On Monday, March 2, Charles Washington opened his second-period ROTC class by telling his students some "disturbing news": of 75 college scholarships awarded to high school ROTC students that year, only two were offered to blacks.

Some teachers rarely bring up race as an issue. Washington refers to it constantly, using it as a motivational tool, a way to challenge his students. His class is more than a course in military science; he spends a month teaching black history and the entire year offering his views on what it means to be black in today's world.

"You're not going to tell me that our kids can't achieve," Washington said. Then, trying to drive his point home, he joked: "{You} know something about numbers. You can tell me how much some Air Jordans {basketball shoes} cost. You can tell me how much those Coca-Cola jeans you got on cost . . . . What we got to do is try to put ourselves in a situation where we become academically sound. If you can't compute, you will be a welfare generation."

Then, he grew more serious. Walking down the aisles of the neatly arranged rows of new desks, past the wall with the slogan, "Lead, Follow or Get Out The Way," and the posters of famous black Americans, he asked each student: What kind of job do you want to have?

Almost everyone ticked off a career that required education beyond high school -- accountant, pediatrician, teacher, nurse, barber, FBI agent, Marine Corps officer, surgeon, veterinarian, lawyer. Washington bluntly warned them: "You can be anything you want to be. But, if you're not achieving academically now, how are you going to achieve in college?"

He used himself as an example. "Don't believe I graduated summa cum laude or magna cum laude. I graduated 'thank the Lordy,' " he said, bringing a chorus of laughter from the class.

During the course of the year, Washington's students learned a lot about him. He described himself as someone who never would have graduated in 1960 from Phelps Vocational High School in Northeast Washington without the help of several teachers who kept after him. He then enrolled in Howard University, where he lasted only one semester. "I failed everything but lunch," he said.

He enlisted in the Marines, got serious about his life, was promoted several times and earned a college degree at Prairie View A&M, a predominantly black college in Arkansas. After serving and getting wounded once in Vietnam, he taught a college ROTC course for five years at Prairie View, then was transferred to various posts at Marine bases on the East Coast. He retired in 1983 after nearly 24 years with the rank of master gunnery sergeant -- thus his nickname, Master Gunny -- and joined the faculty at McKinley.

As part of the ROTC course, he takes his students to military bases for field trips and competitions. Those trips have made him realize how sheltered McKinley's students are. "When we put you on a bus and take you down to Norfolk {a Navy station in Virginia} or Camp Lejeune {a Marine base in North Carolina}, what do you do?" he asked rhetorically during class one day. "All the blacks gather over here" -- he motioned to a corner of the room -- "because you've never been exposed to white people."

For the most part, he manages to keep his students interested and they respond by doing their work. When they don't -- and they are more lax than he would like -- he minces no words and spares no profanity.

One of those times was Feb. 12. As soon as the roll was called for his second-period class, he stood up and all eyes fell on him. He was a picture of controlled anger.

"You had an assignment on Marcus Garvey due yesterday," he began, pronouncing his words slowly and carefully. "You told Chief {another teacher who was handling the class alone because Washington was away} that the assignment was not due."

"I make the decisions when assignments are due," he said, glaring at them. "It was due yesterday. Not today. Not next week. But yesterday, damn it." He was shouting. "I am not senile. You don't decide when to turn in my assignments. When I say an assignment is due, it is due. Now the next time you don't turn in my assignment, I expect your asses to be carried by six {pallbearers} . . . and your mamas to be crying . . . . "

The students sat motionless. No one snickered. Washington wasn't finished. He even criticized some of those who had done the assignment.

"Some of you just went to a book, found a paragraph on Marcus Garvey and copied it word for word," he said. "Where is your thirst for knowledge? Where is your thirst to show off what you know? We do it half-ass. We do enough to get by."

Then, the tirade over, he asked 11th grader Ivan Fitzgerald to read his paper aloud, telling the class that Fitzgerald's report was "excellent" because it showed that Fitzgerald had thought about the material and had not just copied facts from a book.

Later, the students talked about the outburst. "Everybody forgot the assignment so we just said it wasn't due," said Jonathan McKinley, an 11th grader. "We are used to getting hollered at. He's like . . . . "

He stopped in mid-sentence. "What's that man's name that they talk about on TV?" he asked. "You know that man that everyone stops to listen to," he said.

"E.F. Hutton," a girl at the table said.

"Yeah, that's who Master Gunny's like," he said. "E.F. Hutton. When he talks, everybody listens. Even the teachers. He knows what he is talking about."