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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Miller, January 19, 1991. Interview M-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Miller's discipline strategy in segregated and desegregated schools

Miller describes his position on the curriculum and discipline at his high school. Because students lived in close proximity to their teachers, there was little need for an established discipline strategy. Miller explains that his discipline embraced respect and honesty among teachers and students. His memory of desegregation illuminates the loss of closeness between teachers and students, and the need to unite the schoolhouse with the home.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Miller, January 19, 1991. Interview M-0015. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

We had a good program there--as I told you a very broad program and the students I would say--50% to 70% going to college. That was a high percentage back then and not too many of them went to White colleges. A lot of them went to Livingstone College. I remember we sent the first student to Catawba College and we had to stay on that situation pretty closely because we wanted to know how that one student was being assimilated into a White college. We met with Catawba on several civic projects. There were nine students in that system, 3 Black, and 6 White. A very small school, I think there were about 4200 students all total at that time. It is now down to about 2800. They are trying to merge. Salisbury System was different from most city systems in that they had from the very onset assumed a lot of the responsibility themselves. They did not rent the textbooks, they bought the textbooks. Therefore, you had more concern over which books you could get. You collected the money but you bought the books. The next thing I think during the four years that I was there, if I am not mistaken, I put in eleven different programs. One of them was a program with area teachers in the junior high. They were starting clustering That was one of the bigger programs that we put in during that time. I don't think I had any major problems when I was there. I didn't have to worry about a truant officer. Everybody lived close in the vicinity and I was the officer.
It looks like you must have seen my interview guide because the next thing is discipline.
Well, I have never had trouble with the discipline. I made a mistake the first couple of years that I taught and I had one student to really set me straight. One day I was doing what you call mass punishment. I punished the class for cutting up and one student told me, Mr. Miller I'll stay here to Doom's Day. I think you are unfair because I wasn't cutting up. You should punish only those who were doing it and I went back rethinking. Therefore, my discipline became very narrow to what I put in writing. I only had two rules and one statement. The first rule is, thou shalt have respect and respect begins with you. I never put down don't write on the walls, don't throw paper down, all of those fell under the line of respect. How young men treated the ladies, respect; how you dressed, respect; and I set the example myself. I would pick up paper and I have never been to a classroom in 42 1/2 years with a sweater on. So that set an example and I was able to assimilate myself with my peers. I had to be because while I was there every summer I worked while the other two Black principals did not work. I had to learn the ES Program during the summer. Some . Next thing is, thou shalt tell the truth. Break a window, I don't care, just tell the truth and I never had a problem with fighting. If they fought, I would bring the two of them in and set them down and first of all I would check to see who was hurt. Then I would set them down until they'de get quite and there are not but two things that cause a fight. You have to learn that. One playing gets the better of another one and they start fighting or somebody is agitating and then you can stop that but if I found someone telling a lie, I'm going to punish them for lying and not for fighting because if I could with respect and truth I had my major discipline under control. The third thing was a statement, everybody shall be happy. That meant that you had to know your staff, you had to know your students and that went all the way through when I became the 10th Black principal in the State of North Carolina at a White school at Hunter with 1600 students. I had a job learning their names but you must learn their names and you must learn to say something good about them, I don't care how bad they are, so that you know them. If a child is hungry, stop what you are doing and go feed them. A child can't learn if he is hungry. You should know their homes. I require teachers to go into the homes. They don't do that now. That is the biggest problem that we have in desegregation that we'll never get in integration. Desegregation is that we cut our home visitation yet they can send a twenty-five year old social worker into a Black community and they can't send a teacher. And when the teacher doesn't know the homes from which the children come, they want to do this, suspend them. The concept of school has to be established first. What is a school for. A school is the second place you learn. You only learn two ways--either through experience or through teaching. Experience takes a long, long time therefore, you expect children to make mistakes. You don't punish every mistake. You set about to change it. Therefore, you must combine teaching and learning. If no learning takes place, no teaching goes on. You can talk to Doom's Day, and that's where they pass judgement, and learning only takes place when you are changing a behavior pattern. Getting students to learn to listen. Noise in a classroom does not mean that children are not learning. Quietness doesn't necessary mean learning. You've got to know how to distinguish what is going on. You can't go into a carpentry class and ask them to be quite but you can go into a music class and a bunch of them are over there talking. Something is wrong because everybody sings together. You have got to learn to distinguish what is required in each situation. Further discipline depends a lot upon your personnel. Teachers vary in their aspect of discipline and you ask them to define discipline in their room and they will give you something right out of a book. That is not apropos. It is how you are going to do in a hypothetical situation because that is the way you have to operate and I don't interview teachers who haven't gotten down to that yet. I never interview teachers like anybody else.