by Ancil K. Nance

“Anyone concerned with reforming secondary education will want to watch the Adam High experiment with the closest interest and attention.” Charles Silberman made this statement in his book Crisis in the Classroom, (Random House, 1970). The following information serves to update Silverman’s report on Adams High School (also in the Atlantic, August, 1970), and to provide a guide to future experiments in high school reform.

The author has been teaching at Adams High School in Portland, Oregon since its inception in September 1969. While at Adams he has taught History, English, Geology, Photography and Mountain Climbing. Prior to coming to Adams he taught Social Studies a Portland’s Jefferson High School for five years.

The people at Adams High School in Portland, Oregon attempted, during the school’s first two years, to create an environment of trust between students, teachers and administrators. There developed a willingness on the part of most people to work with each other to resolve differences, rather than ignore them. During the third and fourth years this commitment to work things out together faded as a more structured and centralized administration took over the school.

There are differences between students because of race, life style, life goals, and social class. There are differences between adults at the school for similar reasons. Many times during the first two years, a course had to be taken between the extremes, after everyone had a chance to air their views. The most crucial issues facing the school involved race and decision-making. Under the first principal, Bob Schwartz, these issues were talked about openly in meetings with teachers and students. Under the second, and present, principal, Don Holt, the issues were ignored during the third year and now during the fourth year, various committees are trying to cope with them.

The gap between black and white students has grown during the past four years. No organized attempts were made by the teachers or administrators to close the gap. It was suggested to both principals that groups of forty students, black and white, be allowed to spend a week with each other, living in a YMCA camp, so that they could come to know each other better. This idea was tried at another Portland school, Jefferson, when it was experiencing racial problems. After about 100 students had been involved in week-long living sessions the school became a different place. Black and white conflicts were reduced at Jefferson. Other suggestions have been made to the administration of Adams concerning how to get black and white student together, but a do-nothing attitude has controlled events.

When Adams opened in September, 1969 there were many fights and incidents of verbal abuse involving black and white students. The reaction at that time was to prevent violence from recurring, but not to take positive steps to bring black and white students together. The current administration continues to treat the symptoms and not the disease. A Black Student Union was organized during Adam’s second year, but a White Student Union was not allowed. The BSU failed, not because of its poor organization, but simply because the black students had no white students who would listen and thus they could only talk to themselves. Had a WSU been organized, dialogue could have begun which may have led to some solutions to the racial conflicts. During the third and fourth years attempts to get black or white students to organize have met with failure because the students feel that they no longer have any real rights to make important decisions concerning their education and life at Adams. Any organized student government is thought to be only a front, while the real decision making goes on in the principal’s office. Less than 300 of the 1600 students turned out to vote for the type of government they would like in a recent election. More later…