|Esther Lee led the discussion|
Wearing her ever present church hat, Lee peppered panelists and even audience members with questions about the walkout, the absence of diversity among teachers and the educational gap between white and minority students.
|"It starts in the home," said Rev. Melvin Tatem|
Panelists like Lehigh University's Dr. James Peterson insisted there would have been no walkout at all if school board members just listened to student grievances at a crowded and contentious meeting just a few days before the student strike. He said students have many legitimate grievances, like old textbooks and far fewer teachers than just a few years ago.
|Chief Mark DiLuzio calls himself "the last teacher"|
"It starts in the home," the cleric observed, speaking in a soft voice that grew louder as he continued. "If we don't do our job, everything else falls down. ... If you don't respect your parents, you won't respect the police." He want on to speak of three generations in just one family being in jail.
Chief Mark DiLuzio, sitting right next to Tatem, called himself the "last teacher" that a young person sees before being sent to the prison system. Both Chief DiLuzio and Mayor Donchez also decried the poverty in Allentown and elsewhere within the Lehigh Valley. DiLuzio asked how, in a country as blessed as the United States, the poverty rate could go up three per cent in just eight years. Donchez decried a "permanent underclass" with "very limited skills."
|Mayor Bob Donchez (L) and Dr. James Peterson (R)|
But all-day kindergartens and teachers cost money in a "Don't tax me" society that is increasingly unwilling to pay the price.
"We've lost respect for the public good," observed Roy."We don;t have money for roads and bridges," he said, referring to our crumbling infrastructure.
Mayor Donchez blamed extremists on both sides of the ideological divide to whom "compromise" is a dirty word. "We can certainly do better,": he observed.
Minority Teacher Shortage
Both Dr. Roy and Dr. Peterson agreed with Lee's observation that "the majority of teachers are white while the majority of students are not." But Dr. Peterson explained that there's "no pipeline" to crate minority teachers. He stated more needs to be done to make "teaching a profession to which students aspire."
Peterson, who directs the African Studies program at Lehigh, noted that one reason so few high schools offer African American studies is because so few teachers are qualified in that area.
Panelists participating in this forum included Mayor Bob Donchez, Police Chief Mark DiLuzio, BASD Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy, African American Studies Professor Dr. James Peterson, Bethlehem YWCA Executive Director Stephanie Hnatiw and Randi Blauth from the American Association of University Women.