The Philadelphia Inquirer's big story Feb. 4 was about how a budget crunch at the Philadelphia School District had caused the district to lay off 91 school police officers. Over the years, there's been no discussion of what has happened to our youth that makes a school police force necessary in the first place. The Inquirer's series "Assault on Learning" (March 2011) reported that in the 2010 school year, "690 teachers were assaulted; in the last five years, 4,000 were." The newspaper reported that in Philadelphia's 268 schools, "on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes. That doesn't even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year."
I graduated from Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High School in 1954. Franklin's students were from the poorest North Philadelphia neighborhoods -- such as the Richard Allen housing project, where I lived -- but there were no policemen patrolling the hallways. There were occasional after-school fights -- rumbles, we called them -- but within the school, there was order. Students didn't use foul language to teachers, much less assault them.
How might one explain the greater civility of Philadelphia and other big-city, predominantly black schools during earlier periods compared with today? Would anyone argue that during the '40s and '50s, back when Williams attended Philadelphia schools, there was less racial discrimination and poverty and there were greater opportunities for blacks and that's why academic performance was higher and there was greater civility? Or how about "in earlier periods, there was more funding for predominantly black schools"? Or how about "in earlier periods, black students had more black role models in the forms of black principals, teachers and guidance counselors"? If such arguments were to be made, it would be sheer lunacy. If white and black liberals and civil rights leaders want to make such arguments, they'd best wait until those of us who lived during the '40s and '50s have departed the scene.