Do you remember what it was like to be in high school? I kind of do. Fucking Vietnam. Take that hill with no bullets, Private. Don't tell me you don't have what you need. Go.
Yeah, that's pretty much what it's like. Fuck you if you think I'm exaggerating. I'm there every day. We send our kids into situations we couldn't control and hopefully don't face now, as adults. Being in the same school as a neighborhood you're warring with. Knowing you're going to get jumped. Being isolated, feeling so lonely and alone. Having nobody to sit with at lunch. Having no friends. Having the wrong friends. Being terrible at sports. Being gay and being tortured constantly. Not being gay and everyone thinking you're gay. Not knowing if you're gay. Being weak. Being poor and having terrible clothes. Being homeless. Not having soap, or deodorant. Coming to school after your Dad beat the shit out of your Mom and then out of you. Being raped by your uncle-- then having to come to school. No running water or electricty at your house. Not understanding what is going on in class and feeling unhelpable. Not understanding why the kid next to you acts so loud and wild. None of these problems apply to you? They apply to your classmates, and nobody is helping you understand how to be in relation to your classmates. Not your teachers, not your parents, and not the curriculum.
If we can't avoid this as adults, we do the best we can to deal with it. We send our kids into that situation at school, hoping for the best. We try to manage if we are teachers, and many of us are trying our damn well best. Some of us love our kids.
It's not like I'm only speaking of inner city high schools. Don't kid yourselves, private school parents, suburban parents. Ha! Where do the school shootings happen? Not in inner city schools. Where are the best drugs found? Sure as hell not in Black inner city schools. Some private and suburban parents just blind yourselves to that stuff. You think you've bought your way to safety. You just pretend your way out of the menace, while your kids shoot heroin and steal your Xanax.
Why am I writing this? I'm not trying to terrify or enrage anyone, or worse, jeer at anybody. I'm leading up to this--high school is not always safe, physically or emotionally for kids. It's a jungle, whether your kids have 400 kids in their marching band and win awards for their big-budget musical, or whether Principals threaten children's lives and retain their jobs, like the Woodland Hills case.
I asked my nephew if his friends at his suburban school were watching the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. It is about a girl who kills herself, leaving 13 tapes behind to the 13 people who contributed to her death. My brother said he would never watch something like that-- I told him he should--rape culture, rape, suicide-- all real issues covered in the show were things to talk about with his kids.
If we can't talk about rape, rape culture and suicide in the suburbs, we damn well start. And we damn well better start talking about violence in schools, too. In his ninth grade year, my son went to arguably the most academically well regarded high school in Pittsburgh. That year he told me about the most disturbing and horrible fight he ever saw, in which a kid pounded another kid's head against the pavement over and over and over.
I walked up to check on a colleague after a fight last week, past blood on two flights of stairs. There stood a maintanence man with a mop, erasing the pools of blood that drove those rivers down the stairs. I pushed through groups of kids, excitedly watching and rewatching the fight which has been shot from every angle by their peers on phones.
If you are a parent reading this, or a person who would use my words to prove how public schools are "failing," violent and to be avoided, hear this: suburban and private schools may or may not have violent fights such as this. But as a person who has worked in both suburban and private schools, there are problems that are terrible there, too.
In private schools, rich parents can set policy to protect themselves, not children. This results in wholesale violations in special education law, grade inflation, the richest kids being able to bully/miss school/etc. without consequences. You may think this wouldn't happen to your child, or be your child. What if it does? And if you think it can't be true: why wouldn't this be true when the school answers to parents, not the state?
Suburban parents may think they have purchased themselves the distance and the resources to have opted out of the problems that beset the inner city. But white privilege is it's own problem. And uber competiveness to get into the Ivies and other prestigious schools, combined with a relative curricular disinterest in social justice and diversity keep suburban kids from a full and rich understanding of the true and real world.
There is an answer. We belong together. All of our resources, human, material, financial-- we belong together. Building moats around ourselves, our resources, our humanity, disucssions about the truths we live-- this is stupid. The truth is the truth. Let's open it up, bring it out and just freaking talk about it. Nobody is better than anybody else. Black inner city kids and adults have resources nobody else has. So do others. We should stop being afraid to speak the truth.
What does that look like explicitly? Public school does a good job of bringing people together. It has FAILED to teach people directly how to DO diversity. We need to teach directly how to live in a diverse classroom and school community. We need to acknowledge explicity how to live in a "beloved community" where we are trained to see some of us have gifts of lived wealth, some of us have gifts of artistic wealth, etc. If we see each other in term of our strengths, not our deficits, we may learn to live together better.
We need to teach diverse curricula. We must teach about LGBT people, Latinix, and all the missing parts of humanity in our curriucula: not just because we got sued by somebody, but because elevating the stories and contributions of the world create and recreate our humanity.
We need to teach about all the issues kids are facing-- rape, rape culture, racism-- let's drive the elevator up Bloom's Taxonomy to Critical Consciousness. If we want our kids to be SAFE-- we must arm them with the ability to THINK.
And EVERY Pittsburgh Public School, IMO, needs to be trained in Trauma Informed Practises. IMMEDIATELY. Because all of us, teachers and students, are traumatized, over and over again, by the violence we see and terrors we hear and know of.
And by the way, DAMN, largely white, rich capitalist pigs need to stop offshoring what should be tax dollars and pay into a democratic society so our country stops circling the drain. But that's for another blog post.