Clarence Harris ’66

Clarence Harris, Class of 1966, Math Teacher
In the 1960’s, the school was pretty close to half black, half white. There were some Latino and Asian students here, but it was mostly 40/40 in terms of black and white students and like 20 percent Asian and Latino. You had black kids holding office, white kids holding office, Asian kids holding office. You know, that was really interesting.

Probably the only times things were tense were at dances. They had a lot of dances and stuff and I don’t dance, so I didn’t go to dances. Not part of that stereotype — I have no rhythm. But I remember somebody said white kids wouldn’t dance, but all of the black kids would do all of these fancy things on the floor, and they couldn’t do that. And I remember it was funny because some of the black kids were teaching white kids to dance! But you know, it was really pretty cool.

But in general, kids got along. I mean there would be some things because of the time period, [but] as far as interracial couples, that was pretty common; no one really cared. I think Tech may have been a little bit different [than other schools] because, you see, elementary schools and middle schools were segregated, and then you got to Tech, and it was like half and half. But it didn’t seem to cause anything, it was great.

I feel like students had a lot more respect for teachers. Now I look in the halls [and] I notice a lot of swearing… and disrespect and kids mouthing off. There is just so much of that. It wasn’t that we didn’t have any of that [in the 1960s], just a very little tiny amount of people as opposed to that being everybody’s vocabulary.

School spirit was so high; I miss that a lot. School spirit was just through the roof. But that was kind of true all over Oakland. Kids had a lot of pride in their schools, like during football season. Football [games were] always sold out. If we had away games there were buses in front of the school. Most of the school went to the away game; they would drive you to the game and bring you back. There was just so much school spirit. I think that made the school really exciting. When I look at the school now, all the spirit that used to be here is gone.

I think the teacher who had the most impact on me only taught here for a year. She was the best teacher I ever had. She didn’t teach math. Ms. Wolfe would love this — she taught Political Science. I remember the first day of class she passed out the books, and then she walked around the room, picked up all of our books, and she went back to her desk and sat down. We thought, “Oh, this lady’s weird.” She said if anyone wants to read that garbage it’s over there. What I like about her most was that she never told you her political views. She’d always say, “It doesn’t matter what I think, your job is to read everything that you can get your hands on and form your own conclusions.” And so we read everything on the far Left and far Right, in the middle — it was just her thing, you just read, read, read, and then come to your own conclusions. I still do that; I just read everything I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, because of the conservative times, if you weren’t following the curriculum that someone set up for you… she was not long at Oakland Tech. She was pretty much banished. She had the most influence on me, even more than my math teachers.

There were classes at Tech we don’t have today. You’d walk down underground [where the Girl’s Gym is now]. There was auto shop down there, metal shop, woodshop, machine shop…Kids who maybe weren’t planning on going to college… could learn trades so that they could open their own businesses when they got out of school. They got most of their training or a lot of their training here at Tech. The furniture those kids could make was incredible. People paid a lot of money for furniture students made. A lot of stuff has disappeared. They’re trying to shove everyone off to get a degree. Maybe that’s not what everybody wants. [The shops were] one of the things that I think were really great and now that’s all gone.

Besides that, there was typing class or something, which boys didn’t take! Because typing was for girls. Now everybody types — nobody thinks that anymore. Maybe that explains why I can’t type right. You know, two fingers at a time so it takes me like a week to type anything! They did have, you know, home-making classes. Girls could learn to make their own clothes and stuff like that. But those were electives that people did on the side. You know, you weren’t forced to do it. But, if you wanted to learn to type or sew, they had that stuff.

Of course I was in the math club! [But] there was also a drama department, and they did musicals, they did plays, they did comedies, they did Shakespeare. They were always sold out! Sometimes they would have to extend, you know, so next week it was on again. That was really great. There were some really good actors. Some had really amazing voices. No one ever thought about how the kids don’t match. They weren’t trying to make the kids look like anything – it was not a race thing, just a part they can play. Race was secondary. I miss that. We have arts now, and it seems sort of fragmented.

We also had ROTC. That’s not here anymore. At the time, it was popular among some students. But the rifle team was more that just shooting; it was more like a drill team, you know, twirling rifles and marching and stuff, and that was fine. It was for maybe if you’re thinking about having a career in the military or if you’re just a mediocre gym boy — you could get PE credit for it, you know, so some people did that. I guess they’re still around, but a lot of schools have gotten rid of them.

We had a draft for the Vietnam war. You got your draft notice before you got out of high school sometimes; a lot of people had to report as soon as they were out of school. A lot of us were already going to college, so we had to defer. Then it was a lottery, so I was never in the military.