The Post's Lonnae O'Neal Parker's profile of young Mr. Lewis is more a case study of one young man's apathy than about the notoriously inept DC school system. The two part study began on Sunday, with a lengthy peice on Mr. Lewis. The series concluded today, with what was all but a foregone conclusion of Sunday's article. Jonathan Lewis was a B student up through about the 10th grade, by his own admission. But in his junior and two senior years, he all but quit.
"I started having problems about 11th grade, started, like, skipping class and stuff," Jonathan says. "I didn't want to go to class, didn't want to write, didn't want to do work."While Jonathan doesn't live with his father, his father is nearby and involved in the boy's life. His mother is on his case and clearly involved in his education and has regular conversations with his teachers and the school principal.
"He got in with the wrong crowd," his mother chimes in.
That's part of it, Jonathan says, "being influenced by them sometimes, wanting to do what they did, walk the halls and stuff."
Maybe if more teachers had been like Ms. Cruz-Gonzalez, things could have been different, he ventures. "She takes time to, like, help you understand. Like if she went over something, she'd go over it again till you get it." Not like some teachers, he says, who just pass out work sheets. "You ask a question, they, like, brush you off. They just catch attitudes, like you wasn't paying attention or something." It makes you say, "Forget it. I don't even want to know."
It makes you "feel like nothing."
As to why he didn't graduate last year: "I just got lazy."
But throughout the story, there is but one inescapable conclusion about Jonathan Lewis I keep coming to--he just doesn't care. A quote by his principal, L. Nelson Burton, himself a Coolidge graduate who nearly dropped out, says it all:
"I don't think you're going to meet a student, or anyone, for that matter, who doesn't want to graduate from high school. They all want to. Everyone wants a diploma, but not everyone wants to do the work required for it."Burton, who is only 34, is the seventh principal at Coolidge in nine years. He has made some changes, but must, like all DC school administrators, fight with a number of issues, from fights and poor teachers to apathetic students to systemic failures--the scheduling and transctripts matter described in Part 2 is simply frightening in the age of modern computers.
Still, I find it hard to feel sorry for Mr. Lewis, if that is what I am supposed to feel. A classmate of his says this:
You have to be on top of your own stuff. . . . You have to look out for yourself, because there's really nothing you can do, for real. . . . It's not like someone tells you that. You have to figure it out yourself. Ibijoke Akinbowale, 17, 12th gradeThat is it in a nutshell. A young man at Lewis' age should have learned this lesson, if not for himself, at least for the effort his mother and father have gone through to see him complete high school. While Jonathan finally did graduate after summer school following his fifth year in high school, it is very hard to feel sorry for this young man. His teachers all but bent over backward to help him. His mother was apparently a fixture on the phone and in person at the school. His father incentivized him in legitimate ways. Yet he took advantage of none of these offers of help and assistance.
While some of the fiasco's described in the stories are systemic and are being addressed by Chancellor Michelle Rhee, it is very hard to see how and why Jonathan should be viewed as a symbolic case of the poor condition of DC schools. In his story, he was not screwed by the system. The powers that be did not make mistakes that brought him to the brink of dropping out. The school system did not cause him to fail his senior year--twice. Calvin Coolidge, while it has a share of fights and problems, is not the worst school in the district. To be sure, there are real problems in the DC school system and it may be that those problems contribute to a poor education experience for many, if not most students. I have no doubt that Chancellor Michelle Rhee is working on the systemic problems, poor teachers, lack of proper facilities, lack of proper administrative tools and programs, textbooks and the like.
In the end, what Jonathan Lewis' long story did for me was to remind me how young men and women can be excused for their own behavior by society. That is exactly what this Post writer did, probably without even realizing it. But even if the DC school system was as good as say Montgomery County Maryland or Fairfax County Virginia, it is hard to see what could have been done to prevent Jonathan Lewis from screwing himself up and over. In teh end, the DC schools did not fail (though they may have tried), Jonathan Lewis did and in the end, that is all that matters.