When Vice President Dan Quayle walked into a third-grade class at West Baltimore's Matthew A. Henson Elementary School yesterday afternoon, Tavonne Hasty was ready.
"Welcome to our class, Mr. Vice President," he said in the clear tenor of an 8-year-old.
The vice president of the United States stopped in the aisle and shook Tavonne's hand.
"Are you going to tell me what you do here?" Mr. Quayle asked.
"Yes," said Tavonne. "We learn."
The vice president nodded and smiled.
Mr. Quayle had arrived fresh from a speech to the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel where he said:
* Despite the promise of a rising tide of democracy all over the globe, the world remains a place of unpredictability and instability. "It challenges us to prepare for a variety of contingencies and threats that might seem remote today, but could become all too real tomorrow."
* President Bush "is planning what our course must be if [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein does not comply with the conditions of the United Nations cease-fire resolution." An even larger question, Mr. Quayle said, "is how many other Saddam Husseins are out there waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting world." Prudence, he said, demands preparedness.
Although accused of focusing on the rest of the world at the expense of this nation, the Bush administration remains committed to its domestic priorities, beginning with educational advancement, Mr. Quayle told his downtown audience.
At the Henson School, he had an opportunity to see how that goal is being pursued. He had observed earlier that American youngsters ranked 13th in a recent comparison of math skills in 13 of the leading industrial nations.
When he arrived at Henson, Tavonne and his classmates were going through a math drill directed by teacher Lee Moody.
Mr. Moody is a 51-year-old former probation officer who left that work at the age of 38 to get a teaching degree after he despaired of affecting young lives gone sour. "By then [when they were on probation] it was too late," he said. "I thought kids needed to be in touch with people who cared about them earlier."
Yesterday, the vice president of the United States was Mr. Moody's teaching aide.
"You listen to your teacher, don't you?" Mr. Quayle asked.
"Yes," they said in unison.
"You do what he says, don't you?"
"Yes," they said.
"You listen to what your parents say, too, don't you?"
"I can't tell you how important education is," Mr. Quayle told them. "Make sure you always stay in school. Will you do that for me?"
The children said they would.
Then the vice president recited what he called "the A-B-C-Ds of life."
"A," he said, was for attitude: "You have to have a good attitude. You have to believe in yourself. You know the first sign I saw in your school. It said, 'We expect the best.' Good attitude."
"B," the vice president told the children, is for behavior and self-control. "C" was for concentration and "D" for dedication: "Dedicate yourself to your family, your school and yourself."
Then Mr. Quayle asked for a promise.
"I want you to promise me one thing, that you will never, never take any drugs. Will you promise me that?"
The students promised.
He added, "You just promised the vice president of the United States that you will never do drugs. I'm going to hold you to that."
As he turned to leave, Kamian Vaughn, 9, approached, stood at attention in front of him and said, "Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for coming to visit our school and our class."
Then, as Mr. Quayle was about to walk out, another voice stopped him, this one coming on as clearly as the others though somewhat less scripted. "Do you like being vice president?" asked Colby Madison, 8.
Colby, Tavonne and Kamian are in an all-male class at Henson, an experiment which has drawn considerable attention even before yesterday's visit. Mr. Moody, the math teacher, explained it this way:
TC A fairly typical student at the school, between Baker and North Pulaski streets in West Baltimore, is born in a home with a mother and a grandmother. One of the first people he meets is a female social worker. His elementary school teachers are likely to be women. When does he have any contact with men, with male role models?
Henson's principal, Leah Goldsborough-Hasty (no relation to Tavonne), asked that question. Her school is one in which the pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade students are no strangers to drugs and violence or to economic difficulties; 81 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals.
Mrs. Goldsborough-Hasty's answer was to establish two all-male classes at Henson, where she has been principal for nine years. So far,the experiment is considered a solid one. It has escaped some of the potential difficulties, according to the school department's press officer, Douglas J. Neilson, because no extra money is pumped into the class.