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Opening Arguments

Word games

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White wanted to make the point that public schools have it tougher than private schools because they have to take all comers. He's now taking heat for the way he put it:

Advocacy groups are asking for an apology from the superintendent of the state's largest school district after he referred to children as "blind, crippled, crazy."

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White made the comments during an interview Monday with WIBC-FM's Denny Smith while talking about graduation rates and the challenges of public schools versus charter schools.

"You've got to understand, we are public schools.What does that mean? We take everybody that come through the door, whether they are blind, crippled, crazy," White said.

White contends that the advocacy groups protesting his remarks are "taking them out of context" and are missing the point he was trying to make about public schools turning no one away. But it seems clear the critics do get that point; they just think better words and "crippled" and "crazy" should have been used. I notice no one is objecting to "blind" -- that's a word that doesn't describe a condition society has had mixed feelings about. Personally, I find "crazy" more objectionable than "crippled," but that's likely because I've had more experience in my circle dealing with mental illness than with physical handicaps.

I guess I have mixed feelings about the whole issue. People are far too sensitive about labels, and changing what we call people doesn't always change how we feel about them or treat them; we just transfer all the baggage of the pejorative to the term we're trying to replace it with. But there's something to be said for sometimes bowing to the politically correct term of the moment if you're trying to make a larger point, as White was. He's been distracted from that now and is having to argue about something he doesn't want to argue about.

Oh, well. You know what they say. In the land of the blind, crippled and crazy, the one-eyed, limping neurotic is king. Call me Mr. Sensitive.


Tim Zank
Fri, 10/14/2011 - 2:40pm

Setting aside his poor choice of words, his "excuse" is laughable. The student base for public schools has always included "all comers".

In other words, the raw materials (the students) are essentially the same (impressionable young minds) but even after pouring gazillions of dollars into the "plant" the quality of the product (graduation rates) hasn't improved one bit.

In the real world that's known as "really really bad management".

Phil Marx
Fri, 10/14/2011 - 6:12pm

I agrre with the point he was making. Even though public schools have always suffered the 'must take em all' handicap, the fact that private schools don't gives public schools a disadvantage.

I just think he could have used a better analogy like "We have to accept all the trouble making punks who really don't want to learn". Of course, doing so would be an admission that such students exist. And that would get him in trouble with all the irresponsible parents of those punks.

Harl Delos
Sat, 10/15/2011 - 3:58am

Phil, I may be old and senile, but I remember the excitement of learning to decode the secret code of marks on paper that were called reading and writing. Schools don't just have to deal with trouble-making punks who don't want to learn, they're also responsible for CREATING most of the trouble-making punks that don't want to learn.

Which, in the real world, is known as "really really bad management." Hmmm. Where have I heard THAT lately?

The ones that aren't crazy, of course. If someone has a personality disorder, they don't respond rationally. That doesn't mean that they can't be managed to a certain degree, but that's one of the categories of "crazy" that he was talking about.

I sincerely believe that schools can do a better job, a SIGNIFICANTLY better job, than they've been doing. Perhaps that puts me in one of the other categories of "crazy".