Mariann Main: A model for our public schools to emulate


News of another terrorist attack last week has plunged the United States into fear mode. Travel to Europe currently is not recommended. Airports are on high alert, including most other transportation hubs. These ominous events will potentially impact summer travel abroad and to stateside destinations that include mass transit.

Brussels became the latest target of ISIS chaos. At least 31 people have died and 270 are severely injured. Both the city’s airport and subway system unwillingly became the stage for the terrorist group’s fury.

Smoke, shrapnel, chaos and carnage are ISIS trademarks. Whether in Boston, Paris or Brussels, the commonalities are eerie and obvious.

Adrift young men are willing to sacrifice their lives in a suicide mission of twisted glory on a worldwide stage. On rare occasion, a woman will be included in a terrorist plot, but the vast majority of participants remain young males.

By nature, young adult men are more impressionable and take longer to mature in comparison to adolescent females. Dr. Leonard Sax, author of “The Collapse of Parenting,” cites the differences between raising males and females as gender specific, which was addressed specifically in his first book, “Boys Adrift.”

As a counselor employed by a mental health agency that specializes in adolescents and teens, I visit public schools weekly. Personal observations from those in-school counseling sessions are not positive. To be blunt, our public schools are failing to educate American youth. There is chaos in the classrooms. Student attire is inappropriate and respect for their administrators, teachers and peers is minimal.

I belong to a 9,000-member church in an affluent suburban area. The focus and request for contributions to fund mission trips to afar foreign lands are relentless. Yet, a public high school within the same county, located just 10 miles away, has an abysmal graduation rate of just 45 percent. This failing institution receives minimal if any unified attention or effort from the church members to mentor the students of this low-income school to complete their educations.

One public school that is soaring above its tough inner city roots is St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey, which was profiled during a March 20 segment of CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Home to 550 male, low-income, primarily minority students, St. Benedict’s has remained a sanctuary for the area’s young men since 1868 and is operated by the Benedictine monks of Newark Abbey.

Despite the ominous-sounding authoritarian oversight of the monks, the school is actually run by a delegation of upperclassmen who have been elected to provide leadership and oversight of the other students. These young men wear uniforms and begin their rigorous day with a “pep rally” which has been dubbed the “Daily Affirmation.”

The school is both a brotherhood and safe haven for these young men who seem to sincerely care about each other and their unified academic and personal success as a student body.

Despite the inner-city odds against these young men, who largely come from one-parent, low-income homes, the graduation rate for St. Benedict’s is an astounding 98 percent, and 85 percent earn college degrees. The tuition is not cheap at $12,000 annually but, through public and alumni contributions, most students receive subsidies that cover 50 percent or more of the yearly cost.

My observations of St. Benedict’s model for success include the lack of any obvious cellphone usage by students in the school’s hallways or classrooms. Also, there was no evidence of “earbuds” being used by the students to isolate from the world around them and listen to music.

The young men are required to hug and touch each other with loving physical contact vs. shunning any display of affection as with most American youth. They sincerely care about their success as a unified student body.

Uniformity in attire is required. There are no drooping blue jeans, cocked baseball caps or the distraction of female students in skimpy clothing, as seen in the public high schools I visit.

The St. Benedict model for success should be studied by public school administrators as a lifeline for correcting a failing inner-city educational system. If we — as property owners and taxpayers — are required to fund public schools, having a voice in how these schools educate our youth should be allowed. As a homeowner without children, I pay a hefty yearly amount to subsidize a public school system that is not succeeding.

If we want to avoid ISIS infiltration and recruitment of wayward underachieving youth, our public school graduation rates must improve. It is uncertain what those 55 percent of non-graduates at the local high school will pursue for life-sustaining employment. Uneducated, adrift, non-working American youth are a ready audience for terrorist recruitment by radical extremists promising them a better future.

Mariann Main

Local Answers to Life’s Questions

Mariann Main is a Delaware native and undergraduate of Ohio State University. She is has a master’s degree in community counseling from Georgia State University and can be contacted at [email protected]

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