Scream all you want, caring about Philly schools isn't optional

RON TARVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia has stepped up security after some violent fights.
RON TARVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia has stepped up security after some violent fights.
Posted: April 09, 2014


That, generally, was the chord that was struck by last week's column about Bartram High belonging to all of us.

Last I checked there were more than 600 comments in response to the column where I suggested that collective negligence and complicity and - yes - racism helped turn a city school into a war zone.

In case you missed it, besides recent lunchtime brawls and an assault on a conflict-resolution specialist by a 17-year-old student, teachers and students described an environment where chaos reigns.

Since, the district has added police and implemented other policies at the school to reduce violence. Great, but as I said, unless we own our part in disastrous urban schools, the efforts will amount to nothing more than a Band-Aid.

"Who's we, you moron?" one reader asked. "I got nothing to do with that mess."

Another reader: "We? Are you serious? We allowed this to happen? OK buddy go smoke another one."

Readers asked, how about personal accountability?

How about parents?

"I am not responsible nor is the school system," another reader wrote. "Let me repeat! Parents are responsible!!!! Stop the sob sister story and tell it like it is."

Fine. Here it is: Anyone who thinks that we - yep, I'm using that word again - get to wash our hands of what's happening in Philly schools or in any other broken urban school is downright delusional.

You don't care about "those" people, about "that" place. Fine, then do the math. A crappy education leads to uneducated or undereducated students, which leads to generations of adults who don't have the skills to find good work, which adds up to higher taxes and more crime. More misery for everyone.

I sometimes forget that we've only just started to get to know one another in this space, so let me be very clear about something I've written for years:

Of course, parents are responsible.

Of course, many of the problems in our schools and in our neighborhoods and on our streets have to do with young people having children they aren't equipped to have, let alone emotionally and financially guide through life.

But we can't shortchange one generation and then expect them to somehow heal, and then raise the next generation. That's not just unfair, it's crazy.

One of the most disturbing parts in the latest video of students fighting at Bartram High is a young woman holding a baby close to the action. That's not to say this baby's future is sealed. Plenty of people have managed to overcome all kinds of obstacles, including bad parenting and bad schools. Sometimes by staying put and powering through. Sometimes, if you're a parent, by pulling your kids out of a school that doesn't work and putting them in one that does. That's what my family did with me . . . more than once.

But whatever you choose to do, the one thing you don't get to do is opt out, because like it or not, the sins of negligence and complicity and racism - deliberate or not - affect us all.

You don't get to say you don't care. (And P.S., if you posted a comment about this, guess what? You care.)

You can pretend you don't - you can say that's not your problem. Screw me. Screw them.

But instead of wasting the space under this column to discuss how much I suck or Philly schools suck, how about we use the space to bat around some possible solutions.

We can start by admitting to ourselves and one another that we all have a stake here. Even if those stakes are higher than some of us would like to admit. So tell me, what do you got?


In other news, the Philly All Stars, the rookie North Philadelphia Small Fry basketball team, needs some help to make it to Florida for an international tournament. A fundraiser had to be canceled due to illness, and a previous donor decided against contributing to the team's trip. What the team really needs is permanent sponsorship so they don't have to chase money every year. But in the meantime, they are about $5,000 short of their goal. Contact coach John Dennis at or 267-800-3564.


Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

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