In the July 14 Port News, my earlier critique of the Schreiber administration's decision to cancel classes was roundly attacked by a local resident. Such an effort at dialogue, especially on a matter of some concern to the community, would normally be welcome. In this case, however, the writer missed completely both the theme and tone of my criticism and set forth an angry screed condemning both students and parents. That's not much of a basis for dialogue, but I'll try.
First of all, I have to object to the angry characterization of Mr. Parker's letter dealing with the principal's decision. It is sometimes difficult to accept with equanimity the views of others who disagree with us - especially perhaps when they are much younger. But to simply dismiss an opposing view as "uncalled for" and "irritational" suggests that the writer's anger has distorted his judgment.
That his judgment is questionable is further evidenced by his view of the school as a corporation. It is difficult to believe that the writer does not know that unlike corporations, schools cannot reduce costs by dropping expensive "lines" (such as handicapped students) and close out "costly areas" (such as special education), and concentrate on core business by "firing" underachievers. Schools deal not with products but with people, with potential, not profit. But even if, for argument's sake, we accept the analogy, then students must be the "customers." And who ever heard of a corporation denying its customers access to its product, as the principal's decision to cancel classes did.
The most egregious criticism of my letter came in the section in which the writer lashes out at the alleged failure of Port Washington parents to discipline their children. Even I ("you") am accused of being in favor of shifting to the schools the responsibility of bringing up this community's children. Having spent nearly 40 years teaching teenagers, I can assure the writer that neither I nor my colleagues ever rushed to assume parental responsibility for the thousands of students we taught. My own two were enough.
The writer seems convinced that it was a large majority of the student body who were the problem. It is too bad he is not aware of the cumulative record of these students - their academic successes, their wide and varied community service, their athletic, literary, musical, dramatic successes, etc. which bring luster to this community. We are proud of these young men and women and can only conclude they are the product of parents who take their responsibilities very seriously.
In the interest of re-focusing the debate, my criticism can be summarized as follows: I believe the principal's decision to shut down the school represented a failure of imagination and spirit. His decision allowed a potentially disruptive minority to deprive the majority of time and experiences that were theirs by right and by law. It was not, as my critic apparently assumes, an either-or situation: either allow a repetition of disruptive behavior by the few or cancel classes for all. A more reasonable alternative was to take steps to prevent the disruption. I cannot understand how, in the course of year-long meetings with the students, the administration was unable to formulate a plan that would assert its authority, safeguard the rights of the majority, and forestall the disruption. I taught in a nearby school that faced a similar problem. The administration, working with teachers, students and aides, worked out plans that assured good order on the last day of school. The task is not impossible. It does demand imagination and determination, two qualities sadly lacking last June.
We cannot repeal June's mistakes but we can recognize that the Schreiber administration, in their response to a threat by a disruptive minority, has set a troubling precedent. I hope that the board will advise the administration that canceling classes for fear of student misbehavior is not an option.
Appeasement does not deter bullies.