MAYOR SCHMOKE'S threat to balance the city's budget on the backs of poor school children by closing schools for a week in February is a politically adroit slap in the face of Baltimore's neediest citizens.
The threat is politically smart because the poor are no threat: They will not organize to "throw the bum out." Rather, they will suffer as always. And as usual, no member of the clergy, no rabbi, no imam, no political firebrand will come to their defense -- nor to the defense of the children of the poor.
And make no mistake. It is the children who will really suffer. They will not suffer because they miss a week of conjugating verbs or doing long division. They will not even suffer because they miss a week of school lunches -- those artless composts of sugar and grease.
Poor children will suffer because they are being lied to once again -- and this time by a mayor who advances himself as a role model for so-called disadvantaged youth. The kids may be poor, but they are not stupid. They get the message loud and clear.
It is this:
"You rich kids, most of whom are already in private schools, you won't be hurt by closing city schools for a week. And you kids from families with means who are still in the city schools, you'll be all right, too. Your parents will find something creative and stimulating for you to do: an extra week at camp, maybe a family trip to Orlando.
"And you really smart kids, you destined for Yale or Harvard, not to worry. Even though the library is closed, you'll find some good books to read. You'll manage without school. Truth is, you do anyway.
"But you poor kids, listen up. We've written you off already. We've been telling you for a long time that the public schools are basically a baby-sitting service to keep you off the streets. Why else would we provide you with overcrowded classrooms, underpaid teachers, inadequate materials, all served up in settings that are often unsanitary? You won't miss a week of school. School is not important for you anyway.
"All that stuff and nonsense we told you about hanging in there, not dropping out so your school can get a good grade on the new state report card . . . We were just kidding. School is really and truly only for the rich and the already smart."
But of course it is the children of the poor who most need all the education they can get if they are to escape the mean streets. They are the children who will most likely die in those streets, shot or drugged by accident or on purpose.
For these children, thank you. Baltimore will always be the city that bleeds and never the city that reads.
lTC That slogan on the garbage trucks, Mr. Mayor, is just where it belongs.
Frank E. Fortkamp teaches Latin in Baltimore city schools and ethics at Villa Julie College.