As North goes south

A lesson learned from what’s about to be history


North Intermediate School. Photo by WSGW

Within a few weeks, crews will begin demolishing Saginaw’s North Intermediate School. It was opened, along with its sister school, South Intermediate, in 1922.

I’ll not rant (here, much) about the almost criminal tragedy this demolition represents. The school was closed in 2008 after serving several years as the site of the Handley PCAT program after the original Handley building was razed to build the new $23-million Thompson Middle School, part of $70 million in facilities upgrades (much of that on facilities now closed).  This was largely because, of course, “Oversaw $70 million in facilities upgrades, including the construction of a new $23-million facility” looked a lot better on the former superintendent’s resume than “Oversaw major improvements in students’ AYP.” Or it was at least more achievable.

Either way, that plane has started its takeoff roll. People in Saginaw lose one more of the touchstones that make the city “home” to them. In this case, I’m one of them. The loss of the school has really made me think about what the memories of North represent to me.

For the most part, my memories of the place are not particularly pleasant ones. I spent a lot of time there afraid – largely because as a smallish, glasses-wearing nerd of the late ’60s, I was a ripe target for bullies. That’s another post.

What North School did most for me, though, was one of the most important, life-altering lessons I learned – in Don Schiesswohl’s seventh-grade civics class.

This was in the fall of 1968, and our class had its own presidential campaign to mirror the ’68 race. In preparation for this campaign, Mr. Schiesswohl had us read up on the candidate’s positions. Then he chose the students to represent each of the candidates. I believe he picked Jim Foulds to be Richard Nixon and Bob Morrison to be Hubert Humphrey.

And he picked me to be George Wallace.

Even in seventh grade, I knew I didn’t – couldn’t – like what the man stood for. And I said to Mr. Schiesswohl: “I don’t agree with anything he believes. I hate him.”

Of course, he already knew this. And he said: “You don’t understand an issue until you can argue both sides of it equally well. You’re going to argue Wallace’s side.”

As I remember, Humphrey actually won in our classroom, and I finished a distant last. But I’ve learned – and had it reinforced countless times – that you don’t belong in the debate if you don’t fully understand the opponent’s position.

I am extremely sad and angry that Saginaw will be losing this beautiful landmark neoclassical brick and stone building. But whether it should or it should not come down, I can argue both sides. And that’s the part of that building I’ll carry with me forever.