Racial division paralyzes progress HOWARD COUNTY

October 14, 1992

"There is no gain in playing the oppressor. And there is no gain in playing victim."

So said Jackie Brown, the Howard County school system's new human relations coordinator, while speaking to a group of parents and school officials at a meeting of the Black Student Achievement Program recently.

She could have easily been talking about BSAP itself, and the sad legacy of racial division and miscommunication that has hampered this program through most of its six years.

Members of the county school board and administrators at the highest level have been alternately defensive and ill at ease in the presence of BSAP members. Parents active in the group have been at times accusatory and unyielding in their demands. The effect has been that people on both sides quite simply have been talking past one another; gains that could have been made to help children have not been made.

A case in point strikes at the heart of BSAP: Improving the educational achievements of at-risk and disadvantaged youth.

The BSAP leadership says progress has been made to attract low-income families to their group. School officials say otherwise.

Not only does BSAP need to attract more low-income families, officials say, the group needs to do fewer programs that concentrate on improving self-esteem and more to boost the grade point average of students. BSAP representatives counter that they have done that.

Rather than address their obvious differences with complete candor, school officials have often turned quiet as a defense to what they perceive as an angry and volatile group of parents.

Those parents, in turn, have chosen not to bring up shortcomings of the program or to seek assistance to fix them. That this situation goes unresolved underscores the power of racial issues to paralyze many people.

In a year when the school system is putting great emphasis on improving human relations among students, it is unfortunate to see adults unable to communicate effectively among themselves.

It will be helpful, with Ms. Brown as a guide, if people begin talking with one another so that children will benefit.

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