The Big Sort
When the electricity failed, our school had the first opportunity for a scene similar to the chaos in Locke High School in Los Angeles which was described in the opening chapter of Relentless Pursuit. During previous systems failures, my juniors and seniors kept working, but the younger students went into a frenzy. This year when the electricity failed, all of our classes continued working.
The first hint that something was different was when a dozen athletes from the neighboring suburbs, a magnet school, and from the all-black school system next to us, enrolled in our school. The young men ranged between 200 to 320 pounds of chiseled muscle that was testimony to a strong work ethic. The young women moved with the grace of the All American track stars our school used to produce. The newcomers had been taught "how to be students." They look you in the eye when they shake your hand, pick up other people’s trash, and address adults as "Sir" and "Ma’am." I am thrilled with their knowledge of African-American history and the confident way that they challenge the teachers’ opinions and lead class discussions to a higher level.
The majority of our kids have always been well-behaved and patient, as the chaos stole their chances for a solid education. We still have a few students in every class who act out their pain through disruption, but they no longer create a "critical mass" of disorder, and now they responding to the positive peer pressure.
As we enter our sixth week, it becomes clear that most of last year’s most troubled students will not be returning, and despite our best efforts many of this year's most traumatized students have stopped attending. Hopefully, they are not on the streets but in an alternative setting. The alternative school next to us has doubled in size and it is almost as big as our neighborhood school. I hope they sort things out as well as we have been. - John Thompson