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As Long as We Remember...

April 6, 2006

The Road Less Traveled

Chris Cavey

The education path of our children is the destiny of our culture and our society. Mankind, in general, has improved the species through the sharing of knowledge. It is desire for this knowledge that separates man from the balance of the animal kingdom.

Why, then, do elected officials in urban areas fight true progress toward the enlightenment of their constituency?

Most people, who are aware, know that the Baltimore City Public Schools System has a multiplicity of problems. Let's forget the iron bars on the windows, armed guards patrolling the hallways and the metal detectors. We will mark these items as "public safety" issues, just the same as the suburban neighborhood's local crossing guard.

Baltimore City Public Schools System has not been performing its duty to society. On every scale they are failing to provide the needed education for its students. They are consistently ranked last on every major evaluation; yet legislators in Annapolis resist changing the system.

Passionate pleas have been expressed from the state Senate floor. The BCPSS just needs a "little more time." This translates as "not in an election year." You see, state takeover means that a Republican governor will perhaps look the part of a hero. No one in the all Democrat city delegation wants to admit they couldn't fix the system with all the money that has been thrown at the school system.

These legislators do not want to buck the teacher unions and the administrators, who refuse to take proper responsibility for the continued failure of the schools. These teachers, all with job tenure and job security, elected them. The idea of running a school efficiently, like a business that would make employees accountable, is unacceptable. It just sounds "too Republican."

So, in the spirit of partisan politics, arms were twisted and deals were struck, and city students will again suffer in their downward spiral of poor education.

State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nancy Grasmick was vilified. A caring lady, who has worked with - and championed the school system where she lives - got too close to Ehrlich's world. She stepped over the line because she demanded accountability from a failing system.

Why wouldn't Baltimore City legislators want accountability? Do they not see this continued failure has placed their constituent's children in lifelong jeopardy? Why do they beg for money and openly squander it?

Their arguments sound like those of someone suffering from a drug addiction. They promise to seek treatment; they promise to get clean; but it never happens. Then tearfully they beg for another chance, another year.

These legislators could be demanding accountability, demanding more money, demanding the best schools, teachers and administrators in Maryland and getting what they want. After all they are part of the majority party and this is an election year.

All of the schools that the state has taken over previously already out-score BCPSS schools. They all operate more efficiently and have an accountability component within their structure. They have also created pride in accomplishment from the students and involvement with the other teaching component - the one at home.the parent(s).

The real story is what happens once you get a student into a classroom and sitting behind a desk. It then continues past the metal detectors, past the thugs and street gangs into the place the student calls home. There are two major areas where formal education needs to reside before it can become effective - a place to learn, and a place to practice what you have learned.

The responsibility of teaching comes with being a parent. Every parent wants to hear their child say their first word or watch them take their first step. They hold the child by both hands above their head and practice walking. Parents stare in a baby's face and repeat "say Mommy, say Daddy" over and over and the child learns. Phone calls are made to the relatives. It is pride being shared with other parents.

Why, after the act of potty training, does this seem to stop? Even if you think it is your government's responsibility to train your child, what about the idea of "practice makes prefect?"

Instead of repeating "Mommy and Daddy," perhaps multiplication tables need the same repetition 10 years later. Maybe even a call or two to a grandparent or relative; at least a pat-on-the back and acknowledgement of a job well done to that 11-year-old would be motivating.

Formal knowledge only comes to someone because they're motivated to absorb it. That motivation could be spawned from self-pride and the desire to succeed. Teachers can and do inspire students. But it is what happens at home that reinforces the school experience.

Not all problems are created or solved in Annapolis.

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