City of Detroit, Wake Up!


IMG_0269Principal Asenath Andrews in front of a girl-raised barn at Catherine Ferguson Academy

Cities need romance, and struggling cities need romance most of all.  They need to offer something unique to the young and energetic, if they are going to convince them to invest heart, soul, and cash in rebuilding.

Detroit is not lacking in romance–oh no, it is a fascinating and oddly lovely place–but it may be lacking in leaders with the right kind of imagination for a renaissance.  Detroit has been bulldozing its glorious Victorian and turn of the 20th century architecture for years.  Okay, abandonment and arson are tough to deal with, but I fail to see the point of slapping up cheap, faceless new housing all over the city, only to encourage more abandonment of the amazing white elephants that make Detroit Detroit.

Now, the city is considering closing the most unique and inspiring public school I've ever had the pleasure of visiting, Catherine Ferguson Academy, which is exclusively for teenaged mothers and their children.  Catherine Ferguson sets very high standards for these girls despite the tough breaks life has given them: acceptance to college is a condition for graduation here.

 That is not the only thing that makes the school unique.  The athletic field behind the school has been turned into a farm, complete with horses and goats, an orchard, and an enormous vegetable garden.  These girls are learning science by living it.

I wrote about Catherine Ferguson for O, The Oprah Magazine a few years ago.   I'm not the only person to figure out Catherine Ferguson is a great story.  Dutch filmmakers Mascha and Manfred Poppenk made a movie about the place last year called Grown In Detroit

Now the city is thinking of closing the school.  I wonder what will happen to the young mothers there who are absolutely heroic about pursuing an education under the most difficult possible circumstances.  We are talking about waking up at dawn, feeding and dressing a baby, waiting at dangerous bus-stops with your kid, and then riding buses for hours in a sprawling city with poor public transit…just to get to high school!

If Detroit asked me, I'd say, close some ordinary school if you have to.  Let the magically beautiful school full of heroic girls and heroic teachers be.

If you'd like to protest school closures in Detroit, on April 19th at 5:30 pm, there will be a rally at Martin Luther King High.


  1. Small detail to consider in this rant. The City of Detroit is not making any decisions about schools. The city government has no authority over schools. The Detroit Public school system has authority. DPS is controlled by a bunch of ignorant and incompetent school board members under whose leadership school employees have been allowed to steal millions of school district dollars. The school district is in financial ruin. I suspect that special school will not be closed. The threat is likely a ploy to get something else. If the school system was controlled by Mayor Dave Bing good things would start to happen for Detroit’s kids.

  2. This situation is bad everywhere – we are so considering home schooling for our kids as they’ve cut programs literally to the bone. Some of the public school teachers in Chicago and suburban area schools make way too much money and kids are suffering. They should throw out the contracts give everyone across the board a pay cut. Add to that many kids my children go to school with have pressures of an unstable home life, drugs and gangs in their neighborhoods and it’s a recipe for disaster.

    I hope they wake up and keep this school open.

  3. We’re seeing the same thing here. High Schools that offer at-risk youth unique opportunities to better themselves are being closed down while the less successful schools will be staying open. It’s almost like the school board would rather have students fail than succeed and better our community. The same goes for this school in Detroit. Time for school boards to get the heads out of their a….

  4. This would be a platform that President Obama should embrace. Where better for him to make a stand than in Detroit. There are so many issues he could address with one stand. Auto industry failure and unemployement, failing schools, Gang violence just to name a few.

  5. We homeschool…would not dream of sending them to public school.
    Public schools suck period. All the money that gets wasted on bullcrap. Too bad….everyone blames the teachers, unions, administrators. Wake up parents, do your job and stop making our schools baby sitting operations and social rehab for your failure as a parent. Pay attention to what your kids are up to and stop wasting my tax money.

    The Troll

  6. I think they’re asking the public for a pony when what they really want is a puppy. They’re sure to get the puppy by asking for the larger animal first. I’ve seen this over and over again.

  7. You should have started Ranting about the condition of Detroit 30 years ago when there was still something left to save. The city has declined so much at this point that it would take more than some grandious retoric from our first black president to make permanent the reversal of the down hill spiral that has befallen the city once known as the ‘Paris of the Midwest’. There is no romance in trying to explain to your overnight guest what happened to their car…

  8. It also seems ironic given the buzz in the area about urban farming. Two recent summits on the topic at UM-Dearborn, and a core group of people and organizations hoping to figure out how Detroit can reimagine and remake itself should be getting behind keeping this school going.

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