African American Studies
Bernard Keller was born on November 14 1952 and he lived in Washington Houses on 99th street until he was 8. His parents were Mable and Howard senior. He has two brothers and two sisters. His ancestry on both sides is African-American, not carribean. His father worked in the Housing Authority and his mother, once he and his siblings had grown up, worked as a school aid. However, both his mother and his father had only a rudimentary education, though this did not prevent them from encouraging their children to do well in school and go to college. When living in Harlem, he attended PS 109.
When they moved to the Bronx, they moved into the Monroe Houses. He stayed there until he moved out when he was 20. He attended PS 100, Junior High School 125 and then Monroe High School when he lived in the Bronx. The Monroe houses fostered a very caring and nurturing environment until the 1980’s. Everyone loved living there and the idea of “I want to get out of the projects” did not exist. People respected the building and each other. There was a lot of diversity and no discrimination. Everyone played with everyone.
His mother would make their children do book reports for them in the summer and made him stay in the apartment during the hot summer until he learned his multiplication tables. His mother really encouraged education, even though she only had a grade 9 education. The incentives worked, and he and his siblings all went to college for free. His older brother got a 4-year scholarship to Fordham and Bernard went to Hunter for no money at all. He went to hunter to pursue English and became a teacher. Although he only wanted to teach for 8 years and then become a lawyer.
The second interview begins. He was a teacher at Stevenson High School. He gave up on his 8-year plan because of his students. Year after Year, someone would convince him to stay. The students at the school were predominately African-American, however there were Latinos and white students attending the school as well. The teachers, however, were predominately white. The curriculum turned “black centered” when individual teachers were began teaching material that would focus on African-American life and cultural products. The administration did not care and the students loved it.
He believes kids started misbehaving more when the teachers were not able to issue as severe punishments any more. He blames this in part to the ability of children to sue their parents or teachers. This big shift happened in the 1990’s. In addition to new laws impacting parenting, he attributes the rise of rap to the increasing misbehavior of his students. The school system was also deteriorating, so there was no system to encourage kids to obtain an education as opposed to joining a gang. He believes that the teachers and administrators need to create more rules and be permitted to reprimand students that misbehave or do not show up. He also believes that churches need to get more involved in the lives of young people.
He also believes parents and other adults involved in children’s lives need to start holding children accountable for their actions.
Keller, Bernard. November 20, 2004. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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