Fight Club: an update
Mr. Babylon wrote recently about a fight that broke out in a class he was covering.
Although I urge you to go to the post and read it for yourself, because it has much more impact in Mr. Babylon's own words, let me sum up: as far as we know, girl lipped off to boy, boy called girl b-word with an f-bomb thrown in for effect, girl slapped boy hard, teacher verbally intervened but before he could get help, altercation resumed with boy challenging girl to hit him again, girl obliged, and boy decked girl but good. Girl goes to hospital, boy goes to jail.
Mr. Babylon teaches in the Bronx, which makes him a compatriot of my friend NYC Educator. We have discussed the fact that NYC Educator has reported that the powers on high have decreed that no teacher should physically intervene in a fight. I have talked about how I find instructions like this incomprehensible, although I totally support teachers following them, since the legal beagles in their school district would then totally hang a teacher out to dry were they to defy those instructions.
my bone to pick is with the school administration. Why is there no means to get help, short of sticking one's head out the door and yelling? New York City schools spend about $12,000 per student each year, and they can't manage to find a way to communicate to students that violence will not be tolerated for even an instant?
Way back in the 70s, when I was a wee lassie in school, we didn't have phones in the classrooms, but there was a panic button that called the office. At my district we were blessed to have phones installed a few years back, and I am lucky to also have the School Resource Officers' office right down the hall from me. We have cameras everywhere, too.
I remember what it was like without the phones. See, I am not the type to freak out over kids' bizarreness. Kid gives himself a mohawk with a pair of safety scissors? Mine. Kid carves her boyfriend's name into her arm with a straight pin or a burning cigarette? Mine. Kid wears his mom's miniskirts to school every day? Mine. Therefore, as any of you who are teachers know, this means I am
Anyhoo, I was once given a particular lost waif who had been placed in state custody after being abused every way a child could be abused by his own parents (damn them to Hell) and who had attacked his last teacher with a pair of scissors. No one knew what the triggers were for this kid, but I was supposed to try to reach him and teach him.
In those days before telephones, I had to pick out a trustworthy kid in class and give him the instruction that if I ever said a certain word, say, "Sassafras," said kid was to run to the office and not come back unless he had an administrator.To preserve privacy, I couldn't say why or who or what would trigger this word. Needless to say, one day the waif went off-- and I swear I don't know why-- but he was having some sort of schizoid episode. "Sassafras" was uttered, and trustworthy kid ran to the office, where he was told that AP NoNeck was busy. Trustworthy kid had to pitch a fit loud enough to bring the Big Cheese himself out of his office, who then realized that my messenger was not kidding, and they finally got there with the cop and the nurse. But in those untold minutes, I had had to interpose myself betwixt my poor waif and the rest of the totally bewildered class, while trying to calm him down.
Administrators at "Shitty High," as Mr. Babylon so aptly names it, apparently can not or will not connect the dots as to why this school and others like it do not function. Step one would be for them to realize that kids who do not feel safe cannot concentrate enough to learn anything. There is no point in coming to school each day to learn in such an environment. Hence, often the only people who come to school are those who understand that their "right" to an education means that they have a place to hang and practice mayhem at will. Years from now they will claim that they were "victims of the system" and were malignly denied the chance to receive an education-- "receive," as in, the student should be filled with knowledge like water fills a passive, empty vessel.
And New York is not the only place where the adults have ceded the fight to the forces of Loki. Apparently, some district officials at this school district are willing to allow gang members to dictate who can be commencement speaker, as my friend the Education Wonk talks about so lucidly here.
For too long we have allowed students with a proven record of violence to inhabit our schools in the name of their "rights." We have sacrificed the needs of the many for the rights of the few. Education policymakers-- and let's face it, that often does NOT include teachers, who are treated as drone bees in the hive, fungible and faceless-- have to be willing to make it "uncomfortable" and "unpleasant" for students to engage in violence in our schools. Of course, if schools were to impose these minimum standards of security, this may mean that these "students" will decide not to grace our hallways with their presence. Rather than have this count against our schools' drop-out rates or daily average attendance, society should realize that, in order to provide the chance for an education to the majority who wish to learn, there may be some students who have not only ceded their own investment in education, but who actively prevent scores of others from maximizing their potential.
In too many schools across the nation, this malaise then spreads to other students who see that the malefactors act with impunity. A kind of "Lord of the Flies" mentality sets in, and soon the entire school is in the grasp of the forces of ignorance and a casual tolerance for sloth, disorder, and apathy, if not more outright violence. The kids see that the leaders of the school do not care enough to set minimum standards of behavior and decency, and so they keep pushing to find out what boundaries, if any, exist.
Kids do this because, really, they WANT boundaries. They want to know that someone cares enough about them to say "No." Kids will keep pushing until those boundaries are set. Having boundaries makes them feel secure. Without boundaries, kids experience the same feeling as an acrophobic does when being asked to parachute from an aircraft.
Each day in school, we ask kids to be willing to take that same terrifying leap of faith out into the unknown. We have to make that leap possible by not setting the plane on fire before asking them to jump. Similarly, the least we can do is let all kids know that their school is a place where they can be safe, and where the leaps will be manageable.
It starts with saying, "No," and backing that up. Sure it is easier to say "Yes." It is easier to acquiesce through silence or apathy in the face of wrongdoing. The kids in schools like "Shitty High" are waiting for the administration to care enough to say something.