One thing that the Manhattan Institute’s Kay Hymowitz and I have in common is that we both went to Cheltenham High School in southeastern Pennsylvania, though I attended some years after she did. Professional baseball player Reggie Jackson also went to Cheltenham, as did Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The less said about my academic performance the better; I aimed for scholastic mediocrity and hit a bullseye.
Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary public school, one of the country’s best at the time, with an active student body and teachers who seemed to care whether you did well or not. So imagine my dismay when I read Hymowitz’s article referring to Cheltenham High as a “failing high school.” Failing? Not Cheltenham.
Cheltenham High’s problems didn’t develop overnight. The violence that’s become an unfortunate characteristic of campus life isn’t a function of lead in the pipes or asbestos in the walls. If we’re going to be honest about what happened to Cheltenham, we have to address this:
Some of Cheltenham’s arrivals are spillovers from nearby north Philadelphia, the city’s immense and long-suffering black ghetto. They have moved into aging apartment complexes on the district’s border, bringing with them the old neighborhood’s broken culture.
The “aging apartment complexes” are named Lynnewood Gardens. As kids, we always knew to stay away from Lynnewood Gardens, because people got mugged there. We lived in an upper-middle class neighborhood just a few blocks away.
The problems with this “broken culture” have a great deal to do with progressive social programs designed to replace the traditional family with the paternalistic, loving presence of the federal government, which soothes every ill with other people’s money. The importance of stable, traditional families to Western civilization cannot be overstated, and yet progressive social policies, progressive-owned media, and progressive-run education work every day to tear them apart, redefine them, and relegate them to historical irrelevancy. What we’re seeing with Cheltenham, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of other schools and neighborhoods across the country, is the inevitable result of this deliberate cultural erasure.
It’s not enough that the progressive order is destroying its own urban enclaves; leftists want to destroy everybody else’s communities for the sake of tolerance, diversity, and other unexamined progressive values. The city of Philadelphia is exporting its societal ills into the suburbs, a strategy that National Review’s Stanley Kurtz has been writing about for some time:
So if some Montgomery County’s suburbs are predominantly upper-middle-class, white, and zoned for single-family housing, while the Philadelphia region as a whole is dotted with concentrations of less-well-off African Americans, Hispanics, or Asians, those suburbs could be obligated to nullify their zoning ordinances and build high-density, low-income housing at their own expense. At that point, those suburbs would have to direct advertising to potential minority occupants in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Cheltenham High is in Montgomery County. Take that, rich white people. You can run from the city, but you can’t hide. We will find you, and we will punish you for not giving us all the attention (money) we demand.
Neighborhoods change. Demographics change them. It doesn’t have to be for the worst. Still, it’s a damned shame to look at the police blotter of your former home town and see your high school alma mater noted as a regular feature, transformed into a place you wouldn’t send your own children.