Race, Discipline And Howard County Schools


January 02, 1994

Recently, several letters to the editor have been written to The Sun in response to a Nov. 7 column by Stephen Wallis, assistant principal at Wilde Lake High School. One response to the letter was written by Jack Thomas, a Social Studies teacher at the school. The letter was also signed by 35 staff members at the school. While we would not deny their freedom of speech, we do question their motive and intent. It now seems ironic that when Mr. Wallis arrives at the school, the same staff members that we have attempted to establish an exchange with are

jumping on his bandwagon.

While we agree with him on some points, there are some we do not agree with. We do not think that schools should stop listening to those who use race to question the motive of a teacher concerning an African-American child's education. It must not be the only question, but it should be included in the inquiry. We know racism exists in America, in Maryland, in Howard County and in our schools. To say that school systems should stop listening is idiotic at best.

We also agree that we need to restore discipline back into our schools. The comment that youngsters ought not be denied the opportunity to experience discipline as another avenue in promoting growth raises the question, what does that mean? We think to some staff members, it means sending the child off to Gateway.

The Parents Advisory Committee over the past several years has always advocated parents taking a vacation day and spending that day in their child's school. We thank Mr. Wallis for agreeing with us.

School systems requiring parents of disruptive students to accompany their children to class is another potentially good idea. We would, however, like to see more details on how the program was carried out in his previous school and what were the results.

The idea of children on suspension performing meaningful academic community service also has merit. Community service great as a proposal but the service should provide the student with a reinforcement of academic achievement.

The notions of charging parents of disruptive students for the time teachers spend on handling their concerns is ludicrous. Is the school system charging parents of gifted and talented students, parents of inclusion students or parents of special needs students? No. Parents already pay; it is called taxes.

The use of Breathalyzers on school grounds at school-sponsored events when a student is suspected of alcohol is another idea we cannot support. The police are trained to administer such tests. Besides, Breathalyzers do not detect the use of illegal drugs. If a student is under the influence of what might be an alcoholic beverage or illegal drug substance then the police should be called. Under no circumstances should the school administration be in the business of conducting such tests.

With respect to school administration providing an area of the school building that will be run like an ROTC program for unruly students, it seems like a subterfuge for the institution of a boot camp in the school. We doubt the parents at Centennial, Mount Hebron or any other county high school would want a boot camp program in their school, and neither do we want one at Wilde Lake.

We strongly disagree with the point that self-esteem is a feel-good, sunny exercise that undermines real education. Having pride in oneself is derived from seeing oneself in positive learning experiences. Some of us believe that when an educational system is committed to a level learning field, a student's self-esteem will increase. When that same student puts forth the effort, is very conscientious, masters the skills and is still not rewarded fairly and equitably, that is a crime.

It is our perception that this is a reality at Wilde Lake. Building self-esteem for those children before they drop out of our school system should be one of the primary concerns for the teachers at Wilde Lake.

We do need to rid our school of the double standard that exists. The belief is that the staff members who signed the letter may have created that double standard in respect to the treatment of our African-American students. Trying to eliminate that perception, the Wilde Lake High School Parent Advisory Committee Black Student Achievement Program several times requested teachers' attendance at our programs. The response that we have received is in the vernacular of Arsenio Hall; "It's a black thing," so do not attend. That notion needs to be erased.

We agree with the saying, "Let's go teach the students!" But remember what we teach, how we teach, who is doing the teaching and why we teach.

If the intent of Steve Wallis' commentary was to create discussion, then it accomplished its purpose. However, if it is going to be a plan for Wilde Lake High School, then some of these ideas need to, using a "Star Trek" comment, go where no idea has gone before: Space.

This is our official position on the points raised in his piece and we hope the school administration agrees.

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