Saturday, January 17, 2015


In the past 20 hours I’ve become aware once again of what a high-risk business it is to educate inner-city boys.

Robert. Last night I participated in a lively  discussion of a book entitled “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace,” a pretty accurate biography of a very bright african-american alumnus of ours who went to Yale, graduated with a degree in molecular biochemistry, and returned here to teach and coach. I always considered him one of our greatest success stories. After he moved on from teaching in our school I lost track of him until his name appeared in the newspaper: He had been murdered in his basement where he had been using his scientific knowledge to raise marijuana to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And so a bullet ended the short and tragic life of Robert Peace. During the discussion someone asked me whether I thought that St. Benedict’s had failed Robert. Interesting question about a guy who managed to live two lives in order not to have to face his demons.

Rodrigo (not his real name). At a noontime faculty meeting yesterday we had a presentation from the head of our terrific guidance department detailing the services that they provide (which are unrivalled by any high school around). The Director, an alumnus of ours, congratulated the faculty on the way we have been spotting kids who are in difficulty and referring them to his office. He then introduced Rodrigo who graduated from our school just last year. We all know him, of course. He’d been an angry, angry kid but somehow he was able to start trusting the adults around him and to receive counselling. So there he was yesterday standing nervously in front of us wearing dark slacks, a white shirt, a necktie and a broad smile. He told us that, in the simplest terms, we had saved his life, and contrasted his situation with that of a friend who had quit St. Benedict’s in favor of the street and ended up getting shot and is now a paraplegic. He told about his struggles with his Freshman Algebra teacher (she was sitting in front of him) as a prelude to announcing that he’s currently a math major and hopes to come back to St. Benedict’s one day to teach. We gave him a round of encouraging applause. He’s a success story - so far.

Larry (not his real name). At 7:15 this morning I found myself sitting on a bench in the lobby next to an unkempt 30-something street guy who was wearing a dirty woolen cap. I remember the day he walked across our stage at his graduation and triumphantly held up his diploma for all to see, the result of five years of struggling. He’d gone off to Rutgers Newark full of hope to major in pre-law. Then mental illness (made worse, I assume, by drugs) put a brutal end to his dreams and left him the way he is now.


Ty Cobb
So that's only one success story out of those three students. Sometimes I take comfort in the thought that educating the kids we work with is much more like baseball than it is, say, computer programming. A successful programmer’s programs have to work 100% of the time or he’s considered a lousey programmer; “most of the time” is not good enough. On the other hand, the best hitter in major league baseball this year batted .341 - that’s only about one a hit for every three times he was at bat. Ty Cobb’s lifetime batting average of .364 puts him way ahead of the next best hitters. So, compared to Ty Cobb’s percentage at bat, we’re doing a spectacular job over all.

It’s important, too, to ask the right questions. Don’t ask “What do we consider an acceptable dropout rate in our school?” Ask “What can we do to address the dropout rate?” Don’t ask, “Did we fail Rob Peace?” but “Is there something we can learn from Rob’s experience here that we can use to help other kids like him?

“The Rule”

A couple of minutes ago I saw a film catalogue open to the page entitled “new releases,” with a film circled in
Scene from Bongiornos' "The Rule"
blue pencil. The circled item was the documentary about us and our school entitled
“The Rule.” The blurb in the catalogue touts our school as having an almost 100% college acceptance rate and so forth, the description being, I believe, pretty accurate. By most criteria we’re a success story, and we can be justly proud of what the Lord has done through us for thousands of kids. Still, Rob Peace and Larry stand as stark reminders that this is still a high-risk enterprise and we’ve got to keep striving to get better at it.

Please pray for us and for our kids.

No comments:

Post a Comment