How the Other Half Schools

“Long ago it was said that “one half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” That was true then. It did not know because it did not care.” Jacob Riis [1890]

*** Apologies – NJ.Com took down the photos, which were originally published on my “NJ Voices” column at NJ.Com. I was able to save the text, but not the photos. What assholes.
Jacob Riis’ 1890 classic book – a landmark in photojournalism – “How the Other Half Lives” illustrated the outrageous conditions in the lower east side slums of New York – his expose had an immediate impact, inspiring reforms that changed New York. I often wonder: where has that same sense of outrage at injustice gone? Lets take a look.
Street Scenes in Passaic City, NJ
In the tradition and spirit of Riis (I don’t remotely pretend to the competence or quality of Riis’ work), I went to North Jersey yesterday to document conditions at some urban schools located on toxic waste sites. What I found both appalled and pleased me.
I was overwhelmed by this scene – the people of Passaic City have created beauty on the streets of their neighborhoods.

It is outrageous that City and State officials have not been nearly as creative or committed as the people who live there, and instead have abandoned them – abandoned industrial sites and signs of neglect and disinvestment were everywhere.

toxic industrial rubble strewn site – owned by City – is directly across the street from religious shrine and in front of Public School #9
toxic site across street – 100 feet – from PS #9. Owned by City
Toxic site next door to PS #9

The SCC sign says “Health and Safety Project for School #9″ – the cruel irony is that this did not include a cleanup of the abandoned toxic site across the street, literally just feet from school doors.

Pre-schoolers – our most sensitive and special ones – were similarly at risk. These pre-school trailers were located at the perimeter of a brownfields project. Take a look and ask if you would want to send your young child here.

Pre-school trailers can be seen in background. This brownfield site is a SDA construction site known as the “Dr. Robert Holster Education Complex”. A school was supposed to have been built there over 4 years ago but the site still sits vacant. A community hospital was torn down by SCA to build the school.
In foreground, a discarded tire (at edge of brownfield site) is used as planter – lets hope that the soil kids plant and play in has been tested and is safe.

Discarded shipping crates are used for storage – when I was a kid going to school in an upscale suburban town in Westchester County, my favorite reading was a series titled “The Box Car Kids”. This scene added new meaning to that phrase from my youth.

Problems also included over-crowding. Lack of funding and delays in school construction forced kids to learn in trailers for an unacceptable extended period of time

We can do better than this
(Note: while taking these pictures, I was confronted by school and day care officials. I explained my purposes and had very good conversations with them. But shame of Passaic City officials for sending police to my home tonight to investigate me for shooting these photo’s).

  1. mullarkey
    March 15th, 2008 at 08:15 | #1

    The school officials, and the police, are sending you a message NOT to enjoy your First Amendment rights in their neighborhood.
    The ACLU will check out that religious shrine, to keep morality out of the public square.
    Both sides run a “chill” up my spine. I guess that’s a victory for the totalitarians.

  2. nohesitation
    March 15th, 2008 at 11:51 | #2

    Thanks mullarkey – While I disagree on the ACLU religion issue (i.e. the ACLU recognizes the “free exercise” clause, while they enforce the “establishment” clause), there’s no doubt that someone in Passaic sought to intimidate, harrass, and supress my constitutional rights.
    I CAN SEE what they are trying to hide – so can you imagine the corruption that is hidden from view?.
    As I said, I spoke with school and day care offficials and they knew exactly what I was doing.
    Curious, that the professionals and public officials responsible for the well being of children haven’t called the police and demanded enforcement of law – maybe they can start with toxic waste cleanup and solid waste disposal laws enforced by DEP. Where is DEP enforcement???? Could you imagine those sites to be tolerated in Palmer Square in Princeton?
    Those same profssionals and public officials looked the other way while the Schools Construction Corp. was mismanaging BILLIONS of dollars that were supposed to benfits the education of poor children.
    But, while ignoring those laws and looking the other way at massive corruption, they find time to send the cops after a photo/blogger under the absurd claim that he endangered children!

  3. betternj
    April 17th, 2008 at 11:42 | #3

    Yet our cities and states continue to elect and re-elect corrupt politicians? Our cities and school boards continue to pay bus drivers OVERTIME to charge a cell phone? In a town that is 1 squrare mile? Who are they busing where that they can’t walk!!!??
    Hey, I’m glad the police checked up on you. Doesn’t this show the school is protecting the kids in their care? Have you missed the stories in the news?!?!

  1. No trackbacks yet.
You must be logged in to post a comment.