Failing the Grade 

Bad parents beget bad students

I was listening to a radio talk show that airs each Sunday night on WMGL called Another Perspective. The topic was the high rate of suspensions and expulsions for black students. County school district statistics show about 70 percent of students suspended or expelled are black, the majority being boys.

Some callers noted that the cultural differences between Charleston County School District's predominantly white teaching staff and predominantly black student population may play a part in the disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates. They reasoned that some behavior commonly accepted among black youth may be perceived as threatening by their teachers. Several callers agreed that argument has merit, but it was Charleston County Constituent District 20 School Board Chairman Marvin Stewart who suggested that the absence of parental involvement in the educational process of their children might be an even greater factor.

That's when I found a story written a few years back about the murder of a local woman. I knew her, and I knew her family. Over the course of her short life, she went from being a nice kid to a drug user who had two sons out of wedlock.

As is often the case, the boys' fathers were absent in their lives, so they pretty much grew up on their own. Before their mother's death, the eldest son had been expelled from school. Later, he was in jail for drug dealing and wasn't allowed to attend his mother's funeral. He's still incarcerated. Her youngest son died in a shooting.

I'm convinced the trouble with these boys was directly related to their mother's inability to give them better guidance. And that's what bothers me when people suggest that getting parents more involved in their kids' education is the easy solution. What happens when the parents are unable or unwilling to get involved in their children's lives? It makes no sense to think parents whose lives are complicated by too many children, too little money, and little to no education are going to volunteer at their kid's school. We can argue that those people made their choices. That's true, but it doesn't remove the burden their choices place on the rest of us.

A reader responding to one of my recent columns about violence in our communities commented that pointing fingers won't solve the very complex problems of school discipline and the street violence that often follows kids suspended or expelled from schools. I agree. It would be more productive to develop effective outreach adult education programs that help young parents understand the role they must play in their children's lives.

A few years ago former Charleston County Superintendent Chip Zullinger implemented a pilot parenting center in District 20 at the old Archer School. Operating out of a building in the middle of one of downtown's biggest public housing complexes, the program was able to take services directly to the people who needed them. It had moderate success. After just two years the parenting center was scrapped.

Disadvantaged students and their parents need every advantage they can get. It seems to me a school district with a $300 million budget should be doing more to help.

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