Joe Clark

Joe Clark (1989)

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Themes: Urban Challenges | Education and Families |

Guests: Joe Clark
Host : Trudy Gallant
Producer : Tony Mottley


Summary: Clark, who was principal at Eastside High School in Patterson, N.J., attracted national attention - and sparked intense controversy - with his methods for managing his inner city school. He regularly patrolled the school's hallways with a bullhorn and baseball bat (which he calls "my implements of peace") that came to symbolize his confrontational approach toward student discipline and his efforts to keep youth gangs and drugs out of his school.

From the beginning of his speech, Clark embraces his controversial image and challenges his audience, telling them they will leave either loving him or hating him - but they will not be bored. He begins by declaring that success is entirely a matter of personal responsibility.

"Some of you out there are going to miss success," he tells his audience. "You're going to miss success because it comes dressed in overalls and it looks like work. You're going to miss it. . . . If you end up being nothing in this society, don't blame it on the white man, don't blame it on the black man, don't blame it on your mama, don't blame it on your papa. If you end up being nothing, blame it on your own self, because that's just what you wanted to be, a damn nothing."

Clark, who had raised eyebrows with his comments on affirmative action, defines the concept in his own terms. He says African Americans and others should take a lesson on affirmative action from the Jews.

"Thirty years ago they couldn't go to Florida," he says. "They bought the whole damn state. Now they go wherever they want to go. That's affirmative action."

And he is sharply critical of African Americans.

"One thing I've said about blacks, my people, that we're a bunch of leeches, we just take, take, take; we don't do for ourselves," he says. "You should not expect the white man to do for you what you should do for yourself."

But his most intense criticism is aimed at the nation's educational system and the way it his failed inner city children.

"I refuse to be part of an educational system any longer that exploits black and Hispanic youth in the inner cities," he says. "I urge you with great fervor, with great zeal, with great vigor, to challenge a system that's rotten to the core. If need be, dismantle that system."

This episode features an extended look at a controversial and provocative figure who - love him or hate him - was determined to challenge an American educational system that was not meeting the needs of the urban poor.