REGINA SMITH SAT IN her dining room, talking about her 26 years in the trenches. Twenty-six years of fighting the good fight. Twenty-six years of teaching in the city's elementary schools. Over 2 1/2 decades of trying to change world views.
Actually, Smith said the real shift in children's outlooks and values didn't come until about five years ago. That's when she noticed that second-graders who should have been coming to school with the smiles and grins of happy 7-year-olds were, instead, coming to school angry.
"They come in cussing and fussing," said Smith, who teaches at a city elementary school she'd prefer not to name. "I've never seen such young people filled with such anger."
The case of the 8-year-old boy who uttered a vulgar phrase that got Principal Colyn Harrington fired from Johnston Square Elementary School isn't an isolated incident. Smith heard one of her boys repeat the exact phrase.
"That principal who told that little boy she was going to cut his thing off -- I probably would have done the same thing," Smith commented. She didn't, or she might have joined Harrington among the ranks of former school personnel. Instead, she took the lad aside and let him know that such language would not be tolerated. Still, she wonders why school officials portrayed Harrington as the one who had done something "grossly wrong."
"In both cases the children were the ones who did something grossly wrong," Smith lamented.
Smith is tired of folks scapegoating Baltimore's teachers, tired of people pointing the finger of blame at her and her colleagues as the reason why children aren't learning.
"The curriculum is good, and the teachers are dedicated," Smith said of the city system. She said most folks are reluctant to point an accusing finger at the parents of those children who come to school angry, who come to class speaking vulgarities.
Most folks, but not Smith.
"Some parents don't know how to parent," she said. "Some parents don't know their kid isn't supposed to stay up until 11 o'clock at night."
Anyone inclined to think Smith exaggerates should try this experiment: When the weather warms up in April and May, take a stroll through the city around 10 or 11 on a school night. Watch for the number of school-age children -- and I'm not talking teens here, I'm talking kids in the age range that Smith teaches -- who are still out on the street. Then ask yourself whether the parents of these children have prepared them for school the next day.
"Every day I see evidence of parents not taking responsibility," Smith continued. Just last week, two parents sent their children to school sick even after the kids told them they didn't feel well. Smith had to send the kids to the school nurse.
Another parent sent the child to school with ringworm. Smith asked the child if he knew he had ringworm.
"Oh yeah," the kid answered, "my mama told me." Smith was stunned at the ignorance of a parent who failed to grasp the simple fact that parents don't send children to school with the highly contagious disease.
There are examples less egregious but just as important. Smith sees a lack of respect and listening skills -- two elements crucial to educating -- among some children.
"The parent must teach respect and listening skills," Smith said. "I can have a kid with a brain the size of a pea, but if he listens, he'll get something."
Smith would be the first to say that not all parents are bad. But even those who do help their kids with their homework, who see that their children get to bed at a decent hour and who teach their little ones respect and listening skills suffer because of those parents who don't. Children sent to school by clueless parents create discipline problems.
"I spend a good portion of my day reprimanding and getting order," Smith noted, echoing another 20-year-plus veteran and frequent critic of the city school system, Charles Dugger.
Like Dugger, Smith sees the shift from a junior high school to a middle school system -- which placed less-mature sixth-graders with older students -- as helping to bring about the current crisis in city education.
"It was one of the school system's stupidest moves," Smith said. "That's part of the reason we're having so much trouble now."
The two city schoolteachers with over 20 years' experience each have told the folks running the system what is wrong and of the need to impose greater discipline to fix it.
A superb educator, Boyse Mosley, left the system and told those running it he would no longer deal with youngsters whose crude behavior and language made them more of a barbarian horde than children.
Is anyone down on North Avenue listening?
Pub Date: 1/24/99