Follow-up on Joe Clark (subject of "Lean on Me")

Joe Clark worked while attending high school to help support his mother, brother, and sisters. He then went on to get his BA from William Patterson College and be a straight A candidate for his masters degree at Seton Hall University. Despite his achievements in education, Clark saw himself as a "number 2" administrator, never at the helm of a school. But after only two years of his leadership, the formerly raucous Eastside High was declared a model school by New Jersey's governor. Joe Clark served as principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey for seven years, turning what had been labeled a raucous institution into a model school. He was named one of the nations ten "Principals of Leadership" in 1986. He resigned as principal of Eastside High in 1990. In 1995 he was appointed director of the Essex County Youth House, a juvenile detention center in Newark, New Jersey. He wrote a book, "Laying Down the Law," does consulting work, and also travels to share his beliefs, strategies, and success stories with teachers, school boards, parents, businessmen, and students around the country. (In fact, he was a keynote speaker at U of M in March for a conference entitled: "Growing Up in a Violent World: Providing Hope for the Next Generation."

Although Clark is seen as an agent of positive change in terms of academic outcomes at Eastside, he was not seen as a positive force by all. He tends to be embraced by the extremely conservative and disliked by liberals. (For instance, Ronald Reagan once called Clark his "favorite educator"). Further, in some institutions, his movie is shown to pre-service teachers as part of training (along with other movies affering different perspectives as well).

When asked if the moviemakers exaggerated him, he replied: "They underplayed me."

His leadership style and philosophies from Eastside are seen even more in his present position. He fired most of staff when he took the position and began to implement his own style of discipline. He believes parents (rather, lack of parenting) are the reason youths end up in his facility. Further, he feels that juveniles with 2 or more convictions should stay in custody until they are 21.


FYI: His 2 daughters and his daughter in law all ran in the 2000 Sydney Olympics in 800meters (his son coached them). (One daughter came in 7th). All had won major national and international competitions in the late 1990s. Interestingly, his leadership philosophies also extended to his family. He preferred that they run distance, to counter the stereotype of the Black sprinter without the discipline and determination to train for endurance activities. Clark put his children through rigorous training in their sports (early dawn sessions, extreme physical demands), and demanded they study just as hard. His philosophy was that they should do their best and be a good example to their country and community, not necessarily "win the gold" or have the highest paying career.



Some Noteable Quotes from Joe Clark:

(Source: "Clark: Happiness is in helping others" In The Collegian.)

"Mental attitude has power and energy. With the proper mental attitude, there is nothing anyone cannot accomplish"

"One person with courage, one person with unswerving, pure tenacity and resolve can make a difference in this society," he said.

"If we are going to bring about a change, it's up to you, but you have to be willing. You have to be strong enough to take the consequences of your


"Young people often don't do things because they are afraid of the consequences."

"You fear things that probably don't exist. The worst type of cowardice is to know what is right and not do it."


[Clark said he has always stood up for his convictions, but those convictions have sometimes made him a lonely man.]

"I have been lonelier than the sound of one hand clapping, but I will not give into those rotten bastards," he said.

"Young and old -- it doesn't matter. In life, you have to be bold. You have to go out there and take life on."


[Clark stressed the importance of pursuing a career that will help other people in society.]

"One thing I can state unequivocally is that the ones among you who will be the happiest are the ones who have sought and found ways to serve others,"

he said. "Our individual destiny is to serve rather than to rule."

"Once you find your raison detre, you will feel fulfilled. It would be fraudulent not to share it with me and the other individuals around you the greatness -- and yes, it is greatness -- that is in your soul," he said.


[Clark also said people need to try to work together.]

"Every deed you do is written in the book of life. You must ask yourself, what you do, what you expect to do, and what you have done in this world so we can live in a reasonable facsimile of cooperation," he said.

 "We go through life with erroneous ideas of how things are, but you have to put something in to get something out. Get off your rusty dusties and do for yourself."


[He says America needs to get together and stop judging people for the color of their skin.]

"That's sick. You should judge people ultimately by the content of their character," he said.


[Clark said there was a reason for Black History Month in the days before the 1960s civil-rights movement, but it should not have to exist in 1995.]

"I don't want to think of myself as significant only one month out of the year."


[Clark gained national recognition as a tough, no nonsense, inner-city high-school principal on whom the movie "Lean on Me" was based. He also is well-know for a Time magazine cover in which he was holding a baseball bat.]

"I only used the baseball bat when the media was around, because the media doesn't give attention to soft-spoken people," he said. "The bat represented the young peoples' choice to strike out or to hit a home run."


[Clark said despite the popular belief, he never used the bat on any of his students at the New Jersey's Eastside High School.]

"Those kids carried Uzis. They would blow my bat to pieces," he said.


[Clark commented on his views of politics and educational reform. Clark said he is very much for voucher systems in public schools.]

"I am an advocate of choice, especially in inner cities. I believe very sincerely that there would be a vast array of new schools that would open up," he said.

"Magnet schools are also a positive step toward choice."

"When you don't have choice, you don't have competition. When you don't have competition, you don't have accountability."


[Despite his strong views, Clark said he has no desire to run for public office in any capacity.]

"I am not a political person. I believe in candor and honesty," he said.


[Clark said he does not believe that poverty breeds crime, but the other way around.]

"Crime breeds poverty."

"When a neighborhood becomes violent, businesses leave, and people lose their jobs."

[Clark said he grew up in a family that was poor, but he learned strong values and morals from his family and his church.]

"We did not knock people in the head. We did not steal."


[Clark also encouraged less government and privatization of the welfare system.]

"I believe that welfare in the inner city has become a liability. It degrades and keeps you subjugant to a bureaucracy," he said. "I would tend to think that we have become a nation of dependents. We do not take advantage of the massive opportunities that exist in this country."


[Clark also stressed getting back to the basics.]

"I think we have to get away from this on-going greed of the luxuries of a capitalist society. We need to get back to God, church and family values."