Monday, August 20, 2012

strictly verboten.

"We'll ne'er forget those days gone by, Those glorious days of old, When oft we sang the praises of The Crimson and the Gold. 

Dear high, dear Central High. Thy mem'ries never die. Thy honor we'll cherish and Laud it to the sky!"

2 - 6 - 4 .
Those three digits wholly represent my memories of Central High School, formerly the Philadelphia Central High School for Boys, and thereafter. Freshman orientation, August 2001, the presiding president of the public preparatory school declared us "the 264th graduating class" and that we were to henceforth be referred to collectively as "2-6-4."  A twelve year old me smiled inwardly as a proud Centralite.

An unwavering "Lancer".

Central was a school of tradition. One of pomp and circumstance, but more so, an institution of didactic learning that pedestaled free spirit, polemicist ideals, and countless student organized "walk outs." Debate, debate, debate, have fun, succeed.
Dems were the rules.

Rarely was our school's fairly recent history brought to the forefront. Only eighteen years prior, Central had been an all-male institution. Nearly a century and a half of "boys club" camaraderie. Single-sexed socialization. But there were whispers. Every so often, a mention of huffy older alumni fussing over the "females who commandeered their alma mater." And  my cousin, "243", who graduated in 1984 with the school's first integrated class. He regularly reminisces of the maverick pack of gals who took his school by storm, "The Central Six."

Emmy award-winning screenwriter Darlene Craviotto spearhead No Girls Allowed, a film documenting the women, then teenage girls, who demanded entry to Philadelphia's oldest and most academically elite public high school. After 139 years of existence as an single-sexed public high school, Central's all-male policy was challenged by Susan Vorchheimer, who wished to be admitted. On August 7, 1975, U.S. District Court Judge Clarence C. Newcomer ruled that Central must admit academically qualified girls starting in the fall term of 1975. The decision was appealed, and the Third Circuit Court ruled that Central had the right to retain its present status. The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which, on April 19, 1977, upheld the Third Circuit Court's verdict by a 4 to 4 vote with one abstention.In August 1983, Judge William M. Marutani of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, ruled that the single-sex admission policy was unconstitutional. The Board of Education voted not to appeal the legal decision, thereby admitting girls to Central High School. In September 1983, the first six girls, all seniors, were admitted.

And boy, those girls had it handed it to them.

The film traverses their journey to gain admittance and the trying school-year that followed within Central's testosterone laden halls. It's a film of temerity. The audacity of six women to impose upon generations of tradition. The audacity of a patriarchal system to sanction the chiefest education in the city exclusive to males. Because, as bristling alumni are ought to purport, 'those girls had options!' - The Philadelphia School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Masterman, and the equally rigorous Philadelphia High School for Girls, from where the Central Six matriculated.

Equality based on archaic dichotomous stereotypes.

Though Girls High was an academic beacon in the region, Central edged them out across the board. Central had a more comprehensive cohort of Advanced Placement options, more math and science courses, more electives, more varsity sports offerings, and a faculty bearing more doctorate degrees. Central provided a richer student experience. Central was the better school.

And yet, I'm ambivalent. As greatly as I appreciate those tenacious six, for whom without, I could not tout my graduating class number, nor my University of Pennsylvania conferred High School "degree," I empathize with the pre-1983 male alumni. I'm a glutton for rich history. Spelman College, Morehouse College, the Seven Sisters, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, why I chose Ivy League. There's something about storied tradition and recondite affiliation, that in a sense, was diminished, per the vantage of some, once the school became co-ed. I get it.

Equivocality aside, Central lives on as the best. The school's academic reputation has swelled since the Central Six traipsed the corridors... since they staked their claim in the only male restroom allotted them and doggedly marked their presence with bouquet adorned urinals. The girls had arrived. And their blood ran crimson and gold.

[Author's Note: An enlightening follow-up could chart the effects Central's co-ed integration had on the student population and subsequent repute of Girls High, as Girls High and Central, both single-sexed schools, were formerly perceived as an intimately linked institution.]

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