THANKS TO acting D.C. school superintendent James T. Guines, the new academic high school, which opens in September on Euclid Street, has a new candidate for the post of principal -- "a true scholar," according to Mr. Guines -- though a man without any administrative experience.
Who is that? None other than Cyril Lang, the Montgomery County maverick.Mr. Lang currently is serving a one-month suspension from that county's schools for disobeying administrative orders against injecting such admittedly admirable works as Aristotle's "Poetics" and machiavelli's "The Prince" into the mandated 10th-grade curriculum.
Apparently the two men met while appearing on a television show last year and, three weeks ago, the acting superintendent urged Mr. Lang to apply for the job, which Mr. Guines categorized as comparable to that of a private school headmaster. That the job description called for "a minimum of five years of satisfactory supervisory experience on the secondary level" seems not to have disturbed Mr. Guines any more than Mr. Lang's status as a suspended teacher. "Man," Aristotle reminds us, "is by nature a political animal," after all, and the acting superintendent -- now in the closing stage of a tough contest for permanent status -- defended his suggestion with a comment educationally irrelevant but, perhaps, appropriate to the present infighting over his own position: "As we look for the best people for these jobs, we must forget things like race and where people live."
Agreed. Neither factor should disqualify Mr. Lang, but his record as a contentious loner is another matter. On occasion, persons such as Mr. Lang can prove to be inspiring teachers. Unfortunately, the defense of an idea -- some would say an dee fixe -- often seems more important to them than the balancing of educational requirements within an institution as fragile as a school Whatever else Socrates might have become, it is mind-boggling to think of him living with the constraints imposed by the rules, regulations and curriculum structure of an Athens Academic High School. Mr. Lang may or may not be a "Socratic" teacher -- but an administrator?
Just as important, Mr. Lang appears to misconceive the principal's role at the new high school: "It's a wonderful opportunity. I've got to prove something, and the teachers and kids have to prove something. . . . The whole aim is to turn the kids' motors on, and when you do that, there's no speed limit." Whatever Mr. Lang has to "prove" to himself, alas, differs in kind and not degree from the already-proven desire for a first-rate secondary education displayed by prospective students, teachers and parents. Their "motors" -- or minds, if you please -- are already idling at a high level, and the school's main function is less to "motivate" than to teach, and to teach as rigorously as possible.
As Machiavelli reminded us in "The Prince," "there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, and more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." Mr. Guines's nomination of Cyril Lang to preside over the academic high school's "new order of things," whatever his motives, is patently frivolous, as even some school board members seem to recognize.