Trashing Eden


Four years ago, I had the incredible experience of visiting Detroit to report on a gardening movement there for O, The Oprah Magazine.  If you haven't been to Detroit, you might not understand your own country very well.

I met a lot of amazing people, but the most amazing might have been Asenath Andrews, the mordant, funny, and incredibly kind principal of Catherine Ferguson Academy, a unique public school for teenaged mothers and their kids. This is a serious place for students who are seriously committed to their education despite enormous obstacles. Some of the girls have to wake up before dawn and travel for hours on buses with their babies every day just to get there, but they do it.  And college acceptance is a condition of graduation.

What made the place especially wonderful to me was the farm outside the school doors–an orchard, an enormous vegetable garden, goats, chickens, a horse–a place where both teenagers and their babies can experience a little beauty in the midst of a devastated city and learn about life.

Catherine Ferguson is now slated for closure, a decision made by an emergency manager appointed by the governor of Michigan.  The students are protesting and being arrested for it.

But the issues here are bigger than just a wonderful school closing. Here is Rachael Maddow's rather amazing report on it all:


  1. I can’t believe they’re going to close that school!! I heard the story on NPR last year and was very impressed with the effort and what it meant to the children who went there. That really saddens me.

  2. This news clip actually made me cry. These girls are an inspiration and have so much heart. It’s not fair that those who have so little but want to better themselves and their children have to be treated in so brutal a fashion by cops that by all accounts are only one rung higher on the socio-economic scale themselves. And I’d like to see some of these privileged, upper middle class officials making these decisions walk a mile in these girls shoes. They’d fall flat on their faces.

  3. Oh my gosh….the Trumpism of America (I’m referring to Donald Trump’s recent comment that if you win a war, you get “to keep that nation” and take whatever you want from it–which seems like what happened here on a state and community level). Shock and awe, baby…..they saw an “opportunity” to strike the vulnerable and took it. The Republicans would eat their own if the opportunity presented itself, but first they’ll eat those who look like “others”.

    I have a hunch that the story isn’t over yet, though–that’s a tough, determined bunch of women there, and they won’t forget what happened.

    Thank you, Rachel Maddow, for this story (and Michele for posting it).

  4. Looks like Michigan needs a new governor. Why would this woman give so much power to this man unless maybe she’s got other motives other then education.

  5. This new tool that they called “Emergency Managers” is just the latest atempt by Republicans to subvert the rights of individuals to elect city governments. This has got to be unconstitutional, isn’t it?
    This of course came after huge breaks to corporations. They need to follow WI’s lead and start recalls. Too bad that these young women learn about government this way.

  6. Thank God for people like Rachel Maddow; if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t know about BS like this in Michigan! The Republicans want to turn the clock back a hundred or so years to when women were chattel and had no rights; workers labored in difficult and dangerous conditions for pennies a day, no benefits, no pension; if you got hurt or sick and couldn’t work, you and your family starved. No one should make the mistake of thinking that what’s happening in Michigan is an anomaly – if the right isn’t stopped dead and frankly, smashed, this country will go completely Third World. The wealthy and well-connected few will look down from their fortified castles at the rabble scrounging for bits of food and trying to keep warm over fires. I pray I don’t live to see it. Thank you Michele for posting this!

  7. Wait, wait, what did Rachel slip in there with this report?


    Holy Cow.

  8. central florida: “Why would this woman give so much power to this man unless maybe she’s got other motives other then education.”

    Who are you talking about? The current governor of Michigan is a man.

  9. Yea jenn I screwed up I went straight to the link on the emergency manager and read how Robert C. Bobb was appointed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm after I posted my comment I realized my blunder.

  10. An absolute disgrace and the comments above show that we are seeing the writing on the wall very clearly. What gets me, too, is this is the very same party that is supposed to be so PRO-LIFE. Really? Really? What a bunch of horrible, lying hypocrits. These are women who want to have their babies and are willing to work hard (get accepted into college, learn about botany, animal husbandry and growing food!) to give them and their families a better life.

    If it were white girls, it’d be a whole different story, folks.

  11. This is a dreadful decision and you are right, the rich (already very rich) will get richer and the poor poorer – is that democracy in the “land of the free”? I heard Trump on CBC and found him a really scary character in his naive and arrogant view of the world.

  12. Why can’t Republicans connect the dots ? If you rabidly support pro life and detest the right to choose and Planned Parenthood there is going to be children born to those who could not afford a planned family.
    Those children of poor families will need to be educated.
    It is education that lifts people out of poverty and financial dependence upon their government .
    What is so hard to understand about this very simple cycle of poverty, education, family planning and the toll that it takes on the finances of the government ? Do they not see the bigger picture ?
    Or perhaps they do and this is some sad sadistic way of keeping a class system in place. It just seems so misguided. Makes one so discouraged and angry to the point of apathy. … and maybe that is their strategy ???

  13. Republicans can’t connect the dots because with a few exceptions, they are a bunch of morons. They could care less about what the school is trying to accomplish. Their motto seems to be; “Slash and Smirk”. The newly elected group of GOP governors will cause rioting in the streets before they are through.

  14. What I can’t understand: Where are the reasonable Republicans? Surely there must be one or two somewhere. Why don’t we hear from them?

  15. Yes, this is very sad and unfortunate.

    And it is NOT about democracy.

    If your kid was running up their credit card, you’d take it away from them, wouldn’t you?

    The ‘locally elected officials’ were running up the bill without having the resources to pay it so their credit card was taken away. The Governor (the State) is responsible for paying the bills and there is No Money to pay the bills. How can you see it any other way? The State is Bankrupt!

    Now is the time for a private group to take over the academy. They can run it as they see fit and make a profit on selling the produce from the garden to restaurants and CSA members. It can be done. It has been done in LA. We must stop looking for the State to solve all our ‘problems’. These Teachers could form a co-op and ‘homeschool’ these girls to graduation. Look to the community for support. It will also teach these girls that they must work for what they want, and that they can achieve great things if they are willing to put in the effort. The Entitlement Mentality has got to disappear, for their own good, and now is the time to do it.

    Your reporting is biased, emotionally driven and slanted. It is unethical to choose to twist the facts for your own political gain.

    Fact: There is no money to pay for basics like cops, firemen, teachers. We are borrowing something like $14 million a minute. Things HAVE to change. It WILL be painful. Wake up. Be a part of the Solution instead of insisting on the status quo, which is seriously broken.

  16. and as for Pro-Life. Planned Parenthood has eliminated more black children than all other minorities combined!

    Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRC) support women (and girls) who choose to carry their babies with whatever they need, all without one cent of government funds. And once they deliver, they are assisted with clothes, diapers, formula and whatever else they need. Again, without one cent of government money. I know this because I am involved with a PRC. Our community supports this Center financially and in many other ways. We don’t want the Government to tell us how to do it. We do more with less. And we will even find housing and babysitting for these women if they will continue to go to school. None of this is ‘free’, though. The women must attend classes on childcare, anger management, basic life skills, etc, in order to ‘earn’ bucks to ‘spend’ in the Care Closet. SO they feel a sense of accomplishment.

    So, I and hundreds of others- many are Conservatives, many are not- we are not just flapping our mouths about “something should be done!” WE are doing it with our own time, effort and money. And allowing the Government to do what the Founding Fathers meant for it to do. Read the Constitution to see what that is.

    What are YOU doing to be the change you want to see in the world?

  17. says “Detroit has lost one-quarter of its population over the past 10 years and now has as many people living in the city as did in 1910, two years after Henry Ford debuted the Model T.

    Student enrollment, meanwhile, has dropped to about 73,000 — down more than 83,000 from 10 years ago. The district is also facing a $327 million budget deficit.”

    So, Detroit has fewer people paying taxes, fewer students enrolled in school, yet they are running $327 MILLION dollars in the hole?

    How can that be sustainable? Who is going to pay for it?

    Emily, you ask what can you do to change it? Why don’t YOU figure out what YOU can do. VOlunteer at a Pregnancy Resource Center. Donate 10% of your salary to whatever cause you believe in. BE The Change You Want To See In This World. Don’t wait for others to tell you what to do.

  18. Since when did government and due process become disconnected from the citizenry? Government IS the people (“by the people, of the people, for the people”); that is, unless the citizen’s right to vote and participate gets taken away, as is the case here. Take away the citizen’s right to vote, and you have a dictatorship. Sure it’s easy to say the elected officials weren’t making responsible decisions; but there are other ways to handle this (recalls, impeachment, witholding of funds, etc) than taking away the citizens’ right to vote.

    Democracy is messy (like gardening). Nothing about it keeps the private citizen from acting in their own behalf, or participating; but take away the citizen’s right to participate in their government (as Michigan is doing here), and you have something else altogether.

    Privatize the schools, and they will reflect the private interests of those who run them, with no discussion possible by the people who attend (except to go elsewhere, which is not possible for these young women).

    As for PRCs, it sounds nice–taking care of those who choose to have their babies, but in my neck of the woods, these young women get dropped like hot potatoes after the first year or so, encouraged to marry men they don’t love, and they are not educated or taught how to support themselves. These places are used to proselytize as well, and they use deceptive practices to bring young pregnant women in, hoping to keep them from having abortions. Catherine Ferguson school is supporting those young women who choose to have their babies, but many young women choose not to complete their pregnancies, and PRCs do not give them that option.

  19. Ultimately, the Citizens voted for the Governor, who is accountable to all the Citizens. The Governor has to make the hard decisions that those Elected Officials were either unwilling or unable to make.

    No one is taking away Citizens’ right to participate in their government. If you vote, you were able to cast a vote for the Governor, who has ultimate responsibility to see that the bills are paid.

    Why don’t I ever see anyone appalled at Government Officials spending $327 million MORE than they take in? How outrageous is THAT?! Are these good Public Servants? Are they acting in the best interest of their constituents? I’d say, No. Who do they expect to pay the bill? Oh! The Government? Well, the Government is BROKE.

    And it sounds to me as if you don’t have personal experience regarding PRCs, but are just repeating, almost verbatim, Planned Parenthood’s press release regarding PRCs. I invite you to visit one yourself. I have never proselytized or witnessed anyone else doing so. And the girls and women all know where to go for an abortion. It’s right across the street. They also know where to go if they want to keep their baby. These women aren’t stupid, they are just pregnant. We give the women options, including that of terminating their pregnancy. It is right across the street, and every woman who comes in our door either knows that before she comes in or definitely before she leaves. We offer choice. Planned Parenthood offers abortions. Not a free case of diapers in the place.

    And we mentor our women so that they can become self-supporting. The State sends us women every day for services that they don’t provide – diapers, layettes, cribs, housing.

    Public vs Private schools? You think Public schools don’t have an agenda? That they don’t reflect “the private interests of those who run them”. Obviously you have never attended a school board meeting or been involved in the PTA. I have done both. Every School Board Member has their own agenda. Every Pricipal has their own agenda.

    Voting is easy and makes you feel good. It puts the responsibility on The Government. You have to trust that they will do the right thing and it is clear, with a $327 million deficit, they aren’t. So, instead of making noise about a Governor who is trying to save a bleeding patient, step up and do something yourself. A single person can get more done by becoming involved with their school than by casting a vote for an Elected Official who has their own agenda.

    I bet there are 5 people who read this blog who could mentor that school into turning private and self-supporting. They could lease the building and grounds from the district and continue their programs. It would just take doing. I don’t live in Detroit, but if I did, I’d either be leading the Change, or organizing others to do so.

    “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Theresa

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

  20. This is a lot like telling seniors and others who depend on Social Security, Medicare and MediCal, that they have to live on less so that oil companies and other large corporations can get their tax breaks, and still balance the state or federal budget.

    Without this school, these young women are not likely leaving the poverty of an inner city single black mother, with what marketable skills they now possess never being augmented, to allow them to get a job that pays a living wage and covers child-care costs as well.

    I very much agree with SJ, Sandra K & Michelle D. They each make very salient points.

    Apparently recent GOP “town hall meetings” haven’t gone very well for them. Can’t imagine why.

  21. And where are the fathers of these children?

    And why does society (and some commenters) lay the entire situation these girls are facing (poor and pregnant, or poor and a mom) at their feet?

    Really, they chose this all on their own? Look at the kind of place Detroit is and the role models surrounding these young women, and the near collapse of a city. Is it where you would “choose” to live. And if you did, what choices would you make?

    This school and the ideals that founded it are the only reason the kids of these moms and maybe the moms will ever be able to have a real choice about their lives.

  22. That is NOT the issue. That is a red herring. The issue is how to PAY for it.

    No one is “laying the entire situation these girls are facing… at their feet.” Nope. These women have a hard row to hoe. And they do need assistance, mentors, appropriate role models. No argument there.

    However, I am really amazed at the lack of solutions offered here. Lots of waving arms and wringing hands and something should be done!

    The hard fact is the Detroit School District is broke. Bankrupt. Out of Money. They are running a $327 MILLION deficit! HELLO!

    Why aren’t there any comments about THAT?

    That’s $4,479.00 ABOVE what the district takes in for every student. That’s $4,479.00 more per student than the District can afford!

    I guarantee you I can provide a ‘quality education’ to a student for far less than $4,479.00 per year, in a program such as the one at Catherine Ferguson.

    The school, the program, the ideals, the need, the seriousness of their situation… ALL of that is a given. All of that is True.

    But … How are you going to PAY for it?!

    Let the Elected Officials/Government decide, you say?

    The Government has done a great job so far, spending $4,479.00 over budget for each student!

    Fact: The Elected Officials have spent all the money and then some. HA! The Government has wracked up YOUR credit card. YOU still have to pay for the $327MILLION they overspent, in addition to your regular taxes. The money has to come from someplace, and the buck stops with the ones in your wallet.

    So, Catherine Ferguson is a wonderful school and I suggest those who are involved with it find a way to keep it going without relying on the demonstrably unreliable Government or the Elected Officials of the Detroit School District.

    And THAT is the real issue.

    “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Theresa

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

  23. Wow. The fact that there is a school for young mothers is amazing by itself, not to mention the fact that they have a farm and protested against the closure of their school, most likely knowing they could be arrested. I got angry at the police men for arresting passionate people, but I guess it happens a lot.

  24. That’s a very moving video. I think that all sides of the argument make sense so it’s hard to know what to think. I like how she mentioned the comment which opposed her and made it not a completely biast report

  25. Gee, what a sorry situation for those poor girls. I mean, gawsh. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be them. I’m kind of gibbering over the whole deal. Well, puh.

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