The Los Angeles Times front page article:
How to Be Good
By DOYLE McMANUS, Times
NEW YORK A police car pulls
up to your apartment building to investigate a burglary. A policeman gets
out of the car—and someone on the roof throws a brick at him. What do you
“I’d run up to the roof
to see who did it,” said Marc Baker, 14.
“What if the guy had a
123-inch dagger or something?” objected Frank Fatta, 14.
George Maddox, 13, gave
a street wise grin and advised a more cautious course. As the policeman
ducked the brick, he said, “I’d die laughing. Then I’d make sure the cops
didn’t see me.”
Welcome to Civility
101, New York City’s attempt to teach children the principles of
escalating juvenile crime, vandalism and weapons possession-and a sense
that many children are unfamiliar with basic principles of ethics-New York
public school officials have launched an experimental program to revive
some old-fashioned values.
“It’s a major effort to
change the climate of life in our schools and in New York City,” said
Charlotte Frank, curriculum chief for the Board of Education.
“The question,” said
Chancellor Frank J. Macchiarola, the school
Please see PUPILS, Page18
PUPILS: N. Y. Fights Crime With
Continued from First Page
administrator, “Is how do the schools respond to the loss of a sense of
community In this society? The institutions that used to supply some of
that no longer perform the function. . . . The main human services
institution for youngsters Is the school”
The problem of antisocial
children is not peculiar to New York. And school districts In several
cities, Including Los Angeles, have tried relatively small-scale programs
to prompt students to think about basic values.
At the same time, the
study of ethics has made a comeback at the university level. Harvard
University, for one, now offers courses in professional morality to
students in its graduate schools of law, business and medicine.
But the teaching of
ethics is probably being attempted on the largest scale In New York’s
public schools, where the new citizenship program Is scheduled to go into
general use next year and Is intended eventually to touch every one of
In one suggested session,
children act the roles of elderly robbery victims—°to become more
sensitive to the trauma suffered by victims of mugging,” the program’s
curriculum guide notes.
In another, students
grapple with the question of whether they would join in looting a sporting
goods store during an electricity blackout—or whether they would report
the friends who had.
In another, children
re-enact the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death In
Queens while 37 witnesses ignored her pleas for help.
The exercises are
hypothetical—but to the eighth graders at Junior High School 364 in
Brooklyn, there was nothing unreal about them.
When a visitor asked
George Maddox and his classmates whether they had actually seen persons
throw bricks at police cars, about half raised their hands. Then one girl
raised her hand and asked plaintively, “How about rocks?” With the
question expanded to include rocks and other objects, almost every hand
When asked how many had
witnessed a serious crime during the last two years, all 32 children said
they had, several as victims of lunch-money muggers. One girl said she had
watched from her mother’s kitchen one afternoon as a gunfight erupted in
the parking lot across the street; a stray bullet, she said, came in one
side of the kitchen and went out the other.
“That’s not unusual,”
teacher Jerry Blumengarten. ‘and this isn’t a rough school”
New York’s juvenile crime
problem is among the worst in the country, police officials say. The
arrest rate for children under 16 is four times the national average and
“Crimes for which
juveniles are arrested today are more ruthless and remorseless and
criminally sophisticated,” Deputy Police Commissioner Kenneth Conboy said
Part of the problem is
inside the schools. In the first six months of this academic year, 8,082
crimes were reported In the city’s 1,000 schools, including 683 assaults,
781 cases of weapons possession, 2,079 larcenies and 40 sex offenses,
mostly rape or attempted rape. The fastest-growing problem, officials say,
is the availability of guns; children as young as 10 have been found
carrying pistols to school, sometimes to intimidate others but of ten for
self-defense or mere bravado.
To deal with crime within
school walls, the city has set up a special task force, hired 1,750
security officers and sped up installation of closed-circuit television
monitors in high-risk schools.
But, most juvenile crimes
are committed outside. And the problem in its broadest context, school
officials said, is not just violent crime but a general breakdown in
everyday morality and an increase In uncivil behavior— ranging from
littering and playing radios on buses to major vandalism.
“These aren’t just New
York City school problems,” said Elliott Salow, the citizenship program’s
chief author. “These are societal problems, nationwide problems.”
“It’s a question of
values,” said Blumengarten, the teacher at Junior High 364. “People get
scared when they hear the word values used in a public school We’re not
telling kids what their values ought to be; we’re asking them to think
about what their values actually are.”
a multiracial group drawn from a massive middle-income apartment complex
and a neighboring slum, had little difficulty pinpointing some of the
things they value clean streets, safety from muggers, functioning subway
But when the discussion
of values turned to the issue of an individual’s responsibility when he
sees a crime being committed, they were unanimously doubtful.
If, for example, they
overheard two students planning to plant a bomb in a school, did they have
a duty to war a teacher?
“If I didn’t and someone
was hurt I’d feel guilty, said Hank Hsu, whose parents were born in
“1 wouldn’t feel guilty,”
said Scott Kreisler. “I was just minding my own business.”
“You look at the three
CBS men,” said Andrea West on,. referring to three television technicians
who were shot down in Manhattan last month when they tried thwart a
kidnapping. “They tried to do good, and the lost their lives. You have to
look at the consequence first Are you going to get hurt If you try to
Rachel Kling wasn’t
buying that argument Excuse my language,” she said impatiently, “but if
you want to cover your behind, in the long run you’re not covering
yourself—you’re making It unsafe for everybody.”
Later, after the school’s
harsh electronic bell had sounded and sent the eighth grade scrambling
outside for lunch, Blumengarten recalled the exchange and smiled. “You
don’t get that in textbooks,” he said.