I never considered the idea of going to college. I was a slow student, but unlike today’s “Top Tech Career Diploma” program, the school refused to let me graduate with anything less than the education needed to advance myself, even if I chose never to use it.
I was 14 years old and had no intention of going to college, because nobody in our family ever attended even a day of college. They all worked hard, but college was not in the picture. In fact, I was a C-D student. My favorite classes were lunch break, recess, and school vacations.
I thought college was unnecessary because I didn’t need to go to college to make money. I always found a way to make money. I sold seeds, greeting cards, newspapers, comic books, light bulbs, and pecans. I mowed lawns, raked leaves, shined shoes, wrote plays, and sold them. I had three News-Star paper routes, a News-Leader route and earned $15 a week writing a weekly teen column. College was out of the picture for me. I knew how to make money and it sure wasn’t working a $1.15 cent an hour minimum wage job or sitting in a boring class all day.
However, at Carroll, a student like me had no choice, preparing for college was not optional. What was optional were electives. The school wanted every graduate to be prepared for college AND to graduate with a skill that would help them get a job.
The school guidance counselor, Richard Miles chose business electives for me. He said I should go to college and study journalism, theater and the arts, but I was convinced that I wasn’t college material. I was so slow in some classes that when the teacher called my name and announced my grade as “B” I ducked because I though I would be stung.
Mr. Miles said, “Our job is to prepare you for your future, whether you use it or not. If you choose to be a wine head and sit on the street corner it’s your choice, but Carroll will give you the knowledge needed to stop being a bum, when you get ready, and climb the ladder to success.”
Between 1964-67 I never made the honor roll once, but I was suspended once for pulling the fire alarm. I was paddled often, frequently sent to the principal’s office, ran away from home, and was the school fool. The senior class had seven homerooms. The smartest students were in division 12/1. I was in 12/7. By all estimates, I wasn’t cut out for college; but the school’s principal Henry Carroll forced me, and others like me, to prepare anyway.
I complained but, Mr. Miles chose business electives for me. I learned to type 80 words a minute on blind keyboards using touch. I had to take Algebra for college prep, but business math and bookkeeping as electives. I was also required to participate in “Junior Achievement” which prepared students to own and operate businesses, manufacture products, sell stock and pay dividends to stockholders. The school taught us that black people should learn to own businesses and provide jobs rather than always looking for a job.
The class that was most challenging was “Gregg Shorthand.” I was the only boy in the class, but I learned it quickly. Each little line meant something and a person who was proficient at shorthand could accurately take notes; there were no tape recorders or cell phone records. I used it to write plays and later to take reporter’s notes, sermon notes and more. The strokes were quick and smooth, but they looked like chicken scratch.
Today, I still use some of the shorthand strokes. I learned in high school. I type 93 words a minute, and I use the business understanding that I learned from high school “Junior Achievement.” I used everything I learned from my business electives over a lifetime and ended up going to college after all; Mr. Miles was right. I eventually earned two degrees from ULM and a Doctorate in Theology.
Today, a student like me, who shows no potential, gets in trouble, has a big mouth, makes teachers and the principal angry, raises hell, stages boycotts and walkouts, and scores C’s and D’s (and one F in math) would be encouraged to enroll in the Tops Tech Career Path program. (Only students the school thinks will never amount to anything are pushed in this direction) That student will be given a meaningless diploma at graduation and pushed over to the community college for two years.
A student in the “Tops Tech Career Path” gets a diploma and a chance at an entry level job somewhere. However, he/she cannot use the “fake” diploma to go to a four year university anywhere in America. That’s the deception.
The schools that empty their campuses by pushing students into this program get unbelievable increases in school letter grades, and high praises from white officials. The goal is to inflate graduation rates by pushing kids who fall behind out the front door instead of working with them, wrestling with them and convincing them to achieve.
They never tell the graduates in the career programs that they have diplomas worth less than a GED.
Today, my longhand and cursive writing looks horrible. Strangely, the scribbled strokes of my high school shorthand still look the same. I went to college and built on the foundation I received at Carroll.
I bless the memory of Mr. Richard Miles. He wouldn’t let me take the easy route.
Many years later, I became his pastor.
I preached his funeral.
My notes for his funeral oration, entitled, “Milestones” were written in shorthand and typed on a word processor at 93 words a minute.