Vouchers couldn't damage Southern High education

November 01, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

A NOTE TO those opposed to school vouchers: Take a tour of Baltimore's Southern High School.

But a word of caution: First read Stephen Henderson and Joe Mathews' report on Southern in the Friday Sun. You'll need to know which stairways and floors are off limits.

You might want to avoid Stairwells 5 and 6. That's per the advice of Southern's principal, Darline Lyles. Let's face it. She should know. It's for safety reasons, she said in Henderson and Mathews' article. Or, more accurately put, you could get your ass whipped.

Stay clear of the first floor. Students call it "the level of death." Does there sound to be much educating going on at Southern High School, oh ye opponents of school vouchers?

We've heard your arguments. You don't want public money used for school vouchers. School vouchers will ruin public education.

Read that Henderson- Mathews article and ask yourselves in what sense public education at Southern hasn't already been ruined.

Explain how you can be against the use of public money for school vouchers but for it to subsidize what's going on at Southern -- fights in the hallways, muggings, hallways strewn with trash, fires set in the stairwells.

Oh, yeah, public money for Southern is a much wiser investment of tax dollars than sending students who are actually interested in learning to Gilman or Roland Park Country Day School or St. Frances, is it not?

Well, it isn't. Parents of Southern's students have been robbed. They pay taxes to send their children to a public high school that is supposed to educate. What they get is the situation described at Southern. Parents of Southern students have been robbed as surely as if government officials had put a gun to their heads and stuck them up outright.

The purpose of school vouchers is to reimburse parents whose wallets have been plundered by officials who have promised them quality public education. When the government doesn't deliver, citizens deserve to be reimbursed.

At Southern, government hasn't delivered. It has failed to purge Southern of that one element that makes public education so pathetic today: those "students" who come to school not to learn, but to disrupt and create chaos.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke chastised the school system for letting 30 members of this philistine horde back into Southern after Lyles had given them the boot.

Robert Booker, the courageous soul who's expected to be the messiah that saves public education in Baltimore, has promised to open a school specifically geared to enlighten the philistines.

The cynic in me would urge him to build a moat around it, fill it with sharks and piranhas and house the philistines therein, not to be released until the finer points of civilization have been hammered into them.

Until that happens, proponents of school vouchers suggest that parents should have the right -- immediately or sooner -- to get their children away from the philistines.

Wanda Hardy, quoted in the Henderson-Mathews article, has already had a daughter murdered on Baltimore's streets. Her two younger daughters attend Southern. She told Henderson and Mathews that she fears "something terrible" will happen to one of her remaining daughters at Southern and that she wants to send them to private schools.

That's one of the purposes of school vouchers. Those parents who want their children to learn in a safe, clean, philistine-free environment should have the chance for them to do so. Parents of Southern students who feel that way should be assured they are not alone.

John Kramer, a spokesman for the Institute for Justice, pithily observed that "education is the only thing that doesn't come with a money-back guarantee these days."

The IFJ is embroiled in cases in Arizona, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin, defending school-voucher programs. Tomorrow, the IFJ will challenge Maine's law restricting school vouchers from being used for religious schools. Also tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether it will review the constitutionality of Wisconsin's school-voucher program.

Vouchers, Kramer says, "will allow parents to vote with their feet" regarding their trust in public education.

It's a pity Maryland has no school-voucher program. Parents of Southern High School students might want to do some foot-voting of their own.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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