Part of the problem with the D.C. public school system is that the education being delivered to many pupils is "too shallow," Rhody McCoy, a new system scrutinizer, told a group of educators last weekend.
"Let's prepare them for this world as it is," said the newly appointed executive assistant of the school system's community relations department.
As an example of his idea of "in-depth" education, McCoy suggested that junior and senior high school students interested in social studies be placed in juvenile court and landlord and tenant court for "field work and study in areas that will later affect their lives."
Later in the day, with fewer people present, McCoy would say that "too many educators in this city care more about their houses, cars and boats than they do about the children they teach -- using them just as a means to an end." But for now, the Dunbar graduate, a former administrator of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district in Brooklyn, N.Y., had other fish to fry.
Members of the D.C. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, a group charged with bringing about community understanding of educational programs and practices, had selected McCoy, one of the first administrators of a community-controlled school district, to address them at a conference session.
This audience of educators, administrators and parents watched McCoy as he paced softly, smoked his big pipe and playfully announced that he was serving at the pleasure of the school system "until further notice" -- an allusion to his penchant for kicking up controversy as a result of his outspokenness.
McCoy, his peaked, broad-brimmed white Stetson placed at his side atop a neatly folded topcoat, was ready to ride. Those gathered at the Gordon Adult Education Center in Georgetown were eager to join him in an intellectual hoedown.
After presenting his students-in-court idea, McCoy rolled on: "Our vision is shallow. We're not teaching our youth what they need to know about."
Hands flew in the air when McCoy said "prestigious" white colleges harm black students because the students' particular needs are not taken into account.
"My two sons returned from white institutions maladjusted and emotionally shattered," said Olivia Calhoun, assistant principal at Anacostia High School. She told McCoy that her sons' self-confidence had been "ruined," adding that they recently had enrolled in black schools and are now doing "very well."
"Black schools are good, but limited," responded Dr. Marilyn Brown, an administrator for the D.C. school system. "Our students need a broader perspective to prepare for the society in which they'll compete."
McCoy galloped on: "Our young people, by the thousands, wish to be professional athletes for the wrong reasons; only one professional black athlete in 1978 had a college degree. They're college students, not college graduates."
An "in-depth" education is what's needed, he said, so "young minds will be open and fertile to understand what's going on." He'd like to see teachers more aware of the new microcomputers that will be a part of many students' lives. "We need a network of people from the business, civic and educational community to set up mechanisms that would provide guidance and assistance to students in need," he said.
"With this network, we could ask for seats on college boards of directors, ask for the hiring of certain types of professors and become a part of the student recruitment process; we can do it, we have the clout."
Time was called several times at the McCoy session as it spilled over into previously planned activities.
Still brandishing his theme that black youth are not educated in accordance with the times in which they live, McCoy related the story of a black city planner working on a 15-year development program for the District along with members of the local business community. McCoy asked the planner to reveal how the majority black population would be affected; the planner refused.
"That gentleman was educated wrongly by us, because our mutual interests are at stake and he doesn't realize it," McCoy said.
Straight talk continued at another session chaired by Dorothy Stephens, also of the superintendent's office. She defended the new Student Progress Plan -- with its emphasis on critical skills -- now in operation in grades one through six.
"The press has labeled this program a failure simply because some students failed to score a grade of 70 on math and reading tests. This is not so," she pointed out.
Many who received a 60 or 65 "came a long way," she said, and a great many passed one test but not the other, "another long road they've traveled," according to Stephens.
Patricia Morris, president of the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers, interrupted to ask why "inarticulate parents from Southeast, blessed with common sense and knowing their children are not being properly educated, are given the brushoff by teachers and administrators."
Time was called. The session adjourned moments later.
"We need more time for this type thing," remarked a departing parent. "It seems whenever we come close to an understanding, shades are drawn and the lights go out."