By Rachel Stengel
A past Rider professor with a historical connection to New Jersey and black history presented a documentary and spoke about the positives of alternative routes to a successful education Wednesday night.
Dr. Mildred Rice Jordan, a former professor in the School of Education, is the granddaughter of Reverend Walter A. Rice, who founded the New Jersey Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth in Bordentown in 1886. She said she believes in the type of education her grandfather established — one that focused on teaching African American children practical tools to use in the workforce.
“There are maybe 600,000 jobs for welders, machinists, carpenters, electricians and plumbers,” Rice Jordan said. “We are critically short of the skilled trades, and one of the reasons is because we haven’t learned how, in this society, to educate children of color.”
The Bordentown School was the only “racially segregated, co-educational, state-supported, secondary boarding school” in the North, according to Rice Jordan. In its 69-year history, the school struggled to find a balance between training African American students for industrial jobs and offering college preparatory courses.
Rice Jordan said that it is not sensible to assume all students will take a traditional path to education as is expected in today’s society.
“The value of a college degree in our society is declining because we put too much emphasis on passing standardized tests and everybody going to college,” she said. “Is it realistic for all children to go to college?”
The documentary shown at the event, A Place Out of Time — The Bordentown School, chronicled the history of the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth from its establishment to its end in 1955. Former Bordentown students planned a reunion as they discussed the lasting impact the school left on them. Many spoke about the opportunities it provided for African American children of the time.
According to Rice Jordan, there must be a different approach when educating African American youth from underprivileged areas.
“You’re going to say that everybody’s starting from the same place, children from inner city schools have the same opportunities as children in suburban schools?” Rice Jordan said. “No, that’s not true.”
The state of schools in terms of segregation has not grown much despite the historical Brown v. Board of Education case, which declared separate but equal schools unconstitutional, Rice Jordan said.
“It’s been nearly six decades since Brown v. Board of Education and now schools are re-segregated,” Rice Jordan.
“So, the Brown promise did not work out. Many African American parents were very happy to feel that their children were going to get equal educational opportunities, but now they don’t.”
Unsafe environments prevent educational opportunities for advancement sometimes, Rice Jordan said. She contends that the government should invest in boarding schools that nurture students’ abilities and establish protective atmospheres, similar to Bordentown.
“I would really like to see this country use boarding schools as an alternative because there are some kids who need to be safe,” Rice Jordan said. “It costs $38,000 to $48,000 a year to send somebody to prison. So we couldn’t send some kids who are not going to make it in the inner city to boarding school where they would have a safe, secure home as they did in the Bordentown school.”