Taking the pledge Howard County: Code of conduct may not change behavior, but sends the right message.

September 18, 1996

CAN A PROMISE improve behavior in Howard County schools? That remains uncertain. But leaders of student, teacher and parent groups are convinced that incivility rules too many county classrooms; alas, it's a lament in schools nationwide. The recently adopted good-conduct pledge for Howard's school system aims to instill more respect and courtesy in students.

It is worth noting that the pledge was not a mandatory construction imposed by county officials. Rather, the PTA council, the Howard County Education Association and student government came up with the idea because of their frustrations over escalating misconduct. Teachers cite as examples of misbehavior students who arrive late to class, refuse to do classwork and talk back to instructors who chastise them.

Over the past three years, suspensions of county middle and high school students have increased by 60 percent; suspensions for insubordination in those schools have doubled in one year. There are unresolved arguments about whether suspensions are imposed fairly among students of racial and cultural backgrounds. But regardless of whether all suspensions are meted out fairly, it is impossible to overlook the distressing rise in their numbers.

Students review school rules at the beginning of each academic year and should be acutely aware of behaviors that can lead to suspension. The good-conduct pledge is yet another effort to bring students in line. Skeptics may dismiss the pledge as just another plea for disruptive students to ignore, but it can't hurt.

The pledge simply asks children to be punctual, courteous, respectful of the personal space and property of others and for them to follow directions, complete assignments and take responsibility for their actions. No one could argue against these tenets, just as no one could seriously disagree that a child should "just say no" to drugs.

In fact, those who would suggest that mottoes are meaningless should look at the increase in teen marijuana use after the nation strayed from Nancy Reagan's anti-drug campaign. Likewise, the Howard school pledge will be useful, if for no other reason than to express a growing intolerance toward destructive behavior among young people.

Pub Date: 09/18/96

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