Elisabeth Pendley: Thursday’s Children: Their school betrayed them. Their teacher defended them. Their struggle continues today

Based on my experience in 1969, Thursday’s Children follows a young school teacher to a poor, urban, recently integrated elementary school in the south where she meets Cecil, Felicia, Angela, Dexter…children who, in the words of the old English nursery rhyme, “have far to go.” The book describes these young students and their struggles to prepare for an adult world. It is also the story of a dedicated teacher who accepts these challenges and her realization that for many of her ten-year-old students, dreams of success are beyond reach. Today, America’s education system is facing some of its greatest challenges: inadequate and uncaring teachers, insensitive and corrupt administrators, poorly motivated students who are below class level in basic reading and mathematics, and uninvolved parents. For Thursday’s Children, these challenges are their reality. For all Americans who care about their own children’s education, who are concerned about the education of America’s poor and underprivileged, who wonder what happens in a classroom, this book will have a special meaning. This is a personal story, a story of children instead of data and statistics. A story that applies an historic filter to today’s problems.

It is fifty years since I sat down at my desk with an electric typewriter, a ream of onion skin typing paper and piles of notes that I wrote each day as I taught at Johnson Public School 123. I often think of my class of twenty-seven, Thursday’s children. I want everyone to know their story: the racial tension that underscored their education, the dilapidated school building and lack of supplies, the indifference of many school teachers and administrators, and the seemingly insurmountable task faced by these children to change their life through education.

The names of the adults were changed, including my own. The names of the children remain the same. Even after all this time, I can see their faces clearly. The harshness of the language spoken then is faithfully recorded here.

This is a snapshot in time of a newly integrated elementary school in the rural south in 1969. I leave it to you to determine if the schools today are better at meeting the needs of Thursday’s children.

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