2011-06-24 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

By Elgin Bolling

As an editorial artist for The Wave newspaper, I have the pleasure and privilege of reading the editorial copy before it hits the stand. I have to see it first in order to draw an appropriate cartoon that enhances the copy. Reading the copy beforehand never fails to broaden my perspective on a given topic, and always provokes thought, some articles much more than others.

The recent editorial about the Fire Department, especially.

The controversy was over the lowering of standards in the Fire Department test, that allows minorities (a code name for blacks) without a high school diploma to take the test. The tone of the editorial, and my previous position as well, was that Sanders’ move in doing this elevates diversity over standards. This article led me to seek out my brother-in-law (let’s call him David), a retired African-American fireman, whose father was also a fireman. I considered him to be a credible informed source. After a day of considering it carefully, to my surprise, he agreed with the measure!

“People don’t like to talk about this,” he began, “but the Fire Department, has a long history of discrimination, not just against blacks, but other races in the distant past, and women as well.” David pointed out that one year the test was purposely changed to make it nearly impossible for women to pass. (The test involved exercises that required upper body strength, a test that his FATHER before him did not have to take.) “One theory for this discrimination is that the job requires, by nature, for men to work intimately, in close quarters with each other, not just on the job, but to live together. These conditions tend to bring people face to face with their fears, and unknown prejudices.

“Concerning the test itself, allowing people without a high school diploma doesn’t dumb down the test, because the test is objective. Nothing is being GIVEN to these non-high school grads, they are required to be able to answer the same questions that their more educated peers are. The issue here, is LITERACY. There is no guarantee that just because you are a college grad, that you won’t have test anxiety and flunk the test based on that! Some people are just poor test takers,” David adds. If a dropout can’t read, he’s not going to pass anyway. If he CAN read, he has a chance of passing. “All this new measure does,” David concluded, “is that it opens the door for EVERYONE to take the test, even those who were excluded before because of the high school diploma requirement. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge why a person doesn’t complete high school,” he added. “Some have difficult living situations, others have anxiety based on the dangerous atmosphere present in some public schools. If nothing else, making the test open offers these high school dropouts a way to become viable members of society.

“On an economic level, since it costs to take the test, even more revenue will be gained by the city now that the proverbial floodgates are open. But that’s just my opinion,” David ended dryly. I think we need to listen to the voice of an experienced African-American firefighter.

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