Six years have passed since Federal Judge Arthur W. Garrity's forced busing order went into effect in Boston in September 1974. It produced a year of chaos, violence, and turmoil the likes of which the "Athens of America" had never seen, the effects of which still linger.
The area of the city that put up the stiffest organized resistance to forced busing was South Boston, the predominantly Irish, blue-collar neighborhood with traditions almost as old as Boston itself. The judge had ordered the children of South Boston to be bused to the predominantly black schools of Roxbury and vice versa—a plan hardly conducive to brotherly love. That year the convoys of buses bringing black children into South Boston and other white neighborhoods had to be protected by both state and city police. And whites being bused into Roxbury required similar protection. Inside the schools throughout the city there were stabbings, assaults, riots, and vandalism. You can be sure that very little, if any, schoolroom education took place that year.
But education of another sort took place that has forever changed the political minds of the people who live around those schools. This violent confrontation with the heavy, coercive hand of government in matters concerning parental responsibilities turned the people of South Boston from Kennedy Democrats into conservative Republicans. It has also turned many of the people in the area against public schools in general, for now they could see quite clearly the social thrust of government education. In fact, South Boston was one of the three areas in the city that started private schools for parents who wanted to keep their children in their own neighborhoods. The school, South Boston Heights Academy, now known simply as Heights Academy, is, in the fall of 1980, beginning its sixth year of existence.
This is a significant milestone, because the first five years are the hardest for a new private school putting down roots in an old community once exclusively wedded to public and parochial education. It's also significant because Heights Academy has proven not only that private education is viable in a low-to-moderate-income urban area but that it can do a better job of educating than the government schools, at no cost to the taxpayer, at moderate cost to the parents, and without government aid or interference. Private education, in fact, is so much better in so many ways than government education, that one wonders why there isn't more of it. The reason, no doubt, is that you must experience educational freedom before you can really appreciate it, and it takes strong conviction and enormous effort to achieve educational freedom before one can even begin to experience it—I know, because I was there at the birth of South Boston Heights Academy.
Interestingly enough, geography has been the most important factor in determining the somewhat insular character of this neighborhood of 39,000 residents. South Boston is surrounded on three sides by water and connected to Boston proper by several bridges. It is dominated by a steep hill known as Dorchester Heights, which George Washington turned into an impregnable fortress to force the British to evacuate Boston on March 17, 1776—now known as Evacuation Day and celebrated each year in "Southie" by its famous St. Patrick's Day parade. Perched on that hill is South Boston High School, the community's dominant landmark. The community itself is heavily Irish Catholic with a good mixture of second-generation Lithuanians, Poles, Albanians, and Italians. Many own their own homes. It is one of the few neighborhoods where you still find three generations of the same family living within walking distance of each other. Southie's young people tend to marry and stay in Southie.
When I first moved to South Boston in 1970 I had virtually no knowledge of private education, nor could I have conceived that such knowledge would ever be useful to a community such as this. Southie was a Democratic stronghold in a city where politics is a family affair. You voted Democratic because uncle Kevin or sister Cathy was on the city or state payroll. The neighborhood public school was part of the American way of life, like Mom's apple pie and the Fourth of July. Its value was above question. You might have sent your own child to an elementary parochial school for religious reasons, but virtually everyone went to the public high school, which was seen as the government's benevolent instrument whereby all were molded into good, patriotic citizens of the American republic.
My own interest in private education began in 1970 when Neil McCaffrey, a longtime acquaintance and the president of Arlington House publishers, asked me if I would like to do a book on how to start a private school. Neil had sensed a growing nationwide interest in alternatives to government education, and he thought that a book on the subject was needed. I spent a few weeks doing some preliminary research and then agreed to write the book. Although I myself had gone only to public schools in New York City and had received what I considered to be a decent education, in the 1960s I had become convinced on philosophical grounds of the need to separate school and State.
Meanwhile, public education had deteriorated badly since my own student days in the 1930s and '40s. Forced busing, the decline in academic standards, the reading problem, and the "blackboard jungle" syndrome had led thousands of parents to abandon the public schools. During the '60s, public education fell increasingly under attack from both liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites; and the "alternative" school movement began to blossom.
My book, How to Start Your Own Private School—And Why You Need One, was published in 1972. In gathering material for the book, I had made an extensive tour of the South to see the new private schools that southern parents had established as alternatives to the integrated "federal schools." They represented the first major movement away from State-monopolized education since the rise of educational statism in America. The national media had played down the significance of these schools, dismissing them as "segregation academies" and predicting that most of them would fold when parents got tired of paying for them.
But you had to see these schools for yourself to realize, not only how biased the press was in reporting about them, but how wrong so many intelligent, well-meaning liberals could be about southern parents. The schools I visited—mostly those receiving derogatory mention in the liberal press—turned out to be models of community effort and parental concern. They represented considerable academic input and financial investment. The parents who built them were genuinely interested in the education of their children. To them, the government schools had become more concerned with social change than with academic excellence.
The success of these new schools—indeed, the success of the whole southern private school movement—was the best-kept secret in America. Although far less lavish than their taxpayer-supported counterparts, these schools were academically superior to them, and they were here to stay. It was regrettable that it took an issue such as forced racial integration to spark the southern private school movement. But it seemed to me that the movement itself could only help the cause of freedom in the long run.
American history is full of such ironies. It was the slavery issue in 1860 that forced the South to resist growing federal statism by seceding from the Union. And it was under Lincoln that the United States enacted an income tax and conscription in order to save the Union. The Civil War devastated the South and abolished slavery. But it also consolidated statism in Washington.
Eight years since the publication of my book (now out of print), the success of the southern private school is still the best-kept secret in America. There is almost a total lack of interest in such schools. The public educational establishment pretends that the southern private school movement doesn't exist. Their policy is one of containment; so you will find no studies about these schools, no curiosity about their success, no interest whatever in their existence in educational journals. The largely liberal popular media avoids the subject because of the race issue. And the conservative press generally draws a blank when it comes to education unless it involves sex, drugs, violence, racial turmoil, forced busing, and functional illiteracy, all of which are absent from the southern private schools. Success in education makes dull copy.
While writing my book, I also wanted to find out what was going on in the public schools. So I became a substitute teacher in Quincy, Massachusetts, a blue-collar, middle-class city of about 95,000 just south of Boston. As a substitute, I had immediate access to two large high schools and three junior high schools. I hadn't been in a public school since my own graduation from high school in 1944, so it was quite a shock to see how greatly academic standards had deteriorated in 25 years. And these schools were in an all-white suburban community untouched by racial problems. I found sufficient academic justification for parents to get their kids out of the government schools.
Unfortunately, academic disarray, drug peddling in the school toilets, vandalism, and a general moral disintegration were not alarming enough to spark a private school movement in Quincy. And the same could be said of Boston and every other northern city. The only people in the North who were taking their children out of public schools were the affluent professionals and fundamentalist Christians. The latter were now doing, for largely the same religious reasons, what the Catholics had done over a century before.
When the South was ordered to integrate its dual public school systems, no one ever dreamed that such court orders would be issued in the North, where, theoretically, racial segregation in schools didn't exist. Actually, the southern desegregation process took place in two stages. The first court decision of 1954 declared the southern system of separate but equal schools for blacks and whites to be unconstitutional. De jure segregation was thus outlawed, but not de facto segregation, which continued to exist in the South because most neighborhood schools reflected the racial composition of their communities. The court's doctrine of "freedom of choice" merely resulted in token integration, and the South found that it could live with that. In some communities, however, where integration threatened to be more than just token, private schools were established.
When the NAACP saw that abolition of the dual school systems and "freedom of choice" resulted in little actual racial integration, they went to court again to assert a new sociological doctrine of "racial balance." After lengthy litigation, the Supreme Court in October 1969 decided in the NAACP's favor and ordered massive forced busing to achieve a higher degree of integration. The reaction of the whites was not unexpected: a massive exodus from the public schools and the overnight creation of hundreds of alternative private schools. In 1969, white southerners could no longer secede from the Union, but they could secede from the federal schools.
Meanwhile, in the North there was little sympathy for white southern parents. The Court's draconian measures were seen as deserved punishment for the South's past racist sins. It was assumed that such "Reconstructionist" measures would never be inflicted on the North, where the schools had virtually always been integrated. But in Boston, the NAACP thought differently.
There was no de jure racial segregation in Boston's schools, but there was "racial imbalance" in the form of black neighborhood schools being predominantly if not all black, and white neighborhood schools being predominantly if not all white. The NAACP charged that there was a deliberate school-committee policy in borderline areas to assign students to the school where their race was in the majority. So there was in Boston the kind of "token integration" that existed in many southern cities between 1954 and 1969.
And so, in 1965, the Massachusetts legislature passed a Racial Imbalance Act requiring that no school in the state have a student population more than 50 percent black. In April 1966 the state Board of Education withheld funds from Boston because of the school committee's failure to comply with the Racial Imbalance law. From February 1967 to August 1971 the Boston School Committee submitted four racial-balance plans to the state Board of Education. Three were rejected completely as inadequate, and the fourth was accepted in part only. The state board then devised a busing plan of its own, and in March 1974 the state Supreme Court ordered the Boston School Committee to implement the state's plan.
Meanwhile, in March 1972, a group of black parents, represented by the NAACP, filed a class-action suit against the Boston School Committee and the Massachusetts Board of Education, charging them with violation of the 14th Amendment. The litigation took two years, with the NAACP winning its case. On June 21, 1974, Federal Judge Arthur W. Garrity issued his finding that Boston schools were "unconstitutionally segregated" and ordered forced integration via busing to begin in September 1974. It was ironic that the city that had given birth to the abolitionist movement should now come under a forced integration order!
The city was instantly polarized into two antagonist groups: pro-busers and anti-busers, with all of the ugly racial conflict inherent in such polarization. As for the quality of education, there was no indication whatever that at the end of the bus ride the students—white or black—would get a better education than what they were getting in their own neighborhood schools.
Meanwhile, concerned parents had begun to organize antibusing protest groups that started picketing the State House. One morning in April 1974 I saw such a group on the TV news and decided to go down to the State House and give my book to its leader. I was living in the right city at the right time and had the right book.
At the State House I got one of the picketers to introduce me to the young mother from the Hyde Park neighborhood who was the leader of the group. I told her who I was and expressed the opinion that no amount of picketing or parental protesting would reverse the court order. There was only one legal way to avoid having one's child forcibly bused out of one's neighborhood, and that was to create a private school in that neighborhood. I offered her my book, which she bought on the spot. My hope was that she and the other parents would realize that government education was the real enemy in this struggle between parents and the State.
In August 1974 I received two delightful invitations. The first was from the South Carolina Independent School Association, inviting me to address its annual convention in October. The other was a call from a parent in Hyde Park who had read my book and wanted me to address a group of parents interested in starting a private school. The seed had indeed fallen on fertile ground.
I addressed several hundred parents in Hyde Park, stressing how important it was for them to reassert their control and responsibility for their own children's education. I told them of my experiences as a substitute teacher and why I thought that the academic failure of the public schools alone was enough to justify taking their children out of the government schools. I urged the parents to do all in their power to save their children from the educational malpractice, philosophical confusion, and physical dangers of the government schools. The audience response was positive.
In September 1974 the buses started to roll. The senseless and frightening violence that followed was worse than anyone could have predicted. As a result, thousands of parents kept their children at home, and many began planning to move to the suburbs. In neighborhoods like South Boston and Hyde Park, emergency tutoring classes in private homes were organized to provide some instruction for students kept out of school. In both communities, plans were afoot to start private schools.
The community was divided on the issue. There were those who felt that starting a private school would divert effort from regaining control of the public schools—as if the community had ever really controlled them. And in "Southie," where generations had gone to South Boston High School, there was a sentimental attachment to that institution. The thought of that school being taken away from them was a blow to the community's pride and sense of continuity. But the federal power had ordered it to be done; South Boston High School no longer belonged to South Boston.
News about Boston's troubles had reached my hosts in South Carolina, and I was invited to bring along anyone from Boston who might want to visit their private schools and see how the parents there had done it. Thus, when I went to South Carolina in October I was accompanied by two couples from Hyde Park. During our three-day stay we visited many private schools and asked many questions. The purpose of the trip was to convince these Bostonians that parents could indeed start a school if they wanted to. There were too many people in Boston who said it couldn't be done, but once you saw with your own eyes that it had been done, it became a matter of determination and follow-through. About a year later, Hyde Park Academy opened its doors for business. It is still in business today.
It also took about a year for South Boston Heights Academy to open. No one involved in the undertaking had ever started a school before, so it was a learning experience for everyone. Fortunately, the project attracted the interest of a young property owner in the area, James McGowan, who had extensive business experience. He attended some of the organizational meetings and soon took charge. With his direction, the effort began to take definite shape.
An attorney was engaged to devise the corporate structure of the school and write its bylaws so that it could be governed and managed efficiently. A board of directors was chosen from among the organizers. A bank account was opened to handle tuition cash flow. On McGowan's advice, some of the accumulated cash was put into high-yield short-term certificates for maximum interest.
A faculty was recruited through help-wanted ads in the Boston newspapers. The school received hundreds of resumes from interested teachers who would work at the modest salaries the school could pay—$6,500 to $9,000. (Today they are from $7,500 to $12,500.) Twenty-one teachers and a headmaster were hired.
Student application forms and records had to be designed, a curriculum for each grade—primary through high school—planned, textbooks chosen, and a time-schedule arranged in two sessions to accommodate all of the students who had enrolled. Because some of the students had not gone to school during the year of turmoil, but had usually had some form of instruction, tests had to be given to determine proper grade level. A student handbook was written outlining school policies. A dress code was adopted for several cogent reasons: to enhance discipline, to promote neatness, to give the school identity, and to make it easier to spot outsiders. It also simplified the parents' clothing purchases for their children and eliminated student envy and competition in the fashion department. The school wanted competitive minds, not competitive appearances.
South Boston Heights Academy opened its doors on October 6, 1975, with an enrollment of about 600 in grades 1 through 12 at a tuition of $500 for the year. (Had the facilities been larger, they could have enrolled a thousand.) The school had leased quarters in a newly constructed professional building in the center of the neighborhood at a rental of $60,000 per year. Parents had volunteered their help to build classrooms, paint walls, refurbish old school furniture, and do everything else necessary to create a school.
And it was all done with the parents' own money. It was a magnificent community effort, with no help wanted or needed from the government or educational bureaucracy. The parents had come to realize that, as far as education was concerned, government was their enemy. Government, in fact, wanted them to fail. But they didn't fail, and their efforts proved that parents could take complete charge of their children's education if they wanted to.
It would be naive to assume that everything went smoothly, that the school's board of directors didn't bicker among themselves, or that all of the teachers were sterling examples of professional competence. The first year of any enterprise is one of trial and error, and that certainly was the case with the Academy. But one thing was quite clear: the children attending the Academy were safer than those traveling on the buses, and their instruction was better than that being given in the government schools. My own concern was with primary reading instruction, and I spoke with the primary teachers to make sure that they understood the importance of phonics in beginning reading instruction. By producing good readers in the early grades, the Academy could go on to become a school with high academic standards, laying the foundation for its future reputation.
The Academy stayed in its rented quarters for its first two years. In 1977 the city of Boston put up for sale one of its older public schools in South Boston, built in 1898. This was part of the city's long-term program of phasing out the old functional schools and building new ultramodern ones. A federal court ruling stipulated that the building could only be sold to a non-school buyer. Such a buyer purchased the building for $4,000 and resold it to the Academy for $60,000. The Academy was delighted to have the building, even at that price. Another $40,000 was put into refurbishing the building to bring it up to modern standards. This required installing a new fire alarm system, safety doors, bathrooms, lighting, etc. In addition, the Academy was required to pay some $50,000 for the remainder of its lease on the space it was vacating. Despite the strain on the Academy's resources, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was all worth it.
In September 1977 the Academy moved into its new permanent quarters. Having one's own building made quite a difference psychologically. It gave the new school a sense of permanence. It was now an established institution in the community.
Meanwhile, disagreements among board members produced the school's first internal crisis, resulting in the resignation of several board members. The corporate structure of the school was also changed to protect the Academy's assets. The school's former landlord had filed a lawsuit against the Academy to collect the full rent on the remaining lease, although he had given the directors a verbal assurance when they rented the space that he would not require them to pay out the lease's full term if they found permanent quarters before its expiration. The academy learned the hard way that verbal agreements are worthless in a court of law.
So now the school is managed and operated by South Boston Heights Academy, Inc., a management company which owns nothing. The school's assets are owned by a trust, the trustees of which are chosen from the Academy's board of directors. It was subsequent to this reorganization that I and several other individuals in the community joined the board, creating a more harmonious group of directors. Also, at this time the position of headmaster was eliminated. In its first two years the Academy had had two educator headmasters, both of whom turned out to be poor school managers. So it was decided to divide the duties of the headmaster between an academic director, whose duties would be exclusively academic, and a manager, who would handle the school's business affairs. The directors chose Jim McGowan for the latter position and Robert Mahoney, one of the teachers, for the former.
The school then applied to the local banks for a mortgage on its property. The banks took a year to decide on the matter, reluctant to believe that a private school could survive in Southie. They finally granted a mortgage of $48,000 on a five-year, short-term payment schedule on property appraised at almost $100,000! In the hard world of economic reality, a private school has to count on its own patrons, resources, and ingenuity for survival.
This has meant keeping costs at a minimum and not duplicating facilities conveniently available in the community. For example, a well- stacked branch of the Boston Public Library is located two blocks from the school. The Academy's students can use it at no cost to themselves or the school. The expenses of a kitchen and cafeteria were eliminated by having the students bring their own lunches. Also, a neighborhood Boys Club of America building provides the school with a gymnasium and swimming at a yearly cost of $12,000 for 160 students—or $75 per student.
This includes the cost of an instructor. It is estimated that the city of Boston spends about $400 a year per pupil on physical education in the public schools.
The Academy's small enrollment precludes it from getting into such expensive sports as football. But the school has turned this seeming disadvantage into a plus, by putting the stress on academics. Heights Academy students are about two years ahead of their public school counterparts. The curriculum at the Academy exceeds all state academic requirements. The school day is fully occupied. There are no vacant "study periods" where kids sit around daydreaming or making paper airplanes. New pupils entering the Academy from the public schools are invariably behind their Academy classmates, requiring intensive concentration on areas of weakness to bring them up to standard.
On the matter of discipline and student behavior, the school is probably one of the best and safest in Boston. Whatever mischief goes on is of the family variety. A reprimand or firm voice is usually all that is required to restore order. There has been no vandalism, no graffiti, and none of the vicious kinds of behavior that are now so prevalent in the government schools—some of which must conduct weapons checks at the doors. The Academy's safe, nondisruptive environment encourages academic achievement.
Can parents in Southie afford private education? Barely. Sending a child to the Academy is a considerable financial sacrifice families whose gross income averages about $9,200 a year. Nevertheless, the parents manage to pay. The school arranges payments on quarterly, monthly, or weekly plans. The delinquency rate has been a low two percent. (In the last year or so, payments have become slow, for obvious economic reasons.)
"If this school were located in one of our affluent suburbs, we'd have to turn parents away," says McGowan. "But in Southie it's a struggle because, with competition from the parochial schools, we can't price ourselves out of the market. We've actually had to lower tuition in the lower grades to encourage enrollment. We charge only $325 for grade one. That's less than a dollar a day! In grade twelve the tuition is $935. That's still the best educational value in Boston—if not the country. Compare that with the $4,600 it costs the taxpayer to educate a child in the public schools of Boston."
Because McGowan's background is the practical world of business, he has been able to bring to the Academy a wealth of experience that educators usually lack. At 35 he's been in retailing, banking, merchandising, industrial sales, wholesaling, real estate, and construction. He's a workaholic who thrives in an atmosphere where things get done. He got involved in the Academy because he could see no reason why good education should not be within reach of the poor and the lower-middle class.
"You can provide good education for about two dollars per pupil per day on double sessions," McGowan says quite convincingly. Such talk delights Howard Jarvis fans but usually doesn't impress educators who have become the prime beneficiaries of Uncle Sam's bounty.
As for coping with government regulations, McGowan's philosophy is quite forthright. "We meet each and every legal obligation and requirement head-on and fulfill them to the letter so that the school's integrity is never questioned by the officials." True, the State bureaucracy places obstacles in the way of those who want to start private schools, but the obstacles are not at all insurmountable, and once you have complied with all of the requirements, the State virtually leaves you alone.
The only federal agency that pokes its nose into the business of a private school is the IRS, which issues tax-exemption to nonprofit organizations. The IRS will not issue tax-exemption unless a school demonstrates affirmatively that it does not discriminate on the basis of race. Recently, the IRS tried to revoke the tax exemptions of fundamentalist Christian schools unless they could prove that they were not discriminating racially, which is hard to do if all of your students are white and there are no blacks in the area who want to pay to attend your school. The IRS has suggested that in such cases private schools ought to provide scholarships for black students as an affirmative measure to prove their nondiscriminatory policies. But many of these schools can't afford to give scholarships to anyone, black or white. A congressional outcry forced the IRS to back away from its absurd demands.
The tendency of the federal bureaucracy to use the tax system as a means of forcing social change represents the greatest danger to educational freedom in America. It demonstrates how bureaucracy will attack freedom whenever and wherever it appears vulnerable. Since the private school is one of the last remaining bastions of freedom in this country, it is an excellent indicator of government tendencies and intentions.
In 1978 the Academy attracted the attention of Bill Johnson, director of the Center for Independent Education, a think-tank now affiliated with the Cato Institute. McGowan was invited to a CIE conference in Atlanta at which he told the SBHA story. He suggested that low-to-moderate-cost private schooling could be made available throughout the country if a uniform means of school management were devised to reduce operating costs to a minimum. Out of that conference came the idea of franchising the SBHA format so that other educational entrepreneurs could set up similar private schools in suitable market areas and turn a good profit.
On his return to Boston, McGowan put together a rough franchise package covering curriculum, personnel selection, accounting, record keeping, advertising, purchasing, etc. The key to profitability in this package is the maintenance of a certain minimum enrollment. If enrollment falls below that minimum, the school loses money; if enrollment rises above it, it can make money. The project is still in the development stage, awaiting the infusion of enough venture capital to make it fly. "We're past the theorizing stage about private education for the masses," says McGowan. "We're ready to go out and help people start schools. But we need seed money."
As the Academy enters the '80s it is confronted with problems quite different from those it faced at its birth. The busing emergency has subsided, and Boston families have adjusted in one way or another. Some have moved to the suburbs. Others have put their children in low-cost parochial schools. A smaller group has enrolled its children in the three private schools that sprang up in Boston in 1975. White enrollment in the public schools, which was 57 percent of the total in 1973, had dropped to 38 percent by 1979. So there has been considerable white flight from the system, guaranteeing a continuation of the racial imbalance that busing was supposed to eliminate. To solve the problem, busing advocates now want a metropolitan busing plan that would include the suburbs. But opposition to metropolitanization is so great in the suburbs that there is little chance of it ever being implemented in this part of the country. Yet, who knows?
Meanwhile, the Academy must deal with problems that confront virtually all schools these days—falling enrollments and higher operating costs. In fact, double-digit inflation and a declining birthrate are the two realities that will challenge the Academy for the foreseeable future. And in a way the Academy welcomes this challenge so that it can prove its true value and viability in a very competitive situation.
Enrollment at the Academy is now down to 260. From an academic standpoint this is a very comfortable enrollment. And in an area like South Boston, with competition from both parochial and government schools, it is still somewhat phenomenal. The school's present student/teacher ratio of 13-to-1 is an educator's dream but a business manager's headache. A 20-to-1 ratio would cover all operating costs. Indeed, an enrollment of, say, 350 would permit the school to lower its tuition. But how does one increase enrollment when there are fewer children around? By opening a low-cost kindergarten to attract children for the primary grades and launching an aggressive recruitment campaign for the higher grades. And this is what the Academy is planning to do.
To supplement its tuition income, the Academy has had to increase and diversify its fund-raising efforts. These include bazaars, rummage sales, car washes, dinners, candy sales, raffles, ceramics classes for adults, and dances. Recently the school obtained a bingo license, which now permits it to operate several good fund-raising activities each month. Parents who help out in these activities get a reduction in tuitions. Also, by advertising these activities in the local paper, the school gets greater visibility.
Sailing the seas of educational freedom can be an exhilarating experience. Involvement in a private school gives one a sense of the future, because the entire purpose of the school is to prepare the new generation to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. Indeed, the activist atmosphere of a successful private school can create an enormously stimulating environment for the student. The school's success imparts itself to the student, who is nurtured by it.
Public education, on the other hand, instills a sense of passivism in the parent who feels as if the future is being shaped by others alien to himself: educational theorists in remote universities, social scientists, collectivist professors, anonymous bureaucrats, state commissioners, and federal judges. The failure of government education has created a syndrome of failure, frustration, and depression in its students. The result is senseless student rebellion in the form of vandalism and violence. And because the source of frustration—the State system—is never really identified, the student takes out his hostility on the teacher.
At Heights Academy the prevalent mood is one of optimism and confidence. The students work diligently) have fun, and enjoy going to school. They are not expected to bear the burdens of liberal guilt or solve the social problems of mankind. They are loved by parents who care enough to keep them out of the line of fire so that they can grow and learn in an atmosphere of stability and calm.
On June 6, 1980, South Boston Heights Academy graduated its fifth senior class, comprising 20 students. The class valedictorian, Mark Azar, reminded the audience of the uncertainty and apprehension that all graduates feel as they leave the security of school and family and go out into the greater world. "We, however, have a very distinct advantage over other graduates," he said. "We have been encouraged to develop a sense of responsibility, a degree of maturity. For this we are grateful to our parents and teachers. What is the true key, however, is not that we have these two attributes; rather, it is that we have been made to use them.…By combining responsibility and maturity, with our knowledge and past experiences, we will indeed be far ahead of the other 'classes of 1980.'" Mark's words made all of us who had helped create the school feel quite happy about the results. When the ceremonies were over, one could see in the happiness of the graduates a radiant reflection of the great concern and effort that had made their good education possible.
The founders of Heights Academy prove that educational freedom still exists in America and that all it takes to enjoy that freedom is the effort required to exercise it. They also prove that a good school can be started by a group of lay citizens with good instincts, economic common sense, and the ability to seek out competent professional advice when needed. If citizens across America did the same, they would not only restore sanity to the classroom and reduce the cost of education, but would insure the survival of freedom in this country. For it is a nation's educational system that determines the design of its future.
Samuel Blumenfeld is the author of several books, including The New Illiterates. He wrote "Why the Schools Went Public" for the March 1979 issue of REASON.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Self-Help Schooling in South Boston".