Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Public Schools: Every Story Has at Least 2 Sides

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Public Schools: Every Story Has at Least 2 Sides

Article excerpt

AMERICA'S PUBLIC schools have two faces.

One is the ugly face that we newspaper reporters write about most of the time - the face of gangs, violence, drugs, weapons and racial conflict.

Unfortunately, that's the face that our community has been fixated on in recent months.

A little over a year ago, in one of St. Louis' poorer neighborhoods, a 6-year-old girl stabbed a 10-year-old girl. The first-grader's mother had apparently told her not to let anyone push her around. So she grabbed a kitchen knife.

Earlier this year, a 15-year-old girl was raped and murdered in the restroom at McCluer North. As it turned out, the accused attacker was black, and the dead girl was white. The outpouring of racial animosity after the murder reminded us how fragile our advances toward racial harmony are.

Earlier this month, a student at Central Visual and Performing Arts school allegedly knocked down and kicked a teacher. Incredibly, many of the students in the class cheered - a response that should trigger soul-searching, from the parents and administrators of that school, up to the superintendent of schools.

I had a good close look at the ugly face of the public schools while writing stories recently on crime. At Sigel Community School, a policeman told me that he had identified six gangs working in the neighborhoods around the school.

Life in the community around the school amounted to little more than social anarchy. Only one-third of the students who started the school year were still there at the end. The reason is that so many families are unstable. Children often live with grandparents or other relatives, sometimes because their parents are hooked on drugs.

School officials and police were trying to lure some of the gang members off the street and into the school gym to get them into basketball leagues. The program is something of a success, but the problems seem overwhelming.

One boy, running down the basketball floor, dribbling the ball between his legs, has six siblings - all of whom he has lost touch with. Yet school officials have high hopes for him.

That young man and the school officials trying to lure the gang-members from the streets are part of the other face of America's public schools. …

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