In his Jan. 21 op-ed column, "They Should Behave Better," David Nicholson criticized the behavior and attitude of some black teenagers, specifically students who attend Calvin Coolidge Senior High School.

But the young people Mr. Nicholson described are not representative of Coolidge students, most of whom work arduously to get the education for which their forefathers fought. These students are most deserving of the opportunities afforded to them by the efforts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

It is not enough to complain, judge and blame. Adults who stand by while children misbehave share the responsibility for that bad behavior -- and that includes Metro passengers, Metro police, parents and the community as a whole. A school cannot be the only institution that calls young people to account for poor behavior.

Mr. Nicholson wrote, "The behavior of these black youngsters leaves me chagrined and filled with sadness." A more appropriate reaction from him would be to develop a strategy for engaging these students outside school hours. To this end, I invite Mr. Nicholson and other community members to partner with schools and civic organizations in establishing after-school activities for our young people.

I also invite Mr. Nicholson to visit Coolidge Senior High School and meet with students. It is through greater exposure that we can better understand our youth and work toward their development into productive citizens.

Mr. Nicholson also wrote, "Worse, [the poor behavior is] a betrayal of King's vision of a future where the content of our character -- and, by extension, our words and our deeds -- counted for more than the color of our skin."

But it is a further betrayal of Dr. King's vision when those who have reaped the opportunities for which he and others fought use that access to subjugate those who have not yet had the same chances.

Mr. Nicholson owes the students of Coolidge and all young people an apology.

He needs to do what Dr. King would have done: Get involved!

RICHARD A. JACKSON

Principal

Calvin Coolidge Senior High School

Washington

I applaud David Nicholson for having the courage to discuss the issue of appalling adolescent behavior in the Washington area, an issue that is often discussed behind closed doors with family and friends but rarely in public.

I recently watched on the Orange Line as four youths teased an Indian gentleman until they reached their station. They insulted him and mocked his accent as he sat there in silence.

I wondered what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have thought (or done). I only wish I had had Mr. Nicholson's courage at that moment to speak out against their behavior.

PAT HOAR

Arlington

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David Nicholson seems to be under the impression that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dying wish was that black kids never act in a fashion that might upset middle-age white commuters.

He also can't understand why all these kids aren't more grateful to have the hard-won opportunity to cast votes that may be counted or rent a room at the Knight's Inn in Birmingham.

Maybe it would help him to know that President Lyndon Johnson went through a similar sort of funk.

After forcing all the major civil rights legislation through Congress, Mr. Johnson was rewarded by some of the worst black riots in U.S. history. Eventually, however, he came to realize that, to paraphrase, "If you've had your foot on a man's neck for 300 years, and you finally let him go, he's not going to shake your hand. He's going to pop you in the jaw."

If Mr. Johnson got over his disappointment, so should Mr. Nicholson. And if race is no longer an overwhelmingly limiting factor in the world, those Coolidge kids should be fine.

The kids at my high school were.

NATHAN MEANS

Washington

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David Nicholson made an important point: Blacks and whites must be held to the same standards. Not just standards of behavior, but of professional conduct, manners and even common courtesy. Lower standards erode the progress we've made toward a colorblind society.

Last fall a friend and I went to a sold-out showing of "Spider-Man" at the Union Station theaters. Two young black men sitting near us talked loudly, laughed, swore and made racially derogatory and lewd comments throughout the film. The other patrons -- many of whom were middle-aged and black -- did nothing to censure their behavior. My friend and I, who are white, felt trapped and didn't say anything.

While Mr. Nicholson didn't mention that the disintegration of black families and the scarcity of black male role models are related to this behavior, he is correct in his conclusion: I, too, suspect that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did not have "freedom from decency" in mind when he marched on Washington.

SEAN STEELE

Washington

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David Nicholson said that black teenagers are not held to "appropriate standards of behavior" and implied that they should be seen as failures of the civil rights movement. But blacks are constantly held to higher standards of behavior than whites, and this is what prevents progress in the civil rights movement.

For every racial discrimination lawsuit we read about in the newspaper, hundreds more incidents of workplace discrimination are never reported. Black workers still are denied promotions and pay raises as their white counterparts ascend the corporate ladder. That blacks are held to different standards in the criminal justice system has been well documented by cases of police brutality and the statistically higher rates of death penalty sentences.

So Mr. Nicholson need not worry if his Takoma Park neighborhood e-mail vigilantes do not succeed in quieting those rowdy black teenagers -- American society eventually will find ways to keep these black teenagers in line by keeping them in low-paying jobs or denying them entrance to college.

ROBERT VELASCO

Washington

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There is no relationship between the civil rights movement and a bunch of teenagers who are out of control for many reasons including a lack of good parenting, a good education or adult guidance.

It's easy to criticize, but David Nicholson should get involved with these kids to find out what is going on in their lives at a time in which their country is more concerned about Iraq than their failing schools.

CARLOS A. QUIROZ

Poolesville