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Is Bat-Wielding Detroit Principal Right Or Wrong?

Read a provocative piece in the Freep's Opinion section that offered a harsh take on Kenyetta Wilbourn, the 4-foot-11-inch, bat-wielding principal at one of Detroit's most-troubled high schools. Where others have lauded Wilbourn for her tough approach to maintaining school discipline — comparing her to Joe Clark, the bat-toting administrator made famous in the movie Lean On Me — DPS parent and businesswoman Mari Hadley was unflinchingly critical...

As a result, Denby High School students may venture out into the world with the perception that as a child it is not appropriate to use violence, but as an adult it is appropriate to utilize a bat to terrorize other individuals. Wilbourn's behavior is inappropriate because it violates the school code of conduct, promotes violence, is a form of child abuse and, most of all, is illegal.

A lot of people are sure to dismiss Hadley's remarks as the criticisms of a soft-headed liberal refusing to accept the harsh realities that educators like Wilbourn have to cope with. But considering she's a parent with a child in that same system, Hadley's probably at least as qualified as any other pundit to talk about the challenges in the system.

At the same time, I respect that the diminutive Wilbourn is hell-bent on protecting herself in those Denby hallways. Teachers and administrators should never have to work in fear.

But here's my question: If you're a principal at a big-city high school, backed by the full authority of DPS and the state, and you feel the need to carry a weapon, how do you tell powerless children who walk not only those halls but also the streets outside them that they shouldn't arm themselves as well?

I have bright young cousins who attend Denby High School. One of them was shot in the back by some fake neighborhood tough guys about a year or so ago. His brother, a former Denby student, just missed being shot in the head. In spite of what happened, and as much as I love my cousins and want them safe, I still don't ever want them, or any other kid, walking around with a pistol. Or a knife. Or a bat.

But if it's justifiable for his principal to grab a bat to walk among children, to make it back home to her own family safely at day's end, why shouldn't my cousin — and each one of his classmates who've ever felt the sting of a bullet (and that's more than we care to think, trust me) — tuck aluminum, or better yet iron, into their own waistbands?

Hadley argues that Wilbourn may give students the impression that violence among kids isn't okay, while violence from adults is. But I don't think it's just that. I think an equally compelling issue is how, given the overwhelming reality of bloodshed in their schools and on their blocks, we realistically expect these kids to respond to violence from any quarter.

Again, I understand that the principal, whom I hear is a very solid administrator, has her concerns. And I know that they are as real as the gunshot wound on my little cousin's back.

But if the adults in charge are arming themselves to move among schoolkids, how legitimately can we demand that those frightened, angry and endangered schoolkids not do the same?

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