Tony Wroten’s controversial Spanish class at Garfield High inspires a reflection that it isn’t just star athletes who get, and need, a break in school.
Recent fallout from the controversy surrounding Garfield High School basketball star and premier University of Washington recruit Tony Wroten reminded me of something: My algebra is atrocious.
So, evidently, is Wrotens Spanish.
This shouldnt be a big deal. I know people who cant speak a lick of Spanish and they have gone on to live productive lives.
But Spanish became a big deal to Wroten when someone realized that his lack of foreign language credits including a D in remedial Spanish would keep him from his basketball eligibility next fall at UW. Garfield administrators took steps to remedy the problem by quickly forming a Spanish class for him and two buddies.
Garfield’s intervention is causing quite a stir. There are accusations of preferential treatment for student-athletes followed by demands for explanations, accountability and, ultimately, firings.
No one caused such a stink when one of my teachers cut me a break just before my high school graduation.
Mr. Martin was my Algebra 2 teacher and the first to know that I was in danger of failing his class and, thus, at risk of not graduating the following month. He called my mother to warn her about the dilemma facing me, my family and the school. The two concocted a plan for me to graduate on time.
During lunch one day, I was summoned to Mr. Martins stuffy office with the mildewed carpet and the mustard-colored fleabag couch. He told me that I was going to take the final exam right then — a week before my class was scheduled to take the test. If I failed on this first attempt, he said, Id have another chance to get a passing grade.
I never saw the results of my pre-test but there is no way I passed it. When I dutifully showed up in class the next day, He looked over at me and said with a dismissive flit of his fingers, Youre okay. Bullet dodged.
Was that special treatment? Damn straight. My mother helped design the operation and Mr. Martin drove the getaway car.
I know that other kids at my school would have benefited from a helping hand. I expect that some of them got the help, while others did not.
And I also expect that things function much the same way at Garfield. Right now, there is likely some non-athlete not making news because his teacher, counselor or club advisor helped out in some not-so-insignificant way. This help could be an offer of extra tutoring, having a useful conversation with a teacher or even driving to the students home to pick up forgotten homework or books.
The whole Wroten dust-up makes me wonder whether people regard the practice of a teacher or administrator helping a student beyond the call of duty as preferential when the kid is . . . um, ordinary?
Here I am now, years wiser, thinking about Wroten and the stories of his athletic prowess. I hear about his swagger and his sense of entitlement and all the other things that regular people are supposed to relish loathing.
Yes, Wroten was pegged as a possible NBA player before he could shave. He was shuttled around playing AAU basketball when he should have been studying Spanish. To many, he embodies the typical jock living in a jock world surrounded by jock enablers. There is surely a systemic image problem for these young and highly talented athletes.
But I think that vilifying the culture is a convenient cop-out. It removes any humanity in the situation.
Personally, I cannot muster up the judgment and disdain I am expected to feel.
Like me, Wroten was on course to fail the most basic college requirements and miss graduation. We got by because we got help.
So, sue us.
Id like to think that everyone has a Mr. Martin in their past or future. Whether it is in the form of a Jim Valiere, the Garfield athletic director who lost his job over a series of department missteps during his tenure, or a nameless clerk at the Seattle Public Schools office who shuffles a kids paperwork to the top of the heap while no one pretends to notice.
Ultimately, I expect that ordinary people –like me — who benefited from a kind teacher outnumber the Wrotens of the world.
Today, my friends old and new will see this column on my Facebook page and rightfully have a field day with it. They all know that Mr. Martins helpful hand didnt turn me into entitled failure who looks for a bailout when my methods fell short.
Similarly, there is no divination stipulating that because Wroten was given untold benefits as a youth that he will grow up to be a spoiled ingrate.