Last Lesson of Wilde Lake

May 25, 1994

There is one last lesson to learn from Columbia's old Wilde Lake High School before it is demolished at the end of this school year. It is a lesson about how easily beguiled we are by the new and supposedly innovative; and because of this predilection, how willing we are to dispose of old traditions and values.

It was only 1971 when Wilde Lake opened to much fanfare because of its open classrooms and unstructured curriculum. It was considered a model of its time, born of a rebellious era that strained against old rules and customs.

Howard County students there could take whatever courses they wanted whenever they wanted, and they never, ever failed. (They either passed courses or got "incompletes.") The school's airy, communal design was meant to foster interaction between staff and students, a trait less emphasized in the starkly regimented environs of previous school construction.

While other institutions survived decades, even centuries, it is worth noting that Wilde Lake, in more ways than one, has survived less than 25 years.

The workmanship, considered modern two decades ago, proved so shoddy it could not even serve as a foundation for a renovation. A new school will be built in its place. The design that was once heralded nationwide actually fostered chaos in the school's hallways and classrooms. The program's lack of structure left too many students floating through high school without clear goals.

What was once Howard County's premier high school served out its final years with an image badly tarnished by a nasty redistricting battle. It was not an image entirely deserved. There was still much good that went on within Wilde Lake's walls, due in large part to a strong, committed staff of teachers and administrators. Among its many successes was a superb theatrical arts department, a legacy from which the new Wilde Lake High will continue to reap benefits.

The Wilde Lake of yesterday was also a school of rich cultural diversity, both racially and economically. While the nation reflects on the 40 years since the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schooling, Wilde Lake can bask in the knowledge that all people were embraced and respected within its walls. A new Wilde Lake will open in two years, revamped in substance and spirit. But its legacy of diversity and quest for excellence are traditions that can not be demolished or replaced.

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