Those in the Trenches
by Betty DeRamus,
Detroit News, August 24, 2002
If this were my kingdom ...
Local parents, teachers and children would be the stars at any
future Detroit summits on urban affairs and education.
No, I'm not knocking the 35 mostly national celebrities -- all
heavyweights in their own arenas -- who spoke at the State
Theatre on Tuesday.
However, nobody understands a city's strengths and weaknesses
like the people who live, work or struggle there.
I'm talking about people such as Jerome Smith, who taught in
Detroit for 39 years before retiring last year. Smith, like
other teachers, developed his own approach to improving
reading and helping youngsters battle temptations.
I can't vouch for his reading or character education programs.
However, Smith -- his Web site is www.reading steps.com --
believes his methods work.
"I discovered that character education was ... important to
secure success for my students," he says. "I created a
calendar of proverbs and quotations and shared one quotation
each day. These quotations were arranged in one- or two-week
topical units. At the end of each week, I furnished my
students with writing topics related to that week's theme.
"... I could tell by what the students wrote to me in their
compositions that the quotations were having their intended
effect. Their lives were being turned around."
Then there are parents such as Detroiter MaryAnn Sparkman. Had
Sparkman been invited to speak at the educational summit, she
would have talked about the need to make it easier to rid the
school system of teachers and administrators who are "bad
"I would be one of the first to admit that being a teacher in
today's public school system is more than a notion," she says.
"However, that does not justify teachers who come to school
prepared to do nothing more than intimidate, harass (or)
literally curse out school-aged children."
It also might have been interesting to have Michigan
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins sit on the
dais at Detroit's urban crisis summit.
Watkins recently announced that he will give his entire annual
salary increase to an Inkster-based children's charitable
organization. He already has donated $1,000 to Inkster High
School graduate Anthony Cheathem, who begins his studies at
Grambling State University this fall.
At a recent press conference, Watkins challenged others in
positions of power to give salary increases to worthy causes,
especially causes that benefit children.
"If we truly believe that children in our classrooms today are
the leaders of tomorrow, we all need to give them our best
effort," he said.
"I encourage leaders to go into their communities and meet
these children as I have done to understand their needs and
put a face on these crucial issues."
"There are many students out there like (Cheathem) -- he
inspired me by succeeding in the face of great odds."
A creative teacher, a disgruntled mother and a caring public
servant. They are just a few of this region's voices, all
searching for ways to better prepare urban youngsters for a
more demanding workplace and world.
Betty DeRamus' column runs in The Detroit News on Tuesdays,
Thursdays and Saturdays. Call her at (313) 222-2620 or e-mail