Paschal Emma, a Montgomery County educator for 30 years, has had a change of heart.
"Oh, the 1960s. Someone sold us a bill of goods. Suddenly we educators all felt so guilty that we had oppressed the minds of the population for decades," he said loudly. "All we heard about was do-your-own-thing and rap sessions."
Emma, age 55, principal of progressive Kennedy High in the '60s and Montgomery Blair in the '70s, is tired of hearing about rap sessions.
"We need some structure, we need some order," he declared. "We had some good ideas back then but they turned to chaos."
The problem of the 1960s and the 1970s, according to Emma, was that school became one big academic happy hour.
Enter the 1980s.
Enter Paschal Emma. He began work Tuesday as an assistant superintendent charged with the implementation of a controversial new senior high policy.
"In the final analysis, our job is to provide kids with basic skills," he said."Is that so unreasonable? Is it unreasonable to require kids to show up for class?"
When Emma, a tall, trim man with thick hair and glasses, gives his opinion on this or any other issue, he does it very emphatically.
"I think the policy is great," he said. "It represents a moderate approach on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum. I am a strong believer in the view that schools are reflective of the desires of the public. And the public wants structure."
Under the new policy, uniform final examinations and a more stringent attendance policy will apply to all 22 high schools in the county.
Emma's new position is designed to last one year. Neither he nor anyone else knows whether is will stretch beyond that.
"We decided to have a top-flight principal help us for a year to get this policy rolling," explained Dr. Edward Andrews, Montgomery County superintendent. "We're still not sure what will happen beyond that."
This summer Emma, Andrews, deputy superinatendent Dr. Harry Pitt and high school principals will meet to iron out some of the questions raised by the policy, which was formally approved by the school board in February.
"How do you define an unexcused absence?" said Emma, citing one case still under debate. "How about when a parent pulls a kid out of school for a two-week vacation? By September we'll have the rules hammered out and everyone will know them."
Dr. Paschal Emma -- Pat to his friends -- sits back in his chair, makes a fist and punches the air in front of him.
"Kidsneed a signpost," he said. "We tell them to develop self-direction, but then we don't show them how. This policy will give a kid what he's entitled to -- a basic core of courses and a few guidelines to deal with them.
"I've become more conservative," he admitted. "Kennedy (High School) was a showpiece for the nation. Team teaching. No bells. I don't think it did any harm, but I don't think it did any good either."
An Upstate New York native who did his graduate work in Tennessee, Emma served as Kennedy's principal for six years. The National Education Association chose it as one of 30 schools around the country noted for its innovative programs, and Emma often was called as a consultant to other school systems.
He became principal of Montgomery Blair, a more traditional operations, in 1970. His five children all were graduated from the school; three attended while he worked there.
His successor has not been named.
"I'm going to miss this place," said Emma, in his office at Montgomery Blair where he was packing and tying up loose ends last week. "But I'm kind of excited to use my experience on a broader plane. As a principal, you can't think of educational policy when a kid is in your office because he just set off firecrackers in the commode.
"My experience in the real world will be my greatest contribution to these so-called policy makers. I'm candid. I'm incisive. I've got expertise."
Pat Emma does not suffer from a lack of confidence.
"He is a character," laughed Andrews. "And he is an original. I think he'll be breath of fresh air around here (the county's Rockville education building)."
Among other plans for his new job, Emma pledges to write short memoes.
"I don't put up with the jargon," he said. "I say what I have to say."
Generation gap. Communications gap. Interact. This is the kind of educational jargon of the past, Emma says, that he can't stand.
"I won't put up with that garble. What are the words of 1980? Time management. And burnout, I hear that one a lot.
"How can a kid be burned out after four years of high school?" asked Pat Emma.
"I see kids from the Sixties wearing three-pieced suits downtown. But I wonder how many others are still out wandering Big Sur," he continued. "It was a different era for kids then, and a different era for educators in the schoolhouse, too."
Pat Emma, professional educator, has made the switch to the Eighties. But he still has reminders around him of a more idealistic time, like the pictures of John and Robert Kennedy that stared down at him from his Montgomery Blair office wall.