Moyers finds small victories in schools

Television's Midseason Report -- Michael Hill in L.A.

January 16, 1991|By Michael Hill

LOS ANGELES -- Bill Moyers has a PBS documentary scheduled for tonight about successful efforts to deal with students at risk of dropping out of school.

Obviously, the documentary is at risk of being ignored or postponed should events in the Persian Gulf escalate. Moyers, once the press secretary for Lyndon Johnson, had an interesting perspective on that possibility.

"It won't be the first time in my life that a foreign intervention has distracted us from first things," he said. "I was in the Kennedy-Johnson administration in the '60s when we began what we hoped would be an era of great promise in addressing issues of education and poverty.

"And month by month after January of '65, our attention, our resources and the nation's attention were dragged into the quagmire of Vietnam," he said.

''So it won't be the first time that America's role in the world has kept America from looking at its real front line. I really think the front lines of our interest are not in the Persian Gulf. They're in these classrooms and these neighborhoods and these communities and these homes of America."

Moyers' 90-minute documentary, set for 8 o'clock on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, called "All Our Children," looks at programs and schools in Indiana, Texas and Massachusetts that have confronted the problem of kids dropping out of school with effective answers.

"I'm hoping viewers will look at this and see that there are some small successes going on out there,'' Moyers said. "We didn't xTC want just to look at the problem, wring our hands and say, 'Won't somebody, somewhere do something?'

"Somebody, somewhere is doing something and there are some small miracles out there in programs across the country that are encouraging children to stay in school."

In Columbus, Ind., Moyers and producer Tom Casciato found the Joy Howe Program that takes on dropout teens and designs an individual formula to get them back into the educational system. The focus is on a 16-year-old boy from a broken home who had dabbled in satanic cults. In the Howe program, he tutored elementary school students.

In San Antonio, Texas, Moyers found two programs, one that aids dropouts who want to get their GED degree, the other that helps teen-age mothers cope with parenting and school.

In Cambridge, Mass., Moyers shows off the Rindge and Latin High School that has lowered its dropout rate from 40 percent to 4 percent with a variety of programs, from an intensive health clinic to an in-school cooperative business to engage would-be dropouts.

He asks a bus load of teen-age mothers about abstaining from sex and records their you-must-be-kidding answers. And, at every turn, he emphasizes that these programs require tax money that is becoming scarcer and scarcer.

"What is dismaying to people is that the challenge is so overwhelming that they tend to believe that nothing effective can be done," Moyers said of the fact that some 10 million kids will probably drop out of school over the next decade.

"If we continue to address it on the macro level, if we continue to think that only the federal government can solve the problem, or that somebody else somewhere can solve the problem, we will fail. Because the problem has to be broken down into its smallest units of amelioration in order to give people the victories they need to encourage them to continue the effort.

"I even think there is a willingness to spend the money if people can see these victories,' he said.

"In the early '60s there was no public outcry for a war on poverty, it's simply that the economy was flush enough that people were tolerant of both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations trying to solve some of these long-term problems," he said, and proceeded to chronicle what happened to the nation and its economy in the decades since.

''We're tired. The American people are tired. Many of them are exhausted," he said. "That we no longer act as a people, respond as a people, but think about our own survival and well-being, is understandable."

So, he tried to put the case for these at-risk kids in '90s-style terms.

"In an economic sense, other people's children are our own because when we retire, we depend upon the income they generate. And how much income they generate in the future depends upon the capital we invest in them today."

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