Once Again, Schools Forced To Clean Up Society's Mess

Violent Youthsmust Be Isolated, Dealt With

March 29, 1992

Annapolis High School has taken a couple on the chin in recent weeks, no question about it.

There was the Monday morning fracas in which the fellows from Newtowne 20 and Eastport Terrace came to school and promptly began finishing the unpleasantness they had begun at the mall that preceding Saturday.

Two anxious days on Riva Road ensued, as the cops nosed around, an armada of bureaucrats arrived from the Board of Education to help patrol the halls and rumors of additional violence and even gunplay spread through the student body like wildfire.

All this, even as WMAR-TV was airing "America at Risk," an hour-long documentary detailingthe lives of young Annapolitans caught in the web of drugs and violence spun by bad breaks, parental indolence and their own pathologicalnarcissism.

That one of the subjects was an admirable young man who'd resisted the lure of the evil streets, or that the young woman involved had found the resolve to begin the climb upward, seemed smallcomfort in light of the show's clear message: hostile, violent, unguided, desensitized, drug-infested souls are out there in ever-increasing numbers, and their presence bodes ill for our city, for our school and for society at large.

The urge to defend one's own is powerful, so let me succumb. There are hundreds of Annapolis High kids fromall segments of the community who are sophisticated, well-intentioned, achievement-oriented and altogether admirable.

No one has proven that the troubled youths depicted in the film are any more indicative of the whole than our National Honor Society kids, our chorus and orchestra members who performed Mozart's "Spatzenmesse" in concert last November, or the two academic hot-shots we packed off to Dartmouthlast fall.

Our teachers are not hiding under their desks. Qualityeducation is very much available to those who want it, and the "siege mentality," as yet, manifests itself more emotionally than physically.

But the reality in our schools grows more stark each day. Violence is on the upswing, and the possibility of something really bad happening is becoming less remote. With 17 weapon confiscations and 21reported assaults in Anne Arundel schools in January alone, the conclusion is both unsettling and inescapable.

Once again, it's up to the schools to do what they can to

clean up society's mess. As some of my compatriots noted in frustration after the fight, we get intoeducation to teach kids about the subjects we know and love and windup being expected to stem the tide of social anarchy and teach in our spare time.

But if not us, who? Parents? Not of these kids.

Like it or not, it's in our lap. To yearn for the day when schools were for learning, guidance counselors just got you into college and theschool psychologist merely administered the occasional IQ Test, is to yearn for a day that will not return any time soon. That wasn't Donna Reed or Ozzie Nelson I saw greeting those kids when they returned from school.

And because the problem is in our lap, it must be dealt with forthrightly and unambiguously, before it grows in size and intensity. Violence simply has no place in schools and its perpetrators must be excised immediately from the mainstream. They must be isolated, dealt with, and, if need be, cut loose.

The "Boys will be boys," or "How can we give up on these kids now" or "Aren't we violatingthe principle of equity?" litany will no longer suffice, and it's time we acknowledged it. When pistol-packing, dope-dealing purveyors ofbrutality show up on a teacher's doorstep disguised as students, thehand-wringing "kids as victims" rhetoric will simply not wash.

But, as every teacher knows, direct action is hard to come by in the education community. Board of Education dispositions tend to set disciplinary policy in the same manner that weather vanes determine the weather. With the path of least resistance enshrined as the principal paradigm of policy-making, and a droning mantra of simplistic slogans substituting for meaningful discourse, the board simply moves trouble-makers around from school to school until they get arrested, quit in frustration or finally do something bad enough to jolt even a "metacognition" specialist back to reality, however briefly.

On the otherhand, what can we do that is within reason? However tempting it might be to deal with the problem by taking the gun away from a kid who brings one to school and promptly shooting him with it, there are probably some legal ramifications there to be avoided.

At the very least, a kid who brings any kind of gun capable of doing any kind of harm to another human being should disappear immediately from Anne Arundel County public schools. Gone. Out. Goodbye. Done. Written off. History.

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