Bad Manners at Patterson

June 11, 1994

Baltimore City and Maryland state officials want the Hyde School, a New England boarding school, to take over the educationally bankrupt Patterson High School in East Baltimore. It now turns out that Patterson's problems extend to a lack of good manners, too.

Hyde's program stresses "character-building." It tries to inculcate in its students -- at its Maine school and at a troubled New Haven, Conn., public school -- the values of courage, integrity, leadership, curiosity and concern. It requires a heavy dose of parent participation.

Its founder, Joseph W. Gauld, has written a book, "Character First," in which he makes such dangerous observations as this: "My growing up taught me never to judge individuals by their mistakes or problems but rather by how they deal with them."

Yet when Mr. Gauld brought some of his students to perform at the school Monday evening, he and they were pelted with rude remarks, obscenities and shouts of "brainwashing," "liars" and "mind control."

The next day, 400 Patterson students walked out to protest this "cult" -- a word used by one of the top officials of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Cheering the protest were many of Patterson's teachers and administrators. Principal Leon Tillett Jr. didn't help matters when he took to a bullhorn to declare, "What I'm hearing you say is that Hyde's not listening. We are not a school in New England. We are a school in East Baltimore."

We wish Mr. Tillett hadn't been so specific, because the behavior of many of his students and teachers the past week has been embarrassing.

Educated people, and people who want to be educated, do not pre-judge. They do not take their frustrations out on people who have nothing to do with the cause of the frustrations, as those in the surly crowd did Monday evening in confronting the young performers from Hyde. Indeed, these Patterson students, parents and employees demonstrated Monday and Tuesday that they are desperately in need of what the Hyde School has to offer: a dose of character-building.

Reasonable people, educators, principals who are real leaders, will at least hear Hyde officials out, will listen to the details of the program and only then make informed decisions whether they want to be a part of it. After all, it is not as if Mr. Gauld were seeking to repair a machine with a only few broken parts. This one, as we say in Baltimore, has "gone up."

Maybe the Hyde School is on to something.

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