In Lean On Me, Principal Clark cleans house by dismissing the troublemakers who have prevented the school from achieving the district's expectations on test scores.
Most of us saw Morgan Freeman portray Joe Clark, the once doomed principal who is now heralded for turning around a low performing, inner-city school named Eastside High in Paterson, New Jersey. Most of us remember this intense scene in the movie when Mr. Clark placed students identified as "troublemakers" on the stage to publicly and formally dismiss them from the school. He qualified what he meant by troublemakers - 5+ year students, drug dealers, drug users, gang members etc. Although Morgan Freeman's performance in the auditorium was one of the best parts of the movie for me, the best part of the auditorium scene is the elation shown by the students seated in the auditorium as the troublemakers were escorted out of school. And did you catch the relief and joy on the teachers' faces when they saw this demonstration of support from their leader? It was the boost that Eastside High needed to propel them to defy the odds and do what everyone said low income students can't do - achieve.
Now all that sounds good for the movies, one may say, but what we can't forget is in this instance - art imitated life.
So I pose this question: How long will we continue to hold our students and teachers hostage by not holding students with habitual behavior offenses accountable?
Let me be clear before I proceed, this conversation is not about who's right, but what's right. I implore you to process and comment in that context.
I won't be long winded on this, but I do want to leave you with a few thoughts to get the discussion started:
- Is it possible to do a Joe Clark "dismissal" in our urban, low performing school systems today?
- I am told that students cannot be suspended more than 10 days in a school year, what happens when students commit another offense that warrants suspension? I'm asking for the professional protocol that teachers/administrators have to go through when this happens.
- Are there any consequences for parents if their children continually demonstrate they cannot behave at school?
- Are schools supposed to be in the business of rehabilitation or education?
Let's look at the baseball angle for example. Black males make up about 6% of baseball student-athletes in the NCAA. Regardless of the lie that the media tries to sell this country - BLACK BOYS DO PLAY BASEBALL - especially here in metro-Atlanta. Why is our representation so low? Consider this. Black athletes carry with them the PERCEPTION of laziness, lack of discipline, lack of loyalty and a social mesh of issues that most coaches prefer to pass on. Such is the perception that all Black folks have to fight, but let's stay focused on athletes for now. When you see a Black Athlete at a predominately White college, rest assured that he/she is working his/her buns off to fight off a perception that they may not even embody. For those who do embody this negative perception, however, where do they get this notion that they can come to practice any time they want to (yeah, we talkin' about practice), wear their uniform however they want (if they have on the correct uniform at all) and curse their teammates and coaches out, but still get to keep their scholarship?
Could it be that they have been raised/educated by public school systems that have allowed them to run amuck for so long that they think this is how the world works? Could it be they can't keep a job because they have become accustomed to bucking authority while still being able to enjoy the benefits as if they have met and kept the standard?
These are all questions and thoughts that are heavy on my spirit right now.
We must remember as adults the discipline that we endured as children that helped us to become the accountable citizens we are today. Accountable, not perfect.
Accountability doesn't mean giving up - it can be one the best demonstrations of love we can show our children.
I welcome your comments.
Written by: Guest Blogger - Kelli Stewart