The thing I remember best about grade-school history is that out of all the people we studied in class, the only ones that seemed to get much respect had either used a gun in a socially respectable manner (Ulysses S. Grant = good, John Wilkes Booth = bad), signed the Declaration of Independence or led a successful social movement. They were all, by and large, dead. And even that might not be enough to secure the highest honor our nation can bestow: a national holiday/sales event. Even two of our greatest presidents — Lincoln and Washington, both dead — have to share a day. So if being the father of your country or preserving the Union and ending slavery isn’t enough to rate a single day in your honor, what pillar of moral rectitude, what shining embodiment of our country’s highest ideals, is worthy of an entire week of study in the public schools? ayor Marion Barry Jr. That’s right, the mayor of our fair city, who is reportedly alive and, when last we checked, enjoying his third wife and fourth term in office. Looking around town, you might not think there was much to celebrate. The public health figures out of the District rival those of your average third-world nation in infant mortality and preventable diseases, according to groups that track these kinds of numbers. Small cities are beginning to spring up in the yawning gulfs we commonly refer to as “potholes.” And over four out of five eighth-graders in D.C. public schools lack a mastery of basic reading skills, with many reading below the fifth-grade level. Throughout the District’s descent into near-bankruptcy, Marion Barry, (referred to by the Washington City Paper as “Mayor-for-Life”) adopted a battle mentality. To him the city’s crisis was a zero-sum game, where the only thing that mattered was survival — his political survival, that is. He came to office on wave of hope; he’s leaving behind the wreckage of unfulfilled promise. Instead of addressing the city’s problems with rational, comprehensive proposals, the good mayor held press conference after press conference at which he insulted his enemies with silky-smooth words, like velvet-covered daggers. And to the people who looked to him for hope, his promises were soothing but ultimately unsatisfying — sweet as honey and empty as air. I have neither the space nor the stomach to recount the many adventures of Mayor Marion, but I know that back in Brooklyn, where I grew up, there are small-time mobsters running low-budget rackets who dream of the kind of organization Marion Barry managed to carve out for himself. I know what you’re thinking right now: triumphing over a felony conviction and a fondness for cheap women to secure the mayoralty of the capital of the free world is an impressive accomplishment, no doubt, but does it really warrant careful and organized study of your life and legacy by thousands of impressionable schoolchildren? Well, kids, I think most of us know the answer to that question: welcome to education, D.C.-style. (I’d like to preface the following by stating unequivocally that I did not make up anything you will read in the following paragraphs. Besides my heretofore unquestioned reputation for honesty and forthright accountability that I feel honor-bound to uphold, I am not given to any of the mind-altering substances one would find necessary to dream this stuff up.) In case you weren’t aware, this past week has been devoted to the study of “Life and Legacy of Mayor Marion Barry, Jr.” in D.C. public schools. The 12-page curriculum was apparently entirely written by Mayor Barry’s office and approved by D.C. schools chief Arlene Ackerman with no public comment (democracy at work in the District.) Elementary school students were encouraged to write poems and oral essays about the life of Marion Barry. And in D.C. high schools, where the aggravated assault rate exceeds that of many small cities, students were to be encouraged to use class time to write limericks about the life of Mayor Marion Barry (you know what, maybe I’m wrong about this particular assignment — it may be one of the better ideas to emerge from the mayor’s office. If ever there was a person whose life lent itself to limericks, that oft-maligned literary form, it is our own Mayor Marion Barry. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of a D.C. high school this week!) High school students were also instructed to create a time line of important events in the life of Marion Barry, much as those typically created by fresh-faced Sunday School students across the country to chronicle the life of Christ. (Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of entries on the Marion Barry time-line that might not be curriculum-approved) This week’s suggested readings included “Mayor Barry: 40 Years of Dedicated Public Service” and “Mayor Barry: The Washington Years.” (Strangely enough, “Marion Barry: Promise Unfulfilled” didn’t make its way onto the reading list. Oversight, perhaps.) The week culminated in a pricey gala, held last night at the MCI Center, with special guests Maya Angelou and Boyz II Men. Feeling left out? Well, don’t! Georgetown students, it’s not too late to be a part of the Marion Barry tribute week. Georgetown is a D.C. school, isn’t it? Since elementary school students are writing poems and high school students are composing limericks, why don’t you spend a few minutes working on a haiku for The Hoya’s Barry Haiku contest? Go to a quiet place deep within yourself, and take a moment to reflect on the lessons you have reaped from the life and legacy of Marion Barry, Jr. The inspiration is obvious. The reward? The personal satisfaction that comes from knowing that in another small way, you have become part of the D.C. community. Next week in D.C.: the G. Gordon Liddy appreciation rally. Special guest: Charles Colson. Rebecca Sinderbrand is an Assistant News Editor of The Hoya.

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