The Renfrew School

As a young elementary school student I am certain that the folks on my school board wanted to shape our world in the most positive direction possible. And that may be all well and good. But there is a point at which protecting young minds can be an unfortunate canard.

When we were preparing for “graduation” from sixth grade (Even at the time, I thought that “graduation” from elementary school was a silly idea.) my classmates and I were introduced, for the very first time, to a cohort of six peers who would be participating with us in our graduation exercises. Our principal explained that they attended the Renfrew School. I had never heard of the Renfrew School.

Renfrew was in Penn Township and only about four miles from the Penn Township School. My mind could not apprehend any concept that would have these students sequestered away in a separate building – a building that I later learned was hardly the equal to the nice facilities we had at Penn School. I tried to imagine what went through the minds of these twelve year-olds when they first saw that they had been kept separate from a facility that would now, by comparison, appear to be pretty grand.

What I now understand is the students who lived in Renfrew and attended the two-room school there came from poorer families who lived in poorer housing than the middle class standard typical of the rest of the township. I struggle to this day to follow the logic that allowed such an unnecessary and discriminatory step. While the school board may have felt we were being protected, I instead wondered what I might have learned had they been allowed to attend my school.

A few years later I encountered a segregated South while on vacation. I knew right away to not be harsh judge. I had seen this same thinking in my own backyard.