He Looks His Age, Doesn't Sound It


As a child of the '70s, when hair was long and ideas radical, I was never quite sure what to make of guys like Jamie Kendrick.

Back then, guys like Jamie were all young Republicans; crew cuts, striped ties and blue blazers.

Their politics were as stiff as their collars.

The rest of the world was whizzing by them and they were clutching desperately to their conservatism.

I didn't quite get them then. I still don't quite get them today.

Why does a 19-year-old university student want to be elected to the Howard County Board of Education? And how should the rest of us respond to it?

First, let me say, that Jamie Kendrick is not a Republican, a fact that simply adds to my befuddlement. (Labels were so much easier when I was 19).

Yes, he's got the short haircut, the tie, the blazer. But he's a card-carrying Democrat, although he is a little on the conservative side, a la Bill Clinton I assume.

Still, he's not that dyed-in-the-wool type of conservative I remember; the ones who were spouting dear old dad's politics with nary an original thought of their own.

On the contrary, Jamie Kendrick seems to have a lot of thoughts of his own.

I don't agree with all of them, but I have to admit he seems well informed, and as good or better than most school board candidates I've witnessed.

He's a former student member of the Howard County school board and the state Board of Education.

Besides, he's the only candidate who has his mother running his campaign organization.

He greets the press with a two-page biography and a 19-page treatise on his visions for the school system, which he calls "Establishing a New Direction: A Perspective From the Next Generation."

Both are well-written and professionally packaged.

Rather than run from the fact that he's young -- hardly an option, since he looks precisely his age -- Jamie confronts the issue head-on.

"I'm not your typical 19-year-old," he says. "I don't identify with [grunge rock star] Kurt Cobain, who killed himself because he couldn't find a better answer. I'm looking for a better answer."

And so what does Mr. Kendrick think?

* The school board has become a rubber stamp for the current administration and needs to take a stronger role in shaping policies.

* The community is too fractured by educational issues, including redistricting, special education and race relations. Steps should be taken to promote productive community involvement, including increased moves toward school-based management, improving ties with the business community and hiring a community affairs liaison to encourage community involvement.

* Howard County schools need to get back to basics. Not an original thought, but he makes a valid point when he says that new educational initiatives need to be closely scrutinized before they are instituted, lest the basics be sacrificed. (Howard County teachers should be happy to hear that one.)

As I've said, I don't agree with everything Mr. Kendrick thinks.

He does not, for example, agree with the decision to redistrict the Dorsey Hall community into Wilde Lake High School, favoring instead a "community schooling" approach.

Words like community schooling make my hair stand on end. Those were the words used to justify people's opposition to busing for integration, and it was more about race than a love of community.

But then Mr. Kendrick is a product of the racially diverse Howard High School and may not share my sensitivities nor my sense of urgency about achieving an integrated society.

He believes in open enrollment to achieve diversity. At least he believes in diversity.

The one thing that Mr. Kendrick is right on the money about is that his age is a formidable obstacle for him.

Some people just are not going to vote for a teen-ager to serve as a full-fledged member of the school board.

But I think he at least has earned the opportunity to be considered.

He's as good as a lot of candidates I've seen.

And he's definitely not your typical 19-year-old.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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