In the nation’s largest school district, the scale can be baffling, so it helps to zero in on one place. There is a school called Wadleigh, on 114th Street in Harlem, that has been there through it all from 1902 to the present. Wadleigh’s story shows us that schooling and school governance in New York City has involved deep contests between different kinds of knowledge and authority. Whichever mode of knowledge or authority held formal power at a given moment—and in New York that has most frequently been elite, technocratic, and racialized white knowledge and authority—there were others in play. Advocates for Wadleigh, including working-class Black women parents and alumni, middle-class Black and white teachers, and more, were innovators at times, bringing novel ideas to address the school’s needs. At other times they did the steady work of maintenance, seeking to hold on to what they cherished when it was under threat. This presentation of research in progress reads the claims of school officials and school reformers about Wadleigh against those of Black parents, teachers, and community members who wanted to guard and sustain a school community for Black children.
About the Speaker
Ansley T. Erickson is a U.S. historian who focuses on how racism and capitalism shape schooling in US cities, and how communities fight for educational equality. Her first book, Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits, won the History of Education Society’s Outstanding Book Award in 2017. She is co-editor of Educating Harlem: A Century of Schooling and Resistance in a Black Community. Erickson also co-directs the Teachers College Center on History and Education, which works with scholars, educators, and community members to generate new knowledge about teaching and learning in the past and explore their implications for the present, with a primary focus on the history of education in New York City. The Center's projects have received support from the National Archives and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other funders. Erickson will be a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation for the 2024–25 academic year.
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Education and the Humanities