Magnet schools and skinheads

March 01, 1993

Contrasting reports in The Evening Sun recently from Baltimore County on the state of public education proved to be both uplifting and deflating.

One report detailed the immense enthusiasm of teachers, administrators and students for a magnet program in math and science being crafted for Woodlawn High School. It is one of seven intensified programs of study being developed in the county, at the behest of first-year Superintendent Stuart D. Berger. The strategy isn't unique. It has been successful elsewhere, including Baltimore City. What does seem refreshing is that with many reforms bogged down in politics these days, the county's magnet initiative is generating much energy.

Teacher Tom DeGraziano, who is coordinating the magnet program at Woodlawn, talks of trying to reach kids who "are built as explorers. . . I'm looking for a student who is highly interested and committed. I don't want a student who's [here because] his parent wants him to be here." Any adult can certainly recall classmates from his or her youth who seemed brilliant but didn't fit into the school "routine"; possibly this program will attract a few of those teens as well as those who typically excel.

If Baltimore County's emerging magnet schools reflect the best in public education, another story about racist student fashions epitomized the worst in what educators must deal with.

The principal of Patapsco High School in Dundalk recently banned students from wearing Nazi symbols, Confederate flags, red or white shoe laces -- "white power" symbols -- as well as black-power symbols. The school, which has about 1,000 white students, 40 black students and 50 "skinheads," had become a Petri dish for the ignorance and bigotry of some teens.

The incidents should not smear the entire school. Also, the administration should be commended for recognizing a problem that had gone undetected by some parents of the students involved.

Ironically, a thread does tie together the disparate tasks at Woodlawn and Patapsco. One goal of the magnet programs is to attract students from well-off, white neighborhoods to poorer black communities to provide better racial balance in the system; at Patapsco as well, the task at hand is to build a bridge between races. Erasing prejudice, by appealing to the curiosity in young minds or by scrubbing rot from young hearts, is, unfortunately, a major and necessary occupation for the schools.

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