Excuse College Visits, Taxpayer Says

THE SCENE -- County currents and undercurrents

May 29, 1991|By Lowell E. Sunderland Jackie Powder

Let me see if I, as a Howard County taxpayer and parent of one college student and almost-another, understand this correctly:

* One ofthe purposes of taxpayer-paid education (public high schools, to be precise) is to prepare young people for college. Right?

* One of the things young people interested in going to college ought to do is visit campus(es) they think might be the school for them. Right?

* Visiting a campus or two generates some worthwhile experiences, such as attending a couple classes, chatting up a department head or two, spending a night in a dorm, and seeing firsthand something of campus life. Right?

And some colleges promote such experiences. You bet.

Don't misconstrue things. Such a trip won't be a life-maker or life-breaker for any high schooler. But it's better than picking a Big Bucks school off a weekend visit to an empty campus andlecture halls, glossy brochures and maybe a slick slide show hosted by well-intentioned alumni.

And, on most campuses we've run across, you can't attend a macro-economics class most Saturdays or Sundays.

* Nevertheless, in the name of reducing truancy (let's call it what it really is), it's somehow logical, some of our educators want usto believe, that we have a new, official county policy that such college-oriented absences be "unexcused."

Which would mean a student testing deeper waters in the interest of getting a real education could not make up any high school work missed. Logical?

Never mind that most students interested in college would probably do the work, even without much parental prodding. Never mind that the odds of these trips being made without at least parental knowledge are pretty long.Never mind that theoretically such an "unexcused absence" might result in a slightly lower grade needed for graduation and college placement. . . Right?

Wait a minute. Something's definitely illogical here. So here are a couple of suggestions for those who see the logic in all of this:

* Why don't we found a new in-service course for administrators -- "Applied Common Sense 101"?

* Why don't these sameschool people start dealing with the real truancy problem, which is high school kids being able to walk or drive off just about any high school

campus in the county, apparently at will, apparently at most times of day? Heck, such a policy and work to enforce it might boost attendance rates, student attitudes, and -- listen up, folks -- test scores.

PEACE ACTIVISTS' TRIAL

Well-known peace activist Philip Berrigan and his two colleagues, Margaret McKenna and Max Obuszewski were in Howard County last week to stand trial for trespassing and destruction of property at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

The activists were arrested last July after pouring human blood on the office door of the director of the lab to protest the lab's involvement in weapons research.

I was talking to the group before their case came up in District Court. At one point, they all smiled and looked in the same direction as if they recognized someone. I thought theyhad spotted some supporters entering the courthouse. I was mistaken.They had just seen the Howard County police officer who arrested them at the lab. Looking like he had just seen a long lost friend, Berrigan said "there's our arresting officer."

The officer came over and chatted pleasantly for a while with the group. "Are you usually this friendly with people who arrest you?" I asked. They told me that the officer was a nice guy who was just doing his job and that he had treated them very well.

During breaks in the trial, the officer would ask me how it was going.

"They're nice people, they have a right to their views," he said. "They just can't express them like that."

And even though he was only doing his job, he said he felt slightly guilty about one thing. "I felt kind of bad -- locking up a nun and a father."

Berrigan, 67, a former priest, has been a leader in the peace movement since Vietnam. McKenna, 60, is with the Medical Mission Sisters in Philadelphia.

When all was said and done, the officer probably left the trial feeling better. The three activists were found guilty but their one-day jail sentence was suspended.

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