Philadelphia Student Union Fails to Hold Peers Accountable at Sayre

 by Christopher Paslay


I’m extremely disappointed with the Philadelphia Student Union.  They squandered a golden opportunity during their recent protest at Sayre High School to show the city that they truly value education and strive to hold each other accountable.         


I say this with all due respect, in light of the pleasant correspondence I had with the PSU earlier this week on Chalk and Talk.  But the PSU made all of us in the Philadelphia School District look foolish when they protested police instead of the unruly behavior of their peers.


The PSU missed the chance to highlight FIVE important student behaviors during their recent demonstration:


1.  The importance of coming to school on time.  The students who supposedly started the brawl at Sayre came to school almost two hours late.


2.  The importance of following the school dress code.  The Sayre students who came late allegedly started the brawl because they were turned away for not dressing properly.


3.  The importance of respecting police officers.  Two Sayre students were charged with assaulting a police officer during the brawl.


4.  The importance of respecting school teachers.  One Sayre student was charged with assaulting a school teacher during the brawl.


5.  The importance of respecting each other.  17 Sayre students were charged with disorderly conduct for fighting.      


The PSU was curiously mum on all five of these issues.  They did however protest the actions of Philadelphia police, the men and women called into the school to control the chaos started by unruly Sayre students.  Ironically enough, no formal complaint was ever filed against the police, nor was there any report of excessive force given to the principal or school officials.


And yet the PSU was there in force, waving their banners and shaking their fists, insisting Sayre students were unfairly labeled as trouble makers.  “We want people to know that we’re not animals, monsters and crack babies,” Candace Carter, a senior at Sayre said.  Who called anyone a “monster” or “crack baby”? 


After carefully pursuing their website, I’ve come to realize some of the PSU’s core beliefs contradict those of genuine proactive learners, and I find this troubling.  Despite the PSU’s record of peer tutoring and community service, members still subscribe to the notion that students are not ultimately responsible for their own educations.  They blame everything except the kitchen sink for their lack of academic success (teachers, schools, books, budgets, principals, politicians, etc), but nowhere in there mission and vision statements do they lay out the ways they can hold THEMSELVES accountable for learning; although I was highly impressed with the PSU earlier this week, a closer examination of the group makes me realize I was too quick to shower them with praise.


Motivation comes from within.  The PSU’s idea that a student’s yearning for knowledge is somehow “crushed out of them” by a failing system is dangerous.  In essence it is saying that it is okay to give up on school, that just because learning conditions aren’t up to par, teenagers are absolved of responsibility for their own schooling, and have the right to point fingers and place blame.


If students are going to be successful in Philadelphia public schools, we ALL must step up to the plate.  We ARE the system, and we must stop making excuses.