Celebrating 100 Years of Oakland Technical High School
Aneta Sperber Wharry ’59
I have procrastinated about writing this because my experience at Tech was so central to my development as a person that I fear I cannot do it justice, nor do I completely understand its complexity.
I grew up during a very special time in Oakland. While the post World War II years presented the challenge of a high cost of living, they also presented a time of high employment. Both my parents were able to work, and we lived comfortably in a rented house, with a fairly new car and time and money for a few luxuries.
School was fun for me and I always had to walk long distances to get there. By junior high and, later, during my time at Tech, I covered these distances with heavy stacks of books in my arms. (We would not have been caught dead with back-packs in those days.)
The fifties were a time of extreme conformity. The (informal) dress code at Tech was rigorous. We groomed our white buck saddle shoes with precipitate of chalk. Socks had to be rolled just so, skirts a certain length. Sleeves and collars turned a certain way. Not so much fun. Further, there were cliques, groups, “car clubs”, and, of course, segregation.
It would be nice to say that the classes at Tech offered respite from these unpleasant societal norms, but, by and large they didn’t. The only classes I remember at Tech that were truly integrated were P.E. and Modern Dance. The rest of the time, there was tracking, a kind of de-facto segregation. As students, we didn’t know that much about it, (or how it worked) but, for me, there was always the fear of being put in a “bad” Social Studies class or a “bad” math class. It was important to be “college prep” for it meant you would get the “good” classes and, of course, the “good” teachers.
For me at least, those good teachers meant everything. And, at Tech in the late fifties, those teachers and their classes were outstanding. Whether it was the proximity to U.C Berkeley, or a fluke of some complex demographic or behind the scenes leadership I did not comprehend, my high school education was excellent.
I was a working class kid from Oakland, but I entered U.C. Berkeley ready and able to compete with the best that the Bay Area, the East Coast and mid-America had to offer. So, it is important that I list some names: Mrs. Ann Bisio, Miss Beatrice Burnett, Mr. Joseph Colistro, Mr. Peter Grimes, Mrs. Christal Murphy, Mr. Harvey Osborne, Miss Roberta Park, Mr. Sam Richardson, Mrs. Laura Stine, Mr. Joseph Tranchina, Miss Margaret Ward, and Mrs. Ruth Wilcox. Not every day was glowing or perfect, but it was serious and solid, and it prepared me very well indeed.
But, even as I write this, I realize that a small percentage of Technites received such an education. Few of us were in those excellent “good” classes; most were in the feared “bad” classes, and, after a lifetime of secondary teaching myself, I know, from the front of the classroom, what goes on in such classes. Sadly, it is not much learning.
So, it is with mixed emotions that I remember my time at Tech. It was very good for me– but my skin was white. I was the working class kid who lucked out.