When it comes to judging city kids, what is your baseline? | COMMENTARY

Baseline: a minimum or starting point used for comparisons.

When you see a news headline proclaim that a Baltimore student was advanced through grades in his school, despite failing most of his classes, what is your initial reaction?


In other words, what is your baseline?

And are you using your upbringing as a comparison?


Can you relate, because at one time you were a kid in the fifth grade, the biggest kid in class, who failed the fourth grade twice and still couldn’t read?

Can you relate because you know how it is to feel helpless because your dad is nonexistent in your life? I don’t mean nonexistent in the sense that you do not know where he is, because you know where he is, and you know that the place will be his domicile for the next five to seven years.

Can you relate to not being able to spell the word “institutionalized,” but still definitely know the meaning?

Can you relate to feeling frustrated because your mother reads on a kindergarten level and helps you by saying: “Ask your teacher when you get to school tomorrow?”

Can you relate to a kid being angry for not only being behind in class but because whenever he tried to ask the teacher for help, it came out in the “guise of disrupting the class?”

Can you relate to a teacher not seeing a young Black person pleading for help, but instead, an angry young Black person disturbing her or his carefully laid out “direct instruction” that, instead of developing a growth mindset, further increases the student’s dependency on learning from someone who, actually, should be learning from them? And as a result of this disconnection, instead of receiving the help they really need and deserve, the student is sent to “the office” or, better yet, they have their recess taken away (their one chance at productive release that day).

Or, instead of trying to understand a student’s life, do you find it is much easier to project, to judge versus empathize?

Is your baseline sadness, because you believe that reading is fundamental to any and all success in life?


And in that context, are you sad because you know that a student who cannot comprehend is a frustrated and angry student?

And that the older a frustrated and angry student becomes, his or her reactions to academic stress are likely to become outbursts and disruption?

And that an angry and disruptive student will be sent to a school full of other angry and disruptive students coupled with harried teachers who become angry and disruptive themselves?

And that same angry and disruptive student will drop out of school because his/her support base at home is a former angry and disruptive student who is now an angry and disruptive parent?

And as a last recourse, (certainly not the first), this angry and disruptive student, who is too young or unqualified for any type of employment, numbs the pain away with drugs of all shapes and sizes?

And as a result of being fortified with brain cell depleting courage, he or she lashes out in the form of assaults and robberies? Until, finally, he or she reaches the finish line — juvenile prison on the way to adult prison — before they had a chance to realize true hope and opportunity.


Or is your emotion cynicism? That such kids are a cycle of lost causes, and the community leaders who claim to want to help are just saying or doing anything to be elected and selected, and once in, they forget the rejected.

My baseline for struggling kids? Hope and dreams. I hope and dream to one day establish an after school reading program for children and their families that teaches the fundamentals; that is instrumental. A student in the fifth grade cannot expect success if the student does not know the meaning of long and short vowels or suffixes and prefixes. To expect a student to succeed under those conditions is to expect another generation living in perdition.

Again, after reading this, I ask: When casting your opinion on under-served Black youth, what is your baseline?

Peter M. Modlin is a special-education teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools and a group counselor. His email is