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Unlikely mentors?

May 20, 2007, 6:32 am

A task force in Maryland has been looking at ways to improve the performances of African-American boys in its public schools. Among the 18 different recommendations the task force has made is to initiate a mentoring program between these kids and adults. But look who the task force would like those adults to be:

Two of the more controversial proposals are suggestions to place troubled students at black-majority high schools into single-sex classes and to encourage nonviolent offenders to be mentors to students. [...]

On the recommendation to encourage ex-offenders convicted of nonviolent felonies to serve as mentors, the report says: “Maybe it’s counterintuitive to put children and ex-offenders together. And maybe it’s exactly what each one needs. Life’s lessons aren’t always learned from those who lived it flawlessly.”

But the report notes likely community concerns about such a venture. “Obviously, the program would require strict eligibility restrictions, extensive background checks, and close and continued monitoring,” it says.

This is the kind of idea that could only come from a government-sponsored, 49-member, statewide task force. Let’s take kids — many of whom are mired in a culture which glorifies violence and crime — who are struggling in school, and put them under the mentorship of convicted criminals. At least the task force is smart enough to anticipate “community concerns”.

I know the idea here is to put students with the nonviolent offenders so that they can learn “life lessons”. But it seems to me that the best and most natural place to learn these life lessons is, shockingly, from family. You know, fathers, mothers, siblings, extended family — you can include neighbors if you like — whatever happened to them? Nowhere in the article does it mention any sort of recommendation that would better enable families to help boys in the family succeed in school. Maybe this is harder for governments to do than pulling people out of jail to “mentor” young kids — in which case the government really ought to stay out of it, if that’s the best they can do.

On the other hand, a decent voucher system or enhanced support for charter schools would go a long way toward letting families put their kids in schools that they feel are best for them. Oh, but that would pull money away from the public schools. Sorry I mentioned it.

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