Critic's letter betrays a lack of perspective on minorities

September 13, 1992|By Orlie W. Reid

I wish to thank Phil Greenfield for his article in the Anne Arundel County Sun (Aug. 30), "Pupils need advocates, not enablers."

The article confirms my assertion that the effects of experience and life circumstances of many low-income minority students are not considered by the Mr. Greenfields of the world. They are quite comfortable interpreting all behavior and attitude according to their perspective, misperceiving and misrepresenting motive and behaviors, and blaming people for circumstances they had no part in developing.

Contrary to Mr. Greenfield's assessment of my philosophy (i.e., that I coddle and enable students to feel helpless, and excuse their negative behavior), I have never, in my professional or personal life, either verbally or behaviorally, supported unacceptable behavior.

I believe the strength of any human being lies in the ability to assess obstacles and develop appropriate responses.

It is nonsense and slander for Mr. Greenfield to suggest that I condoned the fighting among students at Annapolis High School last spring, or that I accept any other misbehavior.

As subtle as he tried to be, Mr. Greenfield attempted to reduce my training and my experiences as an African American and a professional to naivete. But then, Mr. Greenfield knows nothing about me -- in fact, we have never met.

I am a psychotherapist with 25 years' experience in the field of human behavior. I have been a public school teacher, a national trainer of, and consultant to, educators and members of boards of education, a college teacher, and an assistant dean of minority affairs at a major university. My involvement in Anne Arundel community affairs is extensive and a matter of public record.

Mr. Greenfield either did not check or chose to ignore my background, and assumed that I was incapable of determining the obstacles that minority and low-income children face and developing solutions that enable these children to reach their God given potential.

Mr. Greenfield's misrepresentation of me and my philosophy is the same problem many children contend with in school every day and is the basis of my efforts and those of the Committee for Educational Equality -- which he considers a part of the problem.

The Committee is composed of the African American leadership in this community, individuals who are competent, knowledgeable, and committed to a level playing field for all students. Mr. Greenfield suggests that we are misguided. How does he know if he doesn't know us?

His theme seems to be that that victim is the problem, despite reams of studies to the contrary. How can anyone (students for example) with no power and few resources, hindered by discriminatory attitudes, be responsible for his or her circumstances?

This is ridiculous as Mr. Greenfield's suggestion that our only concern should be the proper behavior of students. If they misbehave, we should label them as deficient, and expose them to the eternal wrath of the system.

This makes the very point that causes me and my colleagues to act. We must acknowledge the reality of one's circumstances. This acknowledgment enhances self-esteem and makes it possible to encourage different behavior patterns.

It is within that context that teachers, administrators, and others who work with students can view them with empathy, and not let skewed perceptions and negative attitudes fuel problems. This understanding establishes an environment that allows a student feel that he or she has worth and dignity, and makes it easier to teach students new ways of solving problems.

Mr. Greenfield suggested that I had a problem with Mrs. Webb,the principal at Annapolis Senior High School. Quite the contrary. I have no problem with her, she had no choice but to expel the students, and she knows how I feel.

This suggestion was a frequently occurring game: set black professionals against one another so subtle discriminatory practices can continue unabated. He attempted the game when he contrasted Mr. Carl Snowden's "good" deeds with my "misguided" ones. Mr. Snowden is also a member of the committee, and shares my views and actions. How is he a positive force, then? It cannot work both ways.

I was angry when I read the article because I was faced with a perception that negated all my training and experience. Unlike the students, however, I have learned ways of behavior that do not make me the problem. How would students in Mr. Greenfield's class react to similar disregard?

Since Mr. Greenfield obviously has followers of his position, I will gladly debate our differences in a public forum. Maybe we both can learn something from such an exchange as well as provide substance to our views.

Orlie W. Reid is a practicing psychotherapist with a private practice in Annapolis.

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