"The Student"

As seen in the lower level of the Rutgers Alexander Library, Abraham Joel Tobias's painting, enititled "The Student"

"The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Any attempt to disturb the deadly routine of instruction is looked upon as sabotage. And the notion that the aims and functions of education should be determined in the local community by a close and continuous discussion among students, faculty, administration, and citizens is so visionary that it is not even seriously considered." -Charles Ferguson

"All children have preparedness, potential, curiosity and interest in constructing their learning, in engaging in social interaction and in negotiating with everything the environment brings to them." -Lella Gandini

"Until we get equality in education, we won't have an equal society." -Sonia Sotomayor


During the early 1970s, a racially-charged controversy ignited in New Brunswick over whether 280 white sophomore students from the neighboring towns of North Brunswick and Milltown, should be allowed to withdraw from New Brunswick High School in order to attend the newly opened high school in North Brunswick Township. Under an old contract, predominantly white students from North Brunswick and Milltown were bused to New Brunswick High School, since these areas were considered too small to support their own high school. By 1973, however, New Brunswick’s changing demographics meant that African-American students had come to represent the majority at the high school. In addition, New Brunswick High School was overcrowded and operating with double sessions. The parents of these two townships threatened to boycott their children’s attendance if the contract was not cancelled. The parents argued that sophomores should have access to the newly built facility due to their geographic proximity, and because it would represent an increase in the quality of their education and ease the ongoing racial tensions at New Brunswick High School.

The New Brunswick Board of Education cited that the flight of the largely white population of students would leave the high school overwhelmingly black in its racial makeup, destroying any racial diversity the high school had embraced. Leaders in the black community of New Brunswick complained that the city’s Board of Education paid little attention to the needs of black parents and students, whom would in turn suffer further as more white students left. The supporters for allowing the sophomores to attend the new high school in North Brunswicks demanded that the quality of education be the first priority. The New Brunswick Board of Education argued that the regionalization of the three districts into New Brunswick was essential to any racial balance.  Each municipality under the sending/receiving contract paid tuition for its students to attend New Brunswick High School, and the loss of this funding base loomed as well. Under the order of Dr. Fred G. Burke, the acting New Jersey Education Commissioner at the time, a plan was introduced that allowed North Brunswick students to attend the new high school beginning with the 1974-75 school year. The plan also called for New Brunswick Board of Education to begin single sessions for grades 9-12, and to include Milltown students of those grades.

North Brunswick students eventually were transferred to their own high school and Milltown students remained at the New Brunswick High School. Milltown currently has its high school students attending nearby Spotswood High School, and New Brunswick High School remains serving its residents. Although the issues facing New Brunswick public schools garnered the most attention in the 1960s and 1970s, Catholic schools also had to grapple with the city’s changing demographics.

The Diocese began to experience a decline in their Catholic school enrollments due to economic constraints and personal preference of parents. St. Peter's High School provided confidence for parents who demanded a good education and traditional upbringing for their children. St. Peter’s urban locality was unique from other Diocese schools; it had a high population of non-Catholic and ethnically diverse students. These differences made the school a site of great diversity in New Brunswick when diversity in the city was becoming scarce. The closing of St. Peter's Catholic High School forced parents to either enroll their children into the New Brunswick public schools system or move out of the city to accommodate their desire for a traditional Catholic education.

John Keller Mason Gross graduate student and lifelong resident of New Brunswick, details his experience on the effects of declining enrollment.