Killer in my classroom

Gunshots, body stun 'quiet' area
Gunshots, body stun ‘quiet’ area

“Gunshots, body stun ‘quiet’ area.”

That was the headline, above the fold, in the morning paper today.

Witnesses reported seeing a couple of guys running from the scene. No word yet that police had apprehended anybody.

Fort Wayne is Indiana’s second-largest city, after Indianapolis. So I guess we’ve come to expect to see newspaper stories and TV news accounts of major crimes on a regular basis.

One newspaper feature displays mug shots of usually six or eight people who have alluded police and are wanted on arrest warrants.

When I see such features, I’m often reminded of Mike Maggard. Back in Dayton, Kentucky, Mike was a ninth-grade student of mine during the early years I taught high school.

I can’t say I ever got to know Mike, even though I saw him daily in class for an entire school year. He was a heavy-set young man. He displayed tattoos of guns and daggers on his arms.

He never caused a discipline problem.

Mike sat in the back row. (It was my practice to allow students to choose where they sat.) He didn’t visit. He didn’t talk out of turn. He didn’t visit with his neighbors. He didn’t volunteer answers.

As I recall, he turned in his homework on time. He passed quizzes. He earned his credit for the course. Mike was nearly invisible. A few years later that changed.

I was still teaching in the Cincinnati area. It was a front-page story in both city papers. Late one night, in a robbery attempt, a young man had attacked a downtown Cincinnati parking garage attendant, beating him to death. Apparently there were witnesses. They identified the attacker from mug shots. It was Mike, my former student.

I imagine Mike, if he’s still living, remains in an Ohio state prison. It’s a tragic story, both for the garage attendant and for Mike. Apparently, he missed some vital lesson. In his family? His pals? An uncle who got out of prison?

Obviously, the English curriculum didn’t help Mike stay on the straight and narrow.

Forget “Romeo and Juliet.” Forget “Julius Caesar.” I’m sure Mr. Blue’s freshman biology class didn’t deal with law and order. I suppose Mike got passing marks in that class.

As a long-time journalist, I often visited jails and prisons. I always wondered how the prisoners missed such a basic lesson in living: Don’t be stupid. Stay out of jail. Obviously, the vast majority of students figure it out for themselves. Or they absorb the message at home or at church.

I’ve been tempted to propose a stay-out-of-jail class in, say, middle school. But such a class assumes that people tempted to rob or to kill just don’t know the possible consequences of committing a crime.

Of course, some well-educated people in the professions, in business and in politics break the law. They refuse, in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase, to “play by the rules.” It’s not the case that such people don’t know the rules. They surely know the consequences of getting caught.

It remains one of our country’s biggest challenges. Every year, we see more major crime than citizens in every other Western country. We have more police per capita. We have more social workers. We have more churches. We have greater wealth.

Anyway, a young black man wearing red and black sneakers lay bleeding to death face down in the snow yesterday afternoon. It was a big news story. Even with arrests, I’m not sure we’ll get a good answer.

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