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The Failure of the Patterson High Plan


This past week, state education officials approved a plan by Baltimore educators to revamp Patterson High School. The state had called for "reconstitution" of Patterson and another Baltimore high school, Douglass, because of low achievement test scores, high dropout rates and other problems. Initially, city school administrators were working with The Hyde Foundation of Bath, Maine, to develop a plan for Hyde to manage Patterson. That plan was dropped by Walter G. Amprey, Baltimore's school superintendent, after opposition by Patterson students, faculty and parents. In this article, Joseph Gauld, president of the Hyde Foundation and author of "Character First: The Hyde School Difference," talks about what he learned from the failed Patterson plan.

The last time I encountered an angry and hostile group like the one Hyde students and teachers faced in the Patterson auditorium, I was an 18-year-old sailor at the end of World War II, who came upon a mob of Hawaiians about to dismember two sailors. With several drinks under my belt, I suddenly found myself confronting them, shouting that we were all on the same side.

To my amazement, they stopped and started listening. I then made the mistake of reminding them 100 vs. 2 simply wasn't fair; one of the biggest men I have ever seen pushed forward muttering, "I don't need no help." Fortunately for me, at that moment the police came.

The episode taught me that even the most unruly group has a deeper and fairer leadership -- a conscience if you will -- to help us transcend our baser emotions and solve our problems with our larger compassion, wisdom, and grace.

But I have yet to see the Baltimore conscience in the Patterson decision. I can see conscience in Dr. Amprey. I can see it in The Baltimore Sun editorials. But at this point I can neither see nor understand the conscience of the Baltimore people.

My own feelings to the contrary, Hyde in fact might not have

been the right solution for Patterson. But even the most casual observer knows that right and wrong had little to do with the final decision.

The case for the Hyde approach -- whether due to my inability to communicate it or of those to hear it -- was never made. The outcome was purely and simply a political one. And when politics can triumph over understanding in education, we must acknowledge the bankruptcy of what we are calling education.

I am not now surprised at how Hyde was received at Patterson. When people call your school the worst in the state, and you have pride in that school, there is going to be frustration, anger and bitterness that must be expressed before anyone can move on. And Hyde became the scapegoat.

On top of this, new concepts like Hyde are difficult to understand, and the radical changes required in the roles of students, parents and teachers alike even more difficult to accept. I learned too late that I should have shut up about our new Character First approach, and instead, focused the first year on improving discipline, structure and accountability -- an educational foundation for which Hyde has developed a national reputation.

What does surprise me, once the immediate feelings about Hyde were expressed, is why the other shoe hasn't dropped: the time for inquiry, discussion and understanding of at least what the Hyde proposal was all about. An exception was the leadership students at Patterson who met with Dr. Amprey and Hyde representatives, and who later indicated to Dr. Amprey they would support him. But assuming Patterson's plight is a larger community concern, who or what is expressing Baltimore's conscience?

Dr. Amprey and I are now returning to our original plan of establishing a citywide Hyde magnet school. But I remain concerned that people don't really grasp the deeper problems at Patterson, which exist in every American school today; it is only a difference of degree. There is a national feeling that if teachers, parents and students would just do their jobs, our educational problems would go away. This unproductive blame game is slowly undermining America's confidence in itself.

As a dedicated teacher, I realized 32 years ago that we are all stuck in an unsound educational system that fails to draw upon the deeper potentials of students, teachers and parents alike. Psychologist Howard Gardner at Harvard has identified seven distinct human intelligences, of which only two are favored by today's very narrow academic learning process. So for kids who aren't born with above average quantitative and verbal abilities, or at least born into academically oriented families, their only remaining chance is to have parents who can buy them a better education.

This is exactly what happens at Patterson. Once you skim off the kids whose parents can send them to private schools, or who have the right abilities or background to attend citywide schools, the more serious Patterson students who are left are swamped by kids whose deeper potentials and sense of purpose are largely untouched, and who have neither the foundation nor the interest to do serious academic work. The absentee rate I saw at Patterson was about 50 percent daily, and 50 percent of the grades recorded were failures.

The Hyde concept is centered on the belief each youngster has been gifted with a "unique potential." Its Character First curriculum levels the playing field -- any kid can get an "A" in character -- and motivates kids by addressing their wide range of intelligences, potentials, backgrounds and personalities. This challenging process prepares students for a rigorous academic experience -- why 97 percent of Hyde graduates end up in four-year colleges.

Finally, the Hyde concept has been painstakingly developed over a 29-year span and is now proving itself in an inner-city school in New Haven. Given the present state of Baltimore schools, surely an educational innovation as deeply rooted as Hyde deserves a more careful evaluation than its plan received for Patterson. For the sake of Baltimore kids, I hope the Baltimore conscience will elevate future educational discussions to a more thoughtful level, and the kind of fairness that has been the hallmark of the American society.

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