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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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  • 1

    This principal is out of order and should be terminated ASAP....Yet since everyone has accepted the false premise the DPS is worthless and useless anything is appropriate and warranted..

    The tolerance and validation of King Bobb who has zero educational credentials paved the way for empty skirts like the principal of Denby..

    Recently I was reading some accounts on how US troops viewed and treated the VC as scum and gooks and such inhumanity allowed our troops to engage in war crimes and all manner of human rights violations..This same mindset is present not only in DPS but the entire city is treated with this contempt..

    Tragic and so sad the lack of dignity for students and people in our urban venues especially when the oppressed start to oppress thier peers and the collective..

  • 2

    No administrator, teacher, or student should be in a situation where they fear that physical harm may come to them. This principal plainly is wrong. She is advertising that, unarmed, she is afraid in her own school. Unfortunately, it's unrealistic to expect a small woman regardless of her formal authority to maintain order in a setting where there are young men, insecure, flush with testosterone, who are eager to establish their "manhood" and rank in the social pecking order among their peers by challenging adult authority. In my high school the assistant principal was a male, soft spoken, and a black belt karate. He was the alpha male. He had few problems in the school maintaining order.

  • 3

    Such a depressing story. I remember when the Denby area was THE quietest part of town back in the 60s and 70s. How times have changed. Seems the whole city is under seige by thugs.

  • 4

    We've come a long way from the ruler and the yardstick.

    In fact most people who have been to college understand the power of symbolism.

    Now that school is said to have a lot of "hoodrats", many of whom do not have the support of a family where there is an educated background.

    So it might be a bit scary at times if someone gets pushed over the edge and reacts in a totally inappropriate way.

    But she is using a symbolic expression that may relate to some of her customers. It says, "I'm the boss, You had better calm down, behave, and start listening".



  • 5

    Has anyone thought to offer a SOLUTION to the Principal's problem? Armchair opinionists love to debate what is right or wrong in situations they aren't in, and rarely offer solutions.

    Should 4-11 women not be principals? What would you do if you were her if you are offended by her actions?

    No, I am not defending her actions.

    It is a say day when a principal even has to consider his or her own safety.

    It is a sad day when children cannot be safe on the way to school or at school. So many kids today place no value on their own lives, not to mention the lives of others.

    I personally mentor troubled young men so they can solve their differences with their intellects and not resort to violence. I put my money and time where my mouth is. If more people would get involved (and offer real solutions) instead of just giving opinions, perhaps more kids would have brighter futures.

  • 6

    Robert Bobb has 4 full-time anyone asking any questions about that??? I would like to know how much those body guards are contributing to the out of control budget deficit....

    It is beyond sad how little discussion exists about the academic development of our children. Many of the stories publicized about DPS focus on issues of safety and security so it should not surprise anyone that there are leaders who feel the need to protect themselves from the element inside and outside of the school that perpetuates violence on students, parents, and staff.

    Wake up people...stop making comments from the point of view of a person looking from the outside and get inside these schools and work with other educators to get a hold of our children......

    If not now....When????

  • 7


    What are you doing but posturing on a pc?? There are many ways to assist DPS and the entire city ...People are not compelled to adhere to your litmus test..

    BTW I am presently a DPS Reading Corp Volunteer and former BLD Sub @ Denby & CC Middle School..Many people give and have given back..

    I mentor many students and I have also assisted Black students in our suburban school districts trying to bridge the AA gap in these venues..

    I agree with you in part I am tired of the security safety profile themes constantly pushed by the worthless media in this region whenever we discuss DPS and the city...

    Right here..Right for me


  • 8

    We could all chip in and buy her some cowboy boots with 8" heels so she could overcome the limbo bar.

    Or try what Mrs. Whitacre did... When she had a out of control child who's mother, self described as going to marry a basketball star, didn't know what to do. Apparently he was yelling and outbursting and totally disturbing the class and the teacher couldn't handle it.

    She got him in her office and told him that she was absolutely allergic to that sort of behavior and put her head down on the desk and began to shudder and shake and blurted out that she could not handle it and would he please, please help her.

    He agreed that he would not do it feeling very sorry for her.

    The marriage came off and off to California they went.

    Then one day a call came in. A principal from California wanting to know how she handled the kid.



  • 9

    Funny thing...

    I have the same reaction at the thought of Newt Gingrich.

    Particularly when he tries to tell us how to do it.

    His party and their actions got us into the god-awful mess.

    Yuck! Bleck!

    • 9.1

      Yeah - all those Republicans like Bing/Kilpatrick/Archer/Young & all of them on the city council with their right wing agenda have really let Detroit down. Maybe if the city got some Democrats in there we'd see real change.

  • 10

    Hey, Guys.....Has anyone stopped to think why the schools are so scary? PARENTS

    A lot of the parents are no help. There is no discipline in the home and none is allowed in the classroom. "Don't correct my kid". "Don't tell me how to raise my kids". "Don't you dare tell my kid he is giving incorrect answers". And. I love this one...."My kids derserve a passing grade because I say so". Or, I'll kick your ass.

    Some of these kids are mad at the world and don't want to be in school. They see drugs glorified and money flows from that business. They would rather be selling and taking drugs. Having sex and babies way too young. School is not even secondary in their thoughts. The school is more like a jungle than a place of learning. For black and white students, alike.

    The law makes them be in school until a certain age. So, they are miserable and make others miserable.

    The kids that have set their minds on getting an education are struggling to keep up their grades. They come to school in an atomsphere of drug wars and gang wars and guns. Fix that......Bobb!

    I went to Southeasterm High School, the class of June 1969. A Jungaleer and proud of my school. Our graduation took place at Edwin Denby High School. Another great school in that day.

    We were not like that. IF, yes if I got in any trouble at school, there was more trouble waiting for me at home. We listened to teachers and learned. We were polite to teachers and others that were in authority. There was no need for anyone to carry a baseball bat for protection.

    Things have changed and not for the better. Is it any wonder why this 4 foot 11 inches tall principal carries a baseball bat? Not from where I see it.

    Bing & Bobb can not fix this stuff. Parents need to step in and work together with the schools and students. That is only a first step, a start on a long
    journey towards fixing what went wrong.

    Start there and Detroit as well as the rest of our nation, will be on the road to recovery.

  • 11

    Has anyone considered that with a bat-wielding principal the students who are there to learn might feel a little bit safer and learn that when they are adults it's their job to keep children safe?

  • 12

    You left out the really pertinent information.......What bat size does she use?

  • 13

    @joseph the same size as your jock strap..real small..really really small..

    It is sad that any thing goes in DPS....Tragic

  • 14

    The rantings of this blog are straying from the original theme. Now you guys are trashing each other.

    To gbt2,.... you had some good things to say. You said them very well. You are doing a good things in helping those students. Now you are lashing out at teach to think, Dan from Detroit and Joseph.

    This fighting amoung ourselves does not seem to be an answer to anything. This is not a united group for the good of Detroit. It is an small example of what is really going on in Detroit, as we speak.

    Dan from Detroit brings up a good point. His list is some of the former Mayors of Detroit. His list is ALL Democrats . Many on that list have stolden money from our city, a LOT of money. This apears to be more of a crime of Black on Black, not Demacrats and Republicians.

    We need help in solving problems in Detroit. Why not listen and glean from many sources? We do love Detroit, after all, and that is what unites us.

    I think this is true of us on this blog. I love Detroit and want the very best for the city of my birth.

  • 15

    We don't have to be united to have progress...Grow up and then check back with me by then you will understand my comment about UNITY...

    Enjoy Life

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