Northern High's message: Discipline is the problem

November 22, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

Ms. Alice Morgan Brown, principal of Northern High School (which means you're the bravest woman walking the face of the earth right now), here's a suggestion for you on how to silence your critics:

Invite them to take your place as principal of Northern for just one day. They figure they know more about running a troubled urban high school than you do. They've ignored your pleas to get more involved in the school system. So give them a shot at it. Those who wimp out and refuse, you should simply exhort to shut the hell up.

On Tuesday, Brown suspended nearly en masse Northern's student body for refusing to return to homeroom class. Some 1,200 of 1,800 students got the heave-ho. (That's two-thirds for you students who don't know how to reduce a fraction to its lowest terms, 67 percent for those of you weak on percentages. If you couldn't do this simple math, dear students, you really needed to get your butts back into class as your principal urged. That is assuming, of course, you even bother to read this.)

On Wednesday, the fallout began. The problem wasn't disobedient, unruly students. It was this Brown woman, what with her silly notions that, as principal of Northern, she was somehow in charge. Brown must have been pining away for those days of yesteryear, when, if a principal told students that a Chihuahua could pull a tractor, students wouldn't ask any questions. They'd just hitch the little fur-ball up.

Brown later said the mass suspensions were meant only to send a message to parents that they needed to get more involved in school and disciplining their children. The suspensions should send another message, one that city teachers and principals have been saying for years. The main problem with Baltimore middle and high schools is the dreaded d-word: discipline.

Teachers can't teach without it. Students can't learn without it. A perspicacious Northern lass who, understandably, didn't want to identified, said as much after the suspensions. She was glad for them, she said, because it meant the next day that only those students actually interested in learning would be in class.

We should listen to this young woman. She's on to a truth that school officials have not yet faced. That truth is this: There are large numbers of students, especially in the high schools, who care not one iota about learning. They'd much rather be disrespectful, rude, disruptive and an obstacle to those students who do want to learn. Dealing with such students is the reason former Northwestern High School Principal Boyse Mosley is at the Charles Hickey School today instead of in Baltimore public schools where he is desperately needed.

What do we do with such students? Student Anonymous says we should get them out of the schools so that she and students like her can get on with the business of learning. She has a point. Brown was on the right track when she told some 1,200 students to take a hike for one or two days. Perhaps we should tell those "students" whose ultimate goal in life is to be ignorant, unemployed or underemployed to take a hike from public schools permanently.

"Our schools are institutions of learning," we should tell them. "Be about that or be gone."

Will we do it? Of course not. We have a new school board, selected by the mayor and governor with a minimum of input from Baltimore citizens, that spent the summer patting itself on the back before accomplishing anything at all. Its members swooned when interim schools chief Dr. Robert Schiller said some things critical of city public schools that everyone wanted to hear, because then we could all pass the buck and the blame to departed Superintendent Walter Amprey.

When teachers recently demonstrated outside school headquarters, this same board decided to keep them and anybody else interested in its proceedings out, thus conveying a message that the new board feels it is accountable to no one.

Lost in the new school board's rapture for itself and Schiller and in the crisis with city teachers was that still unresolved matter of discipline. What do we do with those students who are simply unimpressed by both Schiller and the new board? Did we all PTC really think that because we had a new school board and a new school chief that disruptive and unruly students would somehow be intimidated into changing?

The crisis at Northern is the school board's and Schiller's wake-up call as to what the real problem is in city schools.

Welcome to the terror dome, folks.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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