Pupils need advocates, not enablers

August 30, 1992|By PHIL GREENFIELD

The school year begins as ugly charges of racism are bandied about the community.

Psychotherapist Orlie Reid, a member of the newly formed Committee for Educational Equity and counselor to the 15 Annapolis youths expelled for initiating the Riva Road free-for-alls this past spring, charges that black students as well as his

clients are being "thrown away" by county schools.

Tendencies toward violence, he argues, are encouraged by the disdain in which black youths are held.

Pointing to proportionally higher suspension and expulsion rates, Reid concludes, "All the old rules and regulations don't take into consideration the special circumstances of a lot of minority and low-income kids. There's a negative perspective many people have about black kids; therefore, the kids react to it."

People who make such accusations believe they are a part of the solution to the problem. I disagree. I believe that, to a significant extent, they are the problem.

There is a big difference, you see, between an advocate and an enabler.

An advocate stands up and fights for the best interests of those he represents.

Enablers, on the other hand, are individuals who minimize an abuser's responsibility for his own dysfunctional actions, but wind up perpetuating that same destructive behavior.

In his attempts to excuse and explain away the mindless thuggery that resulted in injury to Annapolis Principal Laura Webb (a middle-aged black woman, by the way) and another staff member , Dr. Reid crosses the line from advocacy to full-blown enabling.

But rhetorical overkill is the least troubling of Dr. Reid's bill of indictments. With all due respect, I think the message he's sending is 180 degrees removed from the one the kids need to hear.

From Officer Simpson to Alderman Snowden, volunteers have visited Annapolis to preach the gospel of success to students: Self-discipline, self-reliance, self-esteem, dignity, a respect for knowledge and achievement.

But comes the Reid rejoinder: These things are all well and good, but if you're black and live in subsidized housing, it's perfectly understandable that you'd walk into a public building and start ,, beating other human beings senseless for no reason whatsoever.

Talk about the undoing of a positive message.

This all-too-familiar litany of victimization appeals to every negative instinct these kids have. It is nothing but industrial-strength self-fulfilling prophecy [that goes like this] -- "The system (whatever that is) doesn't give a damn about you. You're just a powerless, hapless victim and anything you do, no matter how harmful, is excusable since everything is beyond your control."

So comfortable. So pat. And so wrong.

In the public schools, there are hundreds upon hundreds of people standing on their heads for these young people 180-plus days a year. You bet we have problems and, yes, we desperately need the help of public spirited citizens. But every single day there are teachers, administrators, counselors, aides, secretaries and even custodians, for heaven's sake, doing their damnedest to keep kids on the right track. Many of these caring, qualified people are black but, as long as I'm about to commit heresy anyway, let me also say that many are white. Dr. Reid's naive pronouncements, removed from reality as they are, constitute a harsh slap in the face to every well-intentioned professional out there fighting the good fight.

Our kids need enablers like they need a hole in the head, but oh how they do need advocates. If I belonged to the Committee for Education Equity, I'd be screaming blue murder the moment anyone even thought of cutting funds for the Maryland's Tomorrow program, or the recruitment of black teachers, or for pre-kindergarten classes.

I'd want to try new things. Maybe some schools around here should never close. Day teachers could leave at 3:00 p.m., but new supervisors would arrive and the kids could stay on. If a

crummy home environment is hampering development, don't send the kid home until you have to. Would it help? Maybe. Costly? You bet.

Advocacy is what we need.

But the initial communiques from the Committee for Education Equity are disappointing.

I see no emphasis placed on what the kids are going to do in school, or on how we adults -- all of us together -- are going to help them do it. That is a shame. For only when a love of children overwhelms the instincts to pose, bash and rationalize, will we have truly begun to overcome.

Phil Greenfield, who reviews classical music for the Anne Arundel County Sun, teaches social studies at Annapolis Senior High School.

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