Exchanging Thoughts: A Swap Between a Private and Public School in Minneapolis

Frani O’Toole Co-Editor-in-Chief This year is the 150th anniversary of Hyde Park Career Academy, the 120th of Christian Foreman High School, and the 100th of Nicholas Senn High School. Though we may not realize it, Latin shares its anniversary with many public schools in Chicago. So, as we spend this year in a celebration of all-things Latin, how will we still stay attentive to all-things outside of Latin? Can we have our anniversary cake and eat it too? Examining a one-day student exchange between a private and a public school in Minneapolis might be a good place to start. The Blake School in Minneapolis is a near equivalent of Latin — small, prestigious, private. Last year, five of its senior students enrolled in the course “Class and Race in the United States.” All of the students in the class were white and paying full tuition; the teacher, Mr. Crushshon, was worried that a dynamic analysis of race and class would be difficult amongst students who shared the same background. What he needed was to either bring others into the discussion, or to find a way to expand his students’ insight into the material. In the end, Mr. Crushshon would do both. The Blake School connected with several public schools in the area through its LearningWorks system — a program similar to Latin’s High Jump. Mr. Crushshon approached one of these schools, Patrick Henry High School, to introduce a possible exchange. The plan, he said, was to have his five students shadow five kids at Patrick Henry for a school day, and then repeat it vice versa. They would conclude the exchange with a cumulative discussion of race and class among the ten kids. Mr. Murray, Family and Community Coordinator at Patrick Henry, was thrilled at the idea. Through LearningWorks, he had developed a deep respect for Blake: “I admired Blake’s interest in diversity and in reaching out and bridging cultural gaps. I’m assuming Latin is the same way. But sometimes there’s a misconception that expensive private schools are less diverse and less interested in addressing society’s big issues. I find it just the opposite.” In fact, Mr. Murray noted, his Patrick Henry students were “unfamiliar with the language of race and class” while students at schools like Blake and Latin were markedly educated and involved about these issues. Because of this, Mr. Murray said he knew the exchange would be rewardingly two-sided. On a Tuesday last spring, the five Blake students went to Patrick Henry High School. The following Thursday, five Patrick Henry students came to Blake. In a subsequent article in the Blake School newspaper, The Spectrum, the reporter said the exchange “wasn’t one of those cases where ‘nobody knew what to expect.’ In some ways, students from both schools were expecting –or trying not to expect– the worst.” From the start, the students witnessed some of the differences they were expecting; the Blake students were met with serious security and empty halls, the Patrick Henry kids a locker bay full of students on their computers. Many of the differences the students’ noticed, however, were appealing. Blake students were enthralled with Patrick Henry’s 3D printer, while Patrick Henry students liked the all-school assemblies Blake has every Tuesday and Thursday. Still, one Blake student, Eric, says “the extent of the differences angered me […] that anger, to me, proves that this exchange worked; perhaps we didn’t have the deep, riveting discussion expected, but getting a high school student to care about the life of someone living in completely different circumstances, with whom they’d never normally interact, is pretty powerful.” Still, Eric’s negative interpretation of the school was disappointing to Mr. Murray at Patrick Henry: if the point was to facilitate an understanding and appreciation for each others’ school, did Eric’s “anger” contradict the purpose of the exchange? Did the exchange work if it simply reinforced the ideas he had prior? On the other end, Mr. Murray worried that his Patrick Henry students “sort of blamed themselves and their families, and they made a lot of comparisons that I think were unfair.” During the discussion, the conversation drifted to topics like Spring Break, Prom and College. All of the Blake kids had travelled over Spring Break, didn’t have to worry about paying for prom, and weren’t applying for financial aid; on the other hand, all five of the Patrick Henry students worked over Spring Break to pay for prom tickets, and college tuition was a serious concern. Here were the multi-dimensional perspectives Mr. Crushshon had hoped to expose his students to; was the outcome what he had hoped? One Blake student, Aliya Feroe described the exchange as insightful and motivating; she said “both the mirror and the window allow me to see one thing: we need social change.” That, and she’s got plans to eat pho with her exchange partner Cat who is hmong. Maybe the exchange was about being invested. It was having a personal interest in the spread of positive differences and to the end of negative ones, in eating pho and wanting to continue the discussions that began with the exchange. Aliya says she was going to be careful not to simply “return to the Blake bubble” after the exchange. “The bubble” is a familiar concept to many of us; seeing the way Blake has fought against the bubble is insightful. To “exchange” is to share, and whether or not we are interested in doing a program similar to the one between Blake and Patrick Henry, there is much we can borrow from their experience. So, as we celebrate our history this 125th year, let’s keep in mind where Latin can go over the next one.    ]]>