a tendency to interact very little with one another. We have in our building different groups. And essentially, they exist harmoniously with one another by not interacting at all.

I think the whole human relations movement in the school is aimed at increasing the communication. And Mary and I are specifically because of some fondness on our part interested in developing the communication between women.


KATHY URTEL: And I don't look at it so much as a racial thing.

MARY JORDAN: Generally speaking, there was really very little interaction, little dialogue between Black and white women. This was more true of any other groups. Sometimes, when for whatever reason, there weren't men in the classroom, the women started talking to one another.

And the male element really made a difference. This was particularly true when we were talking about particular literature or ideas that had a lot to do with personal feelings.


NINA SIMONE: My skin is black. My arms are long. My hair is woolly. My back is strong. Strong enough to take the pain inflicted again and again. What do they call me? My name is Aunt Sarah.

SPEAKER: I have noticed myself.

DULCIE LAWRENCE: Mary Jordan and Kathy Ertel based the content of their new course on ideas coming out of rap sessions with 20 women students chosen last spring.

KATHY URTEL: Per se or women's liberation or anything along that line and you begin to talk, you suddenly share a communication and some feelings about things that have almost a frightening similarity. The same sort of thing happened with the girls. None of these girls were marked by the women's lib type that the kids pointed to.

They were simply girls, as Mary said, who represented various levels. And yet, when we got them together, it was evident even if they had never even thought about it before, that they had all kinds of concerns about being a woman and what that meant and what that did to them, for them, against them, the whole works. And it just all came out.

DULCIE LAWRENCE: And even the ethnic background didn't seem to make any difference in that regard, is that so?

KATHY URTEL: There were many commonalities.

MARY JORDAN: And one thing that all of them did have in common clearly now was men, their relationships with males. And they talked about this quite freely. And once they did, then the ethnic background started to play a part.

KATHY URTEL: You will find many Black women, some of the Black women that we talked about when we were starting the course opposed even to the notion of discussing women's liberation. And many Black women feel that they come out of a different situation, that they are in fact liberated, that they have lived a different life than white women. I think, for example, if you get into some of the more militant man-hating literature or people talking about that aspect of women's liberation, you would find an immediate rejection of that by Black women.

MARY JORDAN: Black women know that they come from a different place in the women's struggle and have maybe kinds of liberations that the white woman does not have. At the same time, they're living with a stereotype that perhaps white women don't have to suffer with as much. And that's this idea of the Black woman being the castrator, the emasculator of the Black man. And that's a fierce stereotype to have to cope with.

And it's a myth that not only white people lay upon her, but I would say, more particularly, Black men. Historically, there's validity for this. She had to assume responsibilities because of the nature of the plantation and the nature of slavery.

DULCIE LAWRENCE: So that in denying the women's liberation movement, the women's liberation movement that we're talking about, she's trying to kill that myth?

KATHY URTEL: I really think so, yes. There's certainly validity in her rejection of the liberation movement in the sense that she can very reasonably say, how can I be liberated unless my man is liberated? And that's a valid argument. But there's a kind of liberation that has to go on between Black men and Black women. And it's specifically the stereotype of the bitch, again, the castrator.

There's also, though-- there's also a segment of women who says, the major focus and the major concern is the Black revolution and the Black genesis. And until that is developed, until we have made some progress in that, you are only diluting that to get involved in the women's liberation picture. You're taking away from-- in lots of ways, you're stealing the thunder of what it is we're trying to accomplish as a race when you start separating us as man and woman. And we got some pretty hostile reaction to--

DULCIE LAWRENCE: So then the movement can be looked upon as another racist ploy.

KATHY URTEL: Yes, yes, there are those feelings. Those are things to be looked at. They're not going to be changed. But I would like to see some understanding on the different women's parts of where they are at. If I am militant and I reject your women's liberation movement as a racist plot, at least you can understand why I feel that way.

MARY JORDAN: My hope would be that the Black women, as the white women, would see themselves first as persons. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

NINA SIMONE: My manner is tough. I'll kill the first mother I see. My life has been rough. I'm awfully bitter these days because my parents were slaves. What do they call me? My name is Peaches.

DULCIE LAWRENCE: The singer was Nina Simone. Talking about their new women's course with Mary Jordan and Kathy Urtel, teachers at Central High School, Minneapolis, this is Dulcie Lawrence.


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