This one's for all the chatterers. It's for the kibitzers and the whisperers and those who let it get out of hand. It's for all those who ever talked back to a teacher, rolled a marble across a classroom floor in midlesson, passed a note in class that was intercepted and read aloud, or hoisted a spitball when they thought the teacher was writing on the blackboard, only it turned out the old battle-ax had eyes in back of her head.
It's for everybody who ever had to stay after school. Lord, the sickening sound of that phrase -- "stay after school" -- with all its images of classmates headed for the playground, headed home, headed for freedom, and you're left behind, sitting in that stifling classroom, and maybe somebody will lock all the schoolhouse doors before you can get out, or you might not get out until dark, and you might get lost in the dark, might fall of the edge of the earth and disappear forever and, boy, will your parents holler at you then.
I know you're out there, all you veterans of after-school punishment. I can hear you writing. You're still finishing up the last of the 12,000 copies of that dreaded phrase: "I will not talk in class."
"Twelve thousand?" you'd ask your teacher.
"You want to try for 112,000?" she'd answer.
But times, we're reminded, do change. Stay after school? Small stuff. In Howard County, beginning this fall, kids who consistently act out in class (or cut class) will be sitting in classrooms on their own time.
Saturday mornings, 7: 30 until lunch time.
Won't Mom and Dad be delighted over that? Won't they be thrilled to rearrange their family schedules for this? Won't they love doing a sixth day of car pool?
Last week, the school board OK'd about $58,000 to operate Saturday schools at each of the county's 26 middle and high schools next year. It's part of a $400,000 overall effort to crack down on "chronically disruptive youth."
Who are these kids? The county says they're the ones who distract teachers and disrupt lessons, who make it difficult to conduct the business of teaching and learning. Such kids are estimated to be about 5 percent of the student population.
In Maryland, there are many who think Howard County has the best public school system in the state. Apparently, Howard County wishes to keep it that way.
If life imitates art, some will remember the movie "The Breakfast Club," in which Brat Packers such as Molly Ringwald and Emilio Estevez spent their detention hours in the school library on a Saturday morning, monitored only occasionally by some authority figure and spending most of their time doing the kind of things that got them in hot water in the first place.
But county officials say their Saturday school will be no movie set. They'll bring in teachers (who'll be paid $16 an hour) and students will face four hours of classwork. Some will receive individual attention on work they don't understand, or classes they've missed.
The reasoning is simple: Sometimes kids act out in class because they don't understand the work. For some of these kids, it's the last step before suspension.
Because we all went to school, and many of us have put kids through school, and some of us have taught school, we're all naturally experts in this subject, so here are a few thoughts that spring immediately to mind:
For nearly a decade, I taught at one of our local universities. The kids were uniformly well-mannered and attentive. After all, this was college. Nobody was forcing them to attend.
But once, I had a couple of wise guys who sat in the back row of class and spent much of an hour whispering to each other.
And this mere whispering was so annoying that I talked with them after class and told them not to sit near each other again. And it's made me wonder, ever since: If this mere whispering was so distracting, what's it like for school teachers with a room full of kids who are restless, who are fidgety, and a couple of kids are talking over here, and some others over there, and this kid wants to go to the lavatory, and this one's shooting paper clips with a rubber band, or polishing his zip gun, and half the class is yelling, "Help, Moose is after me"?
Saturday school looks like a reasonably civilized response to such behavior.
On the other hand, I went to junior high with a guy who was always life-and-death to pass. He was smart, but he had no attention span. When they handed out test papers, he'd scribble whatever answers came quickly into his head, just so he could hand in his paper and let his brain roam free.
He was hyperactive, only nobody figured it out. He had attention deficit disorder, only the phrase hadn't been invented yet. He was perceived as a bad kid. He just couldn't control the genetic roll of the dice inside his body.
Howard County will have to be careful. Very bright and sensitive people run that school system. But they surely don't want to punish kids who are already troubled and act out only because they don't know what else to do for attention.
Pub Date: 7/13/97