In my letter “School’s Out” (The Mail, 3/4), I diminished the Washington City Paper’s weekly Hall Monitor feature for reinforcing racial stereotypes and compounding them with stereotypes of educational dysfunction in D.C. public schools. I said that these reports were of no more value and interest than diary entries of banal weekly failures and unpleasant sequelae of private debauch, not worth publishing. (I should have added to private failures the public ones, smoothed over by bartenders, bouncers, janitors, and volunteer mediators and designated drivers.)
Contrary to Scott May’s misunderstanding in “Sex and Violence” (The Mail, 3/11), I think publication of Dan Savage’s advice column on love, lust, and personal and public health is a worthy feature. If News of the Weird is a compendium of first-draft material for Darwinian extinction, Savage Love is almost always serious in suggesting adaptive niches, survival, and even—gasp—genuine happiness. Savage is even always thinking of greater public welfare. Until he insists on future male pregnancies, helplessness and futility are as far from Savage Love as they are the only point of “Hall Monitor.”
Unlike Savage Love, Hall Monitor neither enlightens nor entertains. (And it lacks the brilliantly engineered wit found weekly in Josh Levin’s satiric NIMBY Tribunal.) Unlike much else in the City Paper, the narration of disciplinary failures in D.C. schools is almost certainly about people of color. May seems unaware of just how unlikely Hall Monitor is to be about white people.
Forty-three public schools serve adolescents in this city, and they are not the picture of racial diversity. In 38 middle and junior- or senior-high schools, 57 of 18,500 students enrolled in the 2003–2004 school year were white. Only when the schools mentioned in Hall Monitor include Hardy Middle School, Deal Junior High, Ellington High School, School Without Walls, or Wilson High School is there much chance that the directly hapless written-up students are white, as are 800 of 3,600 students in those schools.
(I don’t recall that any of Hall Monitor’s supposed ha-has have come from reports in elementary schools. Twelve of them have a visible white plurality, 1,900 of 3,900 enrollment. In 96 others, all but 134 of 35,245 students—99.6%—are nonwhite.)
So, yes, with fewer than 200 white students enrolled across 124 public schools not mentioned above, holding up all public-school students or their parents to weekly ridicule leaves only regular losers among the City Paper’s poker-playing readers and others so ignorant of demographics or odds as to believe that the misbehaving students and parents, like most City Paper readers, are white.
More entertaining would be an arts-directed educational program/fantasy by City Paper editors designed to run within, say, 40 percent of the $38 million school system’s annual “security services” contract.