Monday, February 16, 2009

School Violence

This past week there was a series of fights at Cardozo High School, which led to 16 arrests and a few students being hospitalized (only one for serious injuries, and my sources at Cardozo tell me that the student is going to be fine). There are plenty of places you can read about the actual fight (news articles, The Washington Teacher, DCist) so I won't bore you with the details. My friends who teach at Cardozo say that the "brawl" was not as bad as the descriptions in the media. One teacher I spoke to said that the day after the article ran in the Post, she and her students had a discussion about the fight. Most students agreed that the media was just hyping things up to sell papers and increase ratings. But that is another post for another day.

This whole situation makes me mad. It makes me mad that news crews will show up at Cardozo to film kids beating the crap out of each other, but can't be bothered to report on the institutional violence that takes place every single day in our cities poorest schools. When poor children from abusive and dysfunctional households come to school, they should be able to come to a place that will nurture, care for, and educate them. Instead they come to holding pins where many teachers give them worksheets and ask them to be quiet until 3:15. Instead of reaching their full potential, students become bored, angry, and violent. They lash out.

The fights that took place at Cardozo technically stemmed from some altercations that had happened outside of school. What the newspapers won't tell you is that these fights would have happened whether an altercation had happened outside of school or not. They would have happened, maybe not with these specific students or at this specific school on that specific day, but they surely would have happened. Our children are desperate for control, and fighting is something that allows them to, for some period of time, feel powerful. They see violence not only as a part of life, but as a legitimate channel through which they can increase their social standing. Whereas more affluent students believe they can achieve power and respect through educational success, many of our students believe these things can be achieved through fighting and physical violence. Who can blame them? They are victims of violent oppression at the hands of their parents, their communities, and their schools.

Our schools certainly don't directly cause the violence -- they don't teach kids how to kick and punch. But they do nothing to stem its tide. Schools should be a place where the most disadvantaged children can become empowered through education. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. So students fight, the newspapers take pictures of it, and the people with the power to change it sit their clicking their tongues and complaining about "those violent kids."

Sorry if this post is depressing. I'll be back to posting snarky comments about the union or the way my students dress tomorrow.

11 comments:

Glenn Watson said...

We lame the school if the kids fight but then take away tools to discipline or the school to get rid of students who fight.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your continued respect and admiration for your students. It shines through your post. But I have a legitimate question, as a teacher. What's the problem with worksheets? Or is it the idea that students should sit and quietly completely them, no teacher interaction or "going over" of the material,then they collect them and don't even grade them.

The New Teacher on the Block said...

As an elementary school teacher in DC, I see children being taught that aggression (be it verbal or physical) is the way that you get your way throughout life. Although I have not seen teachers at my school be physically aggressive with students, there is definitely yelling, threatening, and an overall level of distrust and disrespect embraced at my school that appalls me. Most teachers at my school do not empower or encourage our students at all; instead, the teachers embrace an attitude of "because I said so" and "I'm right, you're wrong." I am convinced that one of the Pre-K teachers doesn't even know all of her kids' names- she refers to all of them as "little boy" or "little girl."
If even the schools perpetuate this notion that children do not deserve our respect, love, and understanding, what can we expect? I mean, kids at my school come up and hug me just because I smile at them or say hello in the hallway. It's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a general ed grade level teacher and work with a specific population. That said, I try to know every child's name in my school. As our enrollment has shrunk over the years, it's not that hard to do. When I don't know a kid's name, I sure as heck don't say "little boy or little girl" and find calling a 4 year old young lady a distortion of the English language. So what do I do? I call them sweetheart, baby, darling, or something conveying motherly warmth. And the level of disrespect and distrust is not just at your school, new teacher. I try so hard not to imitate my coworkers and yell at children. I've been told that it's the only thing these kids understand. But I think it's the only way some of our coworkers know how to talk to children.

Dee Does The District said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dee Does The District said...

Edited for grammar: The problem is both within the school as well as outside. How do I, as a teacher, compete with a child's mother telling him to hit anyone who says anything to him because that's how he should resolve conflicts? A parent actually told her child that in front of me! Unfortunately, with the dueling influences and conflicting statements, I think it's difficult for children to learn morals of right and wrong, not to mention how to resolve conflicts. I'm still struggling with how we, as educators, can be the loudest influence on some of our students.

Glenn Watson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Potter said...

Anon #1,

I think worksheets are fine when they're appropriate. There are some skills that require lots of practice and repetition, so worksheets are fine. My problem is that there are some situations where we use worksheets to help control students' behavior and not to educate. I frequently find that my students have been trained through years of experience that they need to fill in a blank or get an answer, and that learning doesn't matter. In the beginning, I struggled terribly when I had students doing inquiry activities that helped them understand concepts but did not involve a piece of paper to fill out. I think worksheets can be destructive to learning if they are used exclusively and if there is no actual teaching and learning going on.

Sam said...

It's all politics people, when the Post had it all for Rhee and Fenty they exaggerated to be on their side, now after their fall out, I bet they are up praying at night that something happens so they can quickly point the finger at the two of them. The root? No one really cares about the children in these schools. Some individuals care, but no organization as a whole is willing to stand up to the corruption and crap in this city that has kept kids in such deplorable situations and conditions for decades on end.

After all, everyone claims to care "about the kids" but as soon as those same kids turn 16 or 18,have children of their own and become "adults", we are quick to judge them and point at them as the problem. This city has failed its poorest citizens at every level.

Glenn Watson said...

This city has failed its poorest citizens at every level.>>

Do you think the poor have in any way failed the city?

Sam said...

Only the ones that commit violent crimes.