Open doors, and you'll open minds
"Walk Right In" is a good title for the film Larry Paros is working on. His documentary is about access, particularly about opening the doors to higher education wider, but also about being open to broader goals.
Seattle Times staff columnist
"Walk Right In" is a good title for the film Larry Paros is working on.
His documentary is about access, particularly about opening the doors to higher education wider, but also about being open to broader goals.
"Forty years ago we were on the right track, but then we got derailed," he told me.
But now that we are rethinking our national values, it might be a good time to rekindle "the greater sense of social justice and concern that was there during the '60s," he said.
I wrote about his project early last year. Paros, who lives in Juanita, was animated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that rejected school-integration programs in Seattle and Louisville.
He spent part of that year traveling the country interviewing people in their 50s about their experiences in the Yale Summer High School, which he directed in 1967 and 1968.
The program on the campus of Yale University brought together underachieving, low-income students for a summer of high-quality education. They were kids who were held back by poverty or inadequate schools.
Paros, 75, wanted at first to remind people how important integration is to America. The students in the program were white, black, Latino, Native American and Asian-American.
But now he's become just as concerned that education is becoming more the province of people who are already middle-class or even rich.
He sent me an article that showed the top colleges and universities are offering more economic aid now, but enrolling fewer people from challenged backgrounds.
The money is there, but the criteria for admission make getting through the door harder.
Ed Mikel is on the education faculty at Antioch University and has gotten involved with the film project. He said, "There was a great deal of catch-up between kids of color and white kids in terms of school attendance, graduation, enrollment in college, college-graduation rates. All those things were accomplished between 1968 and 1990."
Now, he said, the country is slipping backward.
I talked with some of the people who got into the Yale program. None of the people I talked with would have been a college recruiter's dream, but they bloomed. Jesse Rhines is one of 13 children. He grew up poor in D.C. He flunked third grade. He flunked 12th, too.
He's also had serious health problems, bad hips and a bad heart. While other kids played, he read, but college wasn't in the future until Yale.
"That was the beginning of learning," he told me. In high school, he said, "teachers didn't take me seriously and I didn't take me seriously."
He went on to get a master's in East Asian international relations from UCLA and a master's in African-American studies from Yale. He taught at Rutgers until his heart condition sidelined him. Now he's writing a book about science fiction, which he has always loved.
Irma McClaurin came out of the housing projects of Chicago. She was an honor student, but her segregated school didn't provide her with many of the skills necessary for college, skills that middle-class students take for granted. The Yale program helped fill in gaps.
Now she is an anthropologist and associate vice president at the University of Minnesota.
Paros expects to finish the film by the end of summer, but there will be a showing of an early version at 7 p.m. Friday at the Museum of History & Industry in Seattle, followed by a discussion. Participants from the Yale program will be there. The event is free, but donations are welcome. (www.yshs.org).
Education can be more than a limited-access competition for jobs or status.
"This crazy emphasis on testing and scores has caused a lot of people to forget what is at the core of good education," Paros said.
"The element of love and respect. It means everything. Without love, you have no joy, and without joy you have no real learning," Paros said.
Open doors, open hearts and open minds. Walk right in and sit right down.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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