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Kids no longer make room for respect


The story disappeared from the headlines soon after it happened. O. J. Simpson kind of blew away other news, even locally.

But I am still shocked by this unconscionable event. The headline screeched -- "Three Pupils Charged in Poison Try."

On June 18 three fifth-grade students at Rodgers Forge Elementary School attempted to poison their teacher by lacing his root beer with rubbing alcohol, ammonia and bleach. The teacher had left the room to call in his students from recess.

The day before that, a 16-year-old Columbia youth was charged with spraying carburetor cleaner into his auto shop teacher's can of Diet Coke.

One teacher did not have to go to the hospital; the other teacher was treated, released and was back in the classroom the next day.

I wonder what the outcry would have been if the teachers had died as a result of the heinous crime? I would hope national outrage and attention would be focused on what is wrong with kids today.

The next day I talked to two friends, and both of them were equally shocked. They agreed that even back in the turbulent '60s, when they were in school, this would not have happened. Both told me that it was their parents who taught them right from wrong and that coming late to class was about as far as they went in misbehavior.

I volunteered in a city school last year, because I know they are short-handed. The teachers were great, erudite, kind and caring. I watched as these trained professionals gave all they had to the kids and the learning process. But the pupils brought to the classroom undisciplined behavior along with their cute backpacks.

Cutting to the chase -- the teachers are not the problem. The caliber of parenting is different now, too different.

We all know that changing socioeconomic factors have produced more single parents, two-income families, drugs and guns -- making it a very different era.

A Baltimore City school suspension counselor (who asked that her name be withheld) and I talked about the tainted soda pop event.

She was a longtime teacher, then a counselor, then retired, then came back to become in 1990 a suspension counselor. Now 68, she's seen it all.

"Parents do not have the support system they used to have. There were more stable families when there were grandparents, aunts, neighbors who helped out. But most of all, the environment is changed. It is no longer secure."

The counselor thinks that the biggest problem is that children are having children, and these very young people don't know how to parent.

"But the change that worried me the most is that parents are afraid to come to the school and talk," she adds.

"Don't get me wrong, the parents love their children, but they don't know how to correct them constructively."

"Back in the '70s, parents took part in the school. They formed parent groups, they talked and they listened. We had more programs."

Shirley Curtain, 58, a retired teacher and one-time principal of a Baltimore City School, says: "Children don't respect authority like they used to. I remember calling in a parent about a child who refused to follow directions in class, and she said, 'but we have so much fun in our family, we do everything together. Why just the other night we had a food fight in the kitchen . . . food was everywhere.' "

Shirley, a working mother, remembers teachers having to cope with food fights in the cafeteria. She thinks respect is the key word. She, too, suggests more parent involvement, more team sports and quality interaction between parents and children.

Crime and violence in the schools and lack of discipline are all just emblematic of our violent society. I, too, think respect is the linchpin. Children have no respect for themselves, each other, their teachers or their parents.

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