D.C. Council member David A. Catania wants to become nutcracker-in-chief. That is to say, he wants to crack down on the tough nuts of truancy and dropouts.
To be sure, the unconscionably high dropout and truancy rates are tough nuts and not just in D.C.
America has become "a dropout nation."
But Mr. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the council's Health Committee, has assumed the wrong position, predicating his legislative action on the presumption that chronic truants and other youths who cut school have mental health issues, and that it should fall to public school teachers to conduct the diagnoses.
That's precisely what he advocates with the wrongheaded bill, the South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act of 2011, which is titled for a tragic mass shooting that left four youths dead and scores of others terrorized.
The bill assumes that all children are mentally ill, mandates teachers evaluate students' mental health and trumps parental and personal responsibilities.
In other words, it mistakenly assumes that all children are broken and that only government can fix them.
There's another troubling hoax, too: A majority of lawmakers support Mr. Catania's premise, including council Chairman Kwame R. Brown and council members Yvette Alexander, Mary M. Cheh, Jack Evans and Jim Graham, all Democrats.
Shame on them for supporting morally bankrupt legislation that offers not a scintilla of hope for children who, oftentimes through no fault of their own, become pawns of so-called government solutions.
These lawmakers are playing politics by using a highly public tragedy, - the South Capitol Street shooting - to broaden the reach of government.
The Catania bill subsequently will raise more questions than answers to the chronic truancy problem - and, by extension, the dropout crisis - because it offers no solutions.
Don't blame the victim: We need to hear more from the C.T. Vivians and Dick Gregorys of the world, warriors in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement who sat down with youths and adults Saturday to give their views on the cold-hard truth that America's one-size-fits-all approach to education leaves behind too many children.
"There are no good schools or bad schools," Mr. Gregory, a social satirist, told a gathering at the forum. "Pepsi doesn't have good Pepsi and bad Pepsi." (Disclosure: The event was co-sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation.)
Mr. Gregory, 78, and Mr. Vivian, 86, essentially said it's time to end the debates about who is at fault, stop making victims of the undereducated and uneducated with excuses and misassumptions and begin frank dialogue about solutions.
Both men urged people to think outside the traditional schoolhouse box when it comes to learning.
"Schools aren't 'the' solution," said Mr. Vivian, a theologian who met Mr. Gregory during the bloody days in Birmingham, Ala. "The focus must be on solving the learning problem."
He said it's time to draw up an agenda, which is what led to the end of slavery and, a century later, the successful Civil Rights Movement.
"The greatest issue to me is education. ... We know the depth of the problem. We can't run from it."
One solution, he said, would be for Congress to designate a high- school-dropout prevention month to focus our attention.
But as we develop an agenda, we must steer clear of labeling God's children mental misfits.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.
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Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...
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