One for the Philistines

GREGORY P. KANE

December 05, 1991|By Gregory P. Kane

CITING a "lack of will to learn on the part of youngsters," a "lack of involvement on the part of parents" and a "lack of quality education in the classroom," Boyse Mosley declared that "public education as we know it is dead" and announced his retirement from the school system in June.

Mosley, principal of Northwestern High School in the city, has been a proverbial thorn in the side of school officials for years. He proposed eliminating athletics from his school and using the money saved on remedial math and reading, withholding welfare payments from families on assistance whose children are chronically truant and establishing rigid dress codes for students and teachers alike.

"My colleagues," Mosley contends, "think I'm a loud-mouthed showoff."

His colleagues are correct. Mosley is a loud-mouthed showoff. But that doesn't mean his ideas aren't right. I'll miss him when he retires. The school system needs more Boyse Mosleys, not fewer.

Mind you, I've disagreed vehemently with Mosley on some issues. His proposal to cut welfare payments to families with chronically truant children left me wondering if Mosley knew that welfare payments are for children. I wondered if he really wanted children from families on welfare but with good attendance records to suffer for the sins of their truant siblings. I wondered if Mosley was pandering to the anti-welfare crowd he so carefully tends in his right-wing radio and TV pronouncements.

Mosley's proposal to eliminate athletics at Northwestern seemed motivated to get cheap publicity. He could just as easily have advocated eliminating Northwestern's Air Force Junior ROTC program. Students below grade level in reading and math have no more business harboring delusions about being Air Force officers than they have about dribbling basketballs in the National Basketball Association. But Mosley knew he wouldn't have received one line of newspaper copy or one minute of air time by advocating the elimination of junior ROTC.

Most reprehensible of all, he not very subtly sent a message to white Baltimoreans that all of their worst fears and stereotypes about young black men were true. According to how Mosley told it, he saw a white female student at Northwestern get into a car with four black male students. He ordered her out, supposedly for her own "protection," since we all know young black men are nothing but rapists, thugs and murderers.

Rather than keep this "good deed" to himself, Mosley could scarcely contain his pride when he went to a local TV talk show and crowed about it. The entire episode left me disappointed that the tradition of tarring and feathering wasn't around when we needed it.

In spite of all that, I must confess to a grudging admiration of and sympathy for Mosley. I admire him because his old-fashioned, tough, disciplinary approach to education reminds me of the teachers I had. (I once referred to Northwestern as "Stalag Mosley" and to him as the "George Patton of pedagogy," and it must be conceded that a George Patton is needed every now and again.)

I sympathize with Mosley because he had the misfortune to run smack dab into the "I-was-born-entitled" generation of public school students. They are as idiotic and puddin'headed a lot as has ever come down Park Heights Avenue. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, "The itch to learn things doesn't afflict them." They have no passion for knowledge, are more concerned about their wardrobes than their grades and would make a rabble of Cro-Magnon men look like Phi Beta Kappas.

Perhaps Mosley summed it up best in a newspaper interview upon the announcement of his retirement: "I'm tired of saying the same thing over and over to youngsters. I'm tired of their foul language and abuse. I'm tired of going onto buses and pulling them off when they cause trouble. I'm tired of driving through the neighborhood looking for them. I'm tired of going to Reisterstown Road Plaza and dragging them back to school."

Boyse Mosley is no doubt also tired of attitudes like the one expressed by a Northwestern scholar in the same article, referring to the denim jacket he was wearing. "He [Mosley] told me I couldn't wear this, and it's a set. It goes with these jeans."

That attitude is not the exception among today's students. It's the norm. No wonder Mosley is burned out. Looks like we'll have to chalk up another victory for the Philistines.

Gregory P. Kane writes from Baltimore.

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