After teaching in the public schools of Detroit for three decades, I retired to move west and launch a new career in the writing trade. I actually took early retirement, a move prompted by a "student" who threatened to get a gun and blow my @%&* brains out. The issue was finally decided when his mother was called to school for a conference about the threat and the vicious old bat offered to help him do it.
Incredible but true. Let me tell you about teaching in Detroit. I taught in what was absolutely the worst high school in the country. From the late sixties until ordered into exile by the superintendent in '77 (to a school that was almost as bad), our school had so many fires they considered turning it into a training facility for firemen. As it was, the firemen showed up so often we finally put them on the staff and made them attend faculty meetings.
We had assorted shootings, stabbings, bombings, and muggings on a daily basis. Riots were planned events and regularly scheduled. Fistfights were commonplace and we originated the food fights made famous in a hundred teen-age movies.
Everybody was high all the time, even the staff. You couldn't help it. Marijuana smoke was everywhere, especially in the vicinity of the johns. Clouds of smoke rolled out under the john doors and innocent passersby inhaled the stuff and were turned into grinning, spaced-out wackos.
It's an eerie feeling to face a classroom with thirty-odd stoned kids grinning back at you, and even more eerie when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror and see the same stupid grin plastered on your own mug.
We never entered the johns, at least not after what happened to Ed Swanson. Ed was a math teacher, an old-timer who still believed in rules and order, and one day he decided to catch 'em in the act. He sneaked in a john before school one day, stuck an out-of-order sign on one of the stalls, and hid out to spy on the dopers.
Well, the kids showed up and set fire to a peck or two of weed and filled the whole place with thick smoke. Ed inhaled a dozen cubic yards of high-grade marijuana and became hopelessly addicted. In fact, he frequented the johns from then on and became an embarrassment to the school board and they finally had to let him go.
The last I heard he was living in California and owned his own marijuana ranch. Poor wretch.
Anyway, the place was a disaster. We had two city cops stationed in the halls at all times and a dozen or so security guards to back them up. Teachers manned the halls on hall duty and pickets were thrown up around the perimeter and still the hooky players and arsonists and dope smokers and muggers roamed freely. It was a war for the minds and hearts of America's young people-and we were losing it.
We ran regular survival classes for the staff. It was quite a sight to see little old ladies learning how to disarm a drug-crazed assailant while armed with nothing more than a shotgun. Or doing speed laps. We figured if a teacher could out-run the thug for the first 100 or so feet she'd have a good chance of coming out alive.
We ran regular hall sweeps to round up all the losers hiding out in the halls. Teachers were armed with chair legs and garbage-can lid shields and the hall idlers were swept into waiting trucks and hauled off to juvenile court where they were given severe lectures and released on their own recognizance. We'd sweep them up again the next day and repeat the process endlessly. What's more, they're still doing it.
Naturally, our kids had HPA averages lower than a snake's chest. Indifference to academic success was the norm. It was considered a social blunder to pass a course with anything higher than the lowest passing grade. A kid who raised the class average by getting a "C" would be pummeled by his classmates and warned not to do it again.
It was an incredible, event-filled continuing adventure, one that cried out for dramatization. So I wrote a book exposing the whole mess, the book that got me exiled in '77. It was called New Africa High: A Low Comedy and it also became a feature film called Rebel High, which recently played on late night cable and is available in video stores to this very day.
(New Africa High is out of print but I published a later version titled Guerrilla Warfare for Teachers in '96 that's currently available at amazon.com or from any bookstore. If you teach school you must read GWFT. It's only $9.95 on amazon.
And so here I am in San Diego and do I ever love it! Balmy weather, sandy beaches, and surrounded by people known everywhere for their down-to-earth level headedness, rational behavior, and striking good looks.