Tag Archives: School Violence

No Biggie–The Student Brutally Beaten by Three Black Teens on School Bus was White

by Christopher Paslay

A white sixth grader is brutally beaten by three black teens on a Florida school bus and the country is business as usual.
 
Photos of the three suspects — Joshua Reddin, Julian McKnight, and Lloyd Khemradj  as reported by WFLA TV News

Photos of the three suspects — Joshua Reddin, Julian McKnight, and Lloyd Khemradj as reported by WFLA TV News

  From CNN:

The windmilling fists and stomping feet rain down blows on the 13-year-old boy.

Trapped on the floor between the bus seats, he cries out as he receives fierce punch after vicious kick from the three bigger, older youths.

As the relentless assault unfolds, the driver of the Florida school bus alerts the dispatcher, pleading for aid.

But he doesn’t physically step in to help.

The bus driver, at least according to his school’s policy, did nothing wrong.

Click on the video below to watch the beating (warning: graphic content):

The interesting part of the way this incident was reported by CNN, as well as most of the American media, is that race was conveniently kept out of the picture.  This is curious because for over 18 months, CNN, as well as ABC and NBC, did all they could do to inject race and racism into the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case:

Consider the following:

  • NBC fired a producer because they edited Zimmerman’s 911 call to make him sound racist (click here to read the article).
  • CNN backtracked after reporting that Zimmerman used a racial slur on his 911 call, which was later proved to be a mistake: Zimmerman said “cold” and not “coon” (click here to read).
  • ABC News revised their story that initially reported that Zimmerman had no visible injuries on his head, which he did (click here to read).

But when a white sixth grade boy is beaten by three older and much bigger black teens on a school bus, somehow race disappears from the narrative—mum is the word on race, racism, and “hate crimes”.

According to examiner.com:

But there is something conspicuously absent from the report — the fact that the victim was white and his attackers were black. Is this detail relevant? That remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that if a trio of older white teens had assaulted a younger black teen, race would not only have received prominent mention but would have been proffered as a likely motive.

Even more amazing, the narrative surrounding this incident isn’t about the horrendous behavior of those three bigger boys ganging up and beating the smaller boy, but about the actions of the 65-year-old bus driver.  That’s the controversy: whether or not the bus driver could have intervened on behalf of the boy (shhhh, he was white) who was being beaten by three teens (shhhh, they were black).

I’m sure President Obama will make an impromptu speech from the White House—being the neutral arbitrator and “great racial unifier” that he is—insisting that if he had a son, he would look like this 13-year old boy being beaten by three bigger aggressors; remember: President Obama is half white, although he’s never embraced his Caucasian heritage, and consistently throws the roots of his lighter side under the bus.

I’m sure all those folks who call for racial harmony—the thousands who marched for Trayvon Martin and an end to profiling—will be out in force over the next week or so.

Not.

To publicly call attention to race in a situation where the victim is white and the perpetrators are black is not only politically incorrect, but would be considered by some to be “criminalizing” black teens who are basically just victims of an unjust system.

These three bigger, older, black teens beating the mess out of a smaller white student might be written-off by some activists groups in Philadelphia as “kids being kids.”

Consider the statement of Rachel Jeantel, the 19-year-old woman who had a lengthy conversation on the phone with Trayvon Martin moments before he was killed, on the Piers Morgan show:

MORGAN: Five white women on the jury and one Hispanic lady.

JEANTEL: Yes. I had a feeling it was going to be not guilty so.

MORGAN: Because of the make-up of the jury? Do you think it was just wrong that you had no black people on the jury at all?

JEANTEL: No, not that. They don’t understand, they understand — he was just bashed or he was killed. When somebody bashes like blood people, trust me, the area I live, that’s not bashing. That’s just called whoop ass. You do that (INAUDIBLE). That’s what it is.

Translation: Rachel Jeantel is saying that Trayvon Martin was giving Zimmerman a simple ass-whooping when Martin attacked the neighborhood watch captain and pounded his head on the cement, or, in her words, what is called a “whoop ass”.  Click on the video below to hear the clip for yourself:

Yes, a “whoop ass”.  No biggie.  Just kids being kids.

Kind of like what those three bigger black boys were doing to that smaller white kid on the buss: just a simple “whoop ass”.  No need to get up in arms about it.  After all, this whoop ass only left the kid with two black eyes and a broken arm.

Just a good old fashioned whoop ass.

Good thing for those three bullies beating that defenseless child that George Zimmerman wasn’t driving that bus.

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Trayvon Martin and Violence in Urban Schools

Martin Photo 1

by Christopher Paslay

Ignoring the dysfunctional behavior of troubled youth perpetuates chaos in American public schools and robs children of their right to learn.     

As “Justice for Trayvon” rallies pop-up in cities across America over the acquittal of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, a relevant fact central to the outcome of the trial has been universally ignored: that Trayvon Martin assaulted Zimmerman, striking, straddling, and then beating the Hispanic man to the point where Zimmerman feared for his life.  One juror has stated publicly that she had “no doubt that George feared for his life,” and that “his heart was in the right place.”

These statements—and the jury’s verdict (a verdict that former President Jimmy Carter agrees with)—were made after six women jurors considered all the evidence in the three-week long trial, including testimonies from over 50 witnesses, analysis of the bullet wound in Martin’s chest that showed that he was on top of Zimmerman, pictures of Zimmerman’s broken nose and lacerations to his scalp, 911 calls from panicked neighbors, and Zimmerman’s own video account of the incident, among many other things.  Yet somehow these facts and all the trial evidence gets pushed aside by the “Justice for Trayvon” folk.  The propagandistic narrative of an innocent young African American boy coming home from a 7-Eleven with Skittles and an iced tea who was stalked and murdered in cold blood through no fault of his own continues to be put forward.

The gaping difference between the trial evidence and the narrative of Martin supporters—which now officially includes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice—is quite alarming.  When young people commit criminal acts—such as assault, robbery, drug possession, and weapons infractions—it is difficult for some people to hold them accountable.  This is especially the case when these teens are African Americans, because doing so is politically incorrect and somehow unjustly blaming “the victims” for their problems.

Take the Philadelphia student activist group Youth United for Change, for example.  In January of 2011, YUC published the report “Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison,” which argued that the Philadelphia School District’s harsh discipline policies were turning innocent youth into criminals, especially minorities.  In a nutshell, the study absolved chronic rule-breakers of basic responsibility for their own behavior and portrayed violent and unruly students as powerless victims caught in an oppressive disciplinary system; one of the more controversial claims was that the presence of police officers and metal detectors in schools was causing minority students to act out.

The euphemism “kids will be kids” was used in defense of the report’s findings by a number of members of the Philadelphia public school community.

But the violence facing Philadelphia public schools at the time was a little bit more than simply “kids being kids.”  Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Inquirer won a Pulitzer Prize for bringing this information to light in a series called “Assault on Learning.”  Amazingly, several months after the series won the Pulitzer, Philadelphia School District officials, bowing to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, actually decided to ease the Philadelphia School District’s student code of conduct.  The reason?  The DOE published a report claiming that minority students were being disproportionally suspended and expelled from school because of racism of both the conscious and unconscious variety (although the report didn’t include a single documented case of discrimination against a student by a teacher).

Fast forward to Trayvon Martin.  Just as groups like YUC try to portray violent and unruly youth as victims of an unjust system, so do the “Justice for Trayvon” folk portray Martin as an innocent young boy who was murdered through no fault of his own.  Many people believe that the tragedy—or the crime—was that Zimmerman profiled Martin as a criminal, which is what Martin supporters insist eventually led to the boy’s death.  But legally speaking, this was not the case, which is why Zimmerman was acquitted.  According to the law, it is not illegal to watch someone from your car, or to get out and follow them; if it were, news reporters, paparazzi, private investigators, and single men interested in courting attractive women would all be behind bars.

According to the law (and the jury’s verdict), Zimmerman following Martin was not reckless or irresponsible enough to set in motion the events that eventually led to Martin’s death, which is why Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter.  The act that led to Martin’s eventual death was when Martin decided to strike and attack Zimmerman, pound his head on the cement, and to put the Hispanic neighborhood watch captain in a position where he feared for his life.  Remember, when Zimmerman approached Martin, Martin could have done any one of the following: walked or ran away; went into his house; or kept a safe distance and tried to communicate.  According to the evidence and the verdict of the jury, he did none of them.  He chose to attack Zimmerman, an act that directly led to his own death.

But it is easier for Martin supporters to absolve Martin of all responsibility for his death.  Like YUC’s report “Zero Tolerance,” which absolves violent Philadelphia school students of responsibility for their behavior in classrooms, Martin was simply a “kid being a kid.”  A kid, mind you, who allegedly called Zimmerman a racist name (creepy-ass-cracker); a kid who was suspended from school not once but three times; a kid who was caught with a marijuana pipe and a baggie with drug residue; a kid who was kicked out of school for graffiti after he was caught with a “burglary tool” and a bag full of women’s jewelry; a kid who had texts on his Twitter account describing an attack on a bus driver; a kid who had a video on his cellphone of two homeless men fighting over a bicycle; a kid who had pictures of underage nude females on his cellphone, as well as pictures of marijuana plants and a hand holding a semi-automatic pistol; a kid who was staying at his father’s girlfriend’s house because he’d been kicked out of his mother’s house for getting into trouble; and a kid who, according to the verdict of the jury, chose to attack and beat a Hispanic man mixed-martial-arts-style instead of simply walking away and going into his house which was not even 70 yards away.

This is the kid whom President Obama has made his surrogate son, and the kid whose memory Obama has stated we need to “honor.”

Is Trayvon Martin’s death a tragedy?  Absolutely.  Did George Zimmerman make mistakes and bad decisions?  No doubt.  But so did Trayvon Martin.

Which leads back to the question of violence in society and our education system:  Why are America’s public schools so dysfunctional and violent?  Why, according to the FBI, are 91 percent of black victim homicides committed by black offenders, and 14 percent of white victim homicides committed by black offenders (twice as many as the other way around)?

Maybe because society continues to absolve people like Trayvon Martin of all responsibility for their actions, and categorizes dysfunctional youth behavior as simply “kids being kids.”

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Dr. Hite’s Plan is Light on School Safety

by Christopher Paslay

Dr. Hite cannot “reset” the School District until the problem of school violence is realistically addressed.   

Action Plan v1.0, the Philadelphia School District’s latest reform blueprint for “resetting” our city’s troubled school system, is exactly 33 pages in length.  There are two main “anchor” goals contained within the plan: to improve academic outcomes for students, and return financial stability to the School District.  Most of the fuss up to this point has been about the ways the District plans on balancing its finances.  Here’s a closer look the academic side of things.

Listed in the plan are five strategies to improve student learning.  Contained within these strategies are 45 “actions.”  Of these 45 actions, one targets safety and climate.  On the bottom half of page 15 the plan states:

A. Improve school safety and climate. Reduce violent incidents, enhance climates for learning, and establish a culture of acceptance and respect in all schools by strategically implementing and sustaining evidence-based school-wide climate and culture programs, and training school administrators on creating safe and constructive climates.

The way to achieve this is through “restorative practices.” The plan states:

Fortunately, we know that when holistic climate and culture programs are embraced by an entire school community and sustained year after year, these challenges can be overcome. The significant drop in violence and suspensions at West Philadelphia High School following implementation of restorative practices in 2008 is one compelling example of the impact of this type of approach.

The plan cites a 2009 study from the International Institute of Restorative Practices Graduate School to show that restorative practices are a cutting edge, data-driven way to deal with safety and climate issues.  At West Philadelphia High School, serious incidents were down 52% in 2007–2008 compared to 2006–2007, and there were only two fire-alarm pulls; according to the report, “two very small pieces of paper were set on fire.”

Serious incidents at West Philadelphia may have been cut in half because of restorative practices; or they may have been down simply because only half as many were actually reported.  Regardless, Dr. Hite’s reform plan and the success of restorative practices must be examined in a much broader context.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs understands that until safety and security needs are met, a “system of excellent schools” is but a pipedream.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hite and the School District recently revised its student code of conduct and have eased-up on discipline; under the guise of racial inequality, suspensions and expulsions of persistently unruly students are now frowned upon.

Loose translation: the rights of the violent few are more important than the rights of the hardworking many.

Until the fundamental issue of school safety and climate is legitimately addressed—not with feel good “restorative practices” and politically correct positive behavior supports, but with real alternative school placements—the goals outlined in Dr. Hite’s Action Plan v1.0 will never come to fruition.

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Children of the Night

by Rainiel Guzmán

These ‘advocates’ propose that teachers should curb both detentions and suspensions and rather inquire as to the whys ‘some’ students have boundary issues, poor study habits and exhibit ‘oppositional behavior’. They should share one of my commutes, which would answer many of their whys.”

As the school year approaches in the twilight of another violent summer in Philadelphia, we are greeted by recommendations which seek to address climate at our schools. Key among these recommendations is the cessation of detentions and suspensions for previous infractions such as tardiness, or the use of profanity and cell phones. Teachers know what will follow, chaos. Precious time will now be “mandated” to address non-instructional matters. It is clear that the proponents of these recommendations do not work or often visit many of our schools. In fact, I am certain that many “advocates” of children in our city must have very different commutes than mine. Their commutes must be through pastoral promenades or perhaps through singing hills. These “advocates” propose that teachers should curb both detentions and suspensions and rather inquire as to the whys “some” students have boundary issues, poor study habits and exhibit “oppositional behavior”. They should share one of my commutes, which would answer many of their whys. Allow me to share with you one of my commutes in particular.

I have been an adjunct at a local college for the past two years. The experience has been one of amazement and genuine satisfaction. The campus is located in a northern Philadelphia barrio. The student population is mostly comprised of working, single, Hispanic mothers. I declare my admiration for their tenacity and efforts. As you may expect a class comprised by mothers is regularly peppered with text-messages, emails and/or phone calls from children of all ages as well as by significant others. During our ten minute break, these mothers are on their cell phones restating orders, assessing chores and, yes, if need be refreshing threats. Once class resumes, the strains from a long day are visible, with the added responsibility of two additional hours of content remaining. At the end of our four hour class, generally concluding shy of ten o’clock p.m., everyone heads home. Likewise, I gather my materials and walk to the parking lot.

As you leave the building the grittiness of this barrio quickly takes over your senses. One detail stands out immediately–there isn’t a tree in sight. Meanwhile, competing songs from speeding cars race by and die out up and down the street. The sidewalks are poorly lit by the streetlights and a heightened self-awareness kicks in as a compensatory instinct. Yet, for the residents of el barrio, all is well. Old and young are out in the street holding congenial conversations and conducting all manner of affairs. As I pull out of the parking lot, I have developed the art of evading children. These children usually ride their bicycles in groups of three or four, down the middle of the street. By children, I mean on average boys ages eight to twelve. In case you are entertaining the idea that this must be a summer affair, unfortunately the answer is no. These children ride their bicycles in the middle of the streets year round, weather permitting.

I have raised the issue with my students and have asked for their opinions regarding these night boys. They generally are very candid. Perhaps, the most succinct opinion gravitates around a well worn phrase, those kids are raising themselves. Once that phrase is uttered out loud a shared silence follows. The silence is then broken by open affirmations  of violence directed to their own children, especially directed to the boys: ¡Yo lo mato! (I’ll kill him.) ¡Ay, si yo lo agarro montando bicicleta a estas horas! (Oh, if I find him riding a bike at this late hour!)Their “professed” anger quickly gives way to mother’s worry. As we proceed with the content, quick, under the table texts are sent. Corresponding mothers’ smiles confirm that all is well.

Once on the road I have become equally adept at turning corners. Night jaywalkers of all ages compete with the cycling muchachos de la noche in open disregard even contempt for cars and buses. This commute home is unlike any I have ever had. Still, other night children await my passage home.

My commute leads me through several northeast Philadelphia neighborhoods. As I follow my personal North Star, both girls and boys of all ages are out and about in small groups. By now it is well past ten o’clock. It is often impossible to discern any adults supervising them. Again, in case you are entertaining the idea that this must be a summer affair, unfortunately the answer is no. These children are on the corners and in the middle of the streets year round, weather permitting. As I near the last minutes of my commute into my well lit, verdant and night-childless streets, a string of Chinese corner restaurants attracts my attention. Indifferently of the day of the week or season, these restaurants are full with children and teenagers buying and eating late dinners. They often eat on the stairs, given that these restaurants do not offer seating. There are a few adults present, but my passing glances cannot confirm their relationship to the children. As I approach the unmarked “borders” of the barrios, hoods and neighborhoods, which weave our city, the smiles of these children challenge my thoughts.  I’m consumed by questions, and perplexed by their laughter.

I begin to indulge in self-righteous commentary to myself; Where are the parents of these kids? Why do we have a city wide curfew in the first place? Doesn’t anybody care? My morning commute to school is free of questions, jay-walkers, and young boys on bicycles. The Chinese restaurants are closed and the hectic morning rush of pedestrians do not allow for congenial conversations.

I truly wish that more “advocates” would commute at night. In doing so, they would have to answer not only the “whys” but to their current austerity machinations. Machinations, which seek to cynically redirect assured, non-instructional conflicts onto the charge of teachers. Please note that austerity in certain business circles is a code word for the stripping of assets, i.e. not having to pay for school nurses.

The hypocrisy spewed by these change agents is toxic. They are well aware of the conflicts which have and will continue to follow the gutting of nurses, counselors and behavioral scientists from many district schools. To their Machiavellian credit, they astutely enable some well intentioned but politically uninitiated “advocates” who instead of demanding the immediate reinstatement of non-teaching professionals, essential to any well run school, add their efforts to these cynical pursuits. I and many more resent the continued characterization of teachers as the enemies of our students and by association of responsible parents. Teachers are often, too often, the only constant adult presence in many of our students’ lives. I am not a psychologist, nor am charged to perform as one, thank God. Still, I will offer my very pedestrian diagnosis regarding the referred “whys”: children cannot parent themselves and teachers cannot be mandated to be surrogate parents or psychologists. God help us all, especially the children of the night.

Rainiel Guzman is a 2011 Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award winner.  He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University, and teaches art at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

 

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The injustice schools ignore

According to The Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Assault on Learning,” Philadelphia’s public schools have a bit of a violence problem.

From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents, including 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug- and alcohol-related violations, and 1,186 robberies. Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs. Teachers were assaulted more than 4,000 times.

So how has the School Reform Commission responded? By easing its student code of conduct and other disciplinary policies. In particular, the commission wants to cut down on out-of-school suspensions. . . .

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “The injustice schools ignore.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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The Day Discipline Died in Philadelphia Public Schools

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s revised code of conduct is evidence that officials have thrown in the towel when it comes to student discipline. 

Mark the date: 8/16/12.  That was the day discipline officially died in Philadelphia public schools.  Not that discipline was alive and well to begin with.  In many schools throughout the city it was hanging on by a thread, a brain dead body with a faint pulse connected to a life-support machine with a bunch of tubes running out of its arms.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

In fact, from 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

Over the last five years, discipline has been hanging on by a thread.  Not anymore.  Yesterday the School Reform Commission voted to officially pull the plug on the dying animal.  School leaders are being instructed to cut down on out-of-school suspensions, and loosen punishments as a response to discipline violations as a whole.  In particular, principals can no longer suspend a student for profanity, cellphone or uniform infractions.  So when an algebra teacher is in the middle of a lesson on the order of operations and a student is interrupting the class by talking loudly on his cellphone, and the teacher says, excuse me, put that away, and the student says, fuck you, I’m in the middle of a call here, and the teacher says, give me that cellphone now, and the student says, bitch, go fuck yourself, a suspension is not in order.  Not even when a student continues this behavior on a regular basis, and ruins everyone’s education in the process.

According to a story in today’s Inquirer:

The focus now is on in-school intervention.

“Though there can be no excuse for behavior that harms or disrupts, there may be reasons that caring adults in school need to understand. We educate the whole child,” the code declares. It lists a range of in-school intervention that should be employed, from “get a student’s attention by calling his/her name in a calm voice” and “address the student in private” to drawing up behavioral contracts.

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (trying to teach the class):  Put away that cellphone. 

Student: Man, I’m in the middle of a call, yo.  It’s my mom.  It’s an emergency.

Teacher (whispering calmly to the student): Darryl, you can’t use the phone in class.  Remember our behavior contract?  Can you see me in the hallway, please?

Student:  Bitch, get the fuck outta my face!

Greg Shannon, who is in charge of the school district’s disciplinary hearings and expulsions, said schools need to find ways to work with children and patiently figure out why they continue to break the rules: “We have to say, ‘Why are you coming to school out of uniform, and what can we do to support you? What can we do to get you in uniform, or get you a uniform?’”

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (being patient): Stacy, your skirt is too high and your shirt is too low cut.  We talked about this, remember?  Where is the uniform I gave you?  You haven’t worn it in three weeks?

Student: That golf shirt is corny.  I ain’t tryin’ to wear that uniform.

Teacher: But you are dressed inappropriately.  Is there a problem at home?  Do you need to talk about something?

Student:  Bitch, mind your business.  You ain’t my mom.

Lorene Cary, the head of the SRC’s safety committee, said, “The idea is that the best way to be safer is to change our culture to a safe culture.  We really have looked at prevention.”

Prevention?  Really?  What a novel idea (as if principals and teachers haven’t been trying prevention for decades).  What school district leaders have yet to answer is what should be done with students who continue to rob their hardworking classmates of an education even after preventative interventions such as restorative justice, positive behavioral supports, and peer mediation are used?  What do teachers and principals do then?

The answer: nothing.  Nothing is done.  Because of pressure from civil rights groups, because of pressure from toxic progressive organizations such as the Education Law Center, Youth United for Change, the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, and the Philadelphia Student Union, the rights of violent and unruly children supersede the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hardworking students trying to get an education.  Instead of suspending such children and placing them in alternative learning environments where they can get the remediation they need (and their classmates can finally have a chance to learn), these incorrigible youth are forced to coexist in classrooms with their peers where they ruin everyone’s education.

Now the SRC, as well as Superintendent William Hite, are on board with this mission: robbing our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  They are now bowing to the notion that the school district’s code of discipline is racist, is disenfranchising innocent children, and is not working; they are buying into Youth United for Change’s canard that the school district’s discipline policies are creating a “pipeline to prison.”

It is pathetic.  The code of conduct doesn’t work because the district doesn’t have the guts to enforce it.  Overall, policies have no teeth and teachers and principals get inadequate backing and support.  Parents and community leaders are absolved of all responsibility and the students themselves are no longer held accountable for their own behavior.  Why?  Because it’s too difficult a battle for the district to fight.  Like a parent who gives into his child because he doesn’t have the energy to enforce his own rules, the school district is taking the easy way out.

Yesterday’s decision to fundamentally revise the student code of conduct was the death blow to school discipline as we know it.  It appears that the SRC, as well as Superintendent Hite, have officially washed their hands of the whole mess.

God help the School District of Philadelphia, and the tens of thousands of hardworking children who will have their right to an education violated now more than ever.

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Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ Mission is Admirable but Misguided

by Christopher Paslay

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ primary focus should be on character building and traditional core values. 

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools (CNS) is a youth-led coalition dedicated to ending school violence and improving school climate.  According to their Facebook page:

The Campaign is building a nonviolent student movement across neighborhoods, schools and organizations, engaging hundreds of youth in exploring the roots of violence in their own lives and developing a personal commitment to nonviolence.

Prison-like school environments, a lack of resources, high staff turn-over rates, and suppression of youth leadership are examples of conditions that enhance feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness that young people may already be struggling with. These conditions help to create school environments which are a breeding ground for physical and emotional violence directed at other students and staff members.

CNS’s goal of ending violence in schools is admirable and its members should be acknowledged for their involvement.  However, CNS’s mode of operation is predictable and disappointing, and its members still are not thinking outside the box: they, like most progressive grassroots movements, preach that students are victims of a broken system, and that change doesn’t begin with character building or proper conduct, but with the airing of the same tired grievances.           

Comparing schools to prisons is irresponsible, as is the notion that our city’s public education system is a “pipeline to prison.”  This so called “pipeline” exists not in the school where a system of educational and behavioral supports is in place to help children grow and succeed (teachers, therapists, counselors, coaches, nurses, mentors . . . all providing free books, equipment, individualized education plans, food, medical resources, etc.), but rather, in the surrounding neighborhoods feeding into the schools.         

In other words, the schools themselves aren’t violent; the students coming in from broken and dysfunctional homes and communities environments are.            

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning” gave us a small glimpse of just how dysfunctional students coming into the system can be:

  • There were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer investigation, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.
  • In the last five years, there were more than 30,000 violent incidents reported—from assaults to robberies to rapes.
  • In the 2009-10 school year, 690 teachers were assaulted.  In the last five years, 4,000 were. 
  • In the 2007-08 school year, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.  Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police.”
  • From 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

These statistics reveal two things: one—a violent and unruly minority of students are violating the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hard working public school children and robbing them of their educations; and two—not enough is being done to protect the rights of these children.   

Instead of CNS siding with the majority of their peers who are tired of being short-changed in school—instead of calling for the violent and unruly minority to shape up or ship out—CNS calls for discipline policies that prevent the proper removal and alternative placement of the incorrigible few. 

In particular, CNS opposes the use of more punitive forms of punishment, like suspensions and expulsions:         

We demand a smart school discipline policy that uses restorative practices and/ or other preventative discipline measures that focus on addressing root causes of issues rather than merely doling out punishment.

Positive behavior supports, restorative practices, and peer mediation are all well and good, but groups like CNS never adequately explain what should be done with the scores of students who are still behavior problems after these interventions are provided (and after they’ve taken valuable resources away from the students who want to learn).  Tragically, these students are too often kept in the classroom where they continue to rob their peers of an education. 

CNS has yet to speak out against this horrible injustice, just as they’ve yet to adequately hold their peers accountable for their own behavior.  If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.

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The Hunger Games: Teaching Youth Addicted to Violence

by Christopher Paslay

While teachers should work to make lessons interesting, schools must hold fast to academic rigor and fight to undo the negative effects violence is having on learning.

The Hunger Games, a film set in a future where the government selects a boy and girl from each district to fight to the death on live television, has been the number one film in America for over a month.  The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 “for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images—all involving teens.”    

Entertainment has come a long way over the past half-century.  In 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho was released in theaters, America was a different place. One of the reasons Hitchcock decided to shoot Psycho in black-and-white was because he thought it would be too gory in color. Interestingly, the “goriest” part of the film was the famous shower scene, which involved no more than a man slashing through a shower curtain with a knife, a woman screaming and raising her hands to block the blows, and blood, which was actually Bosco’s chocolate syrup, gurgling down the drain. Nevertheless, the scene shocked and horrified millions of Americans, leaving some, such as my grandmother, outraged and speechless.

That was gore in 1960. Today gore is a bit different. Horror films in the 21st century are beyond graphic, prompting directors to employ special effects crews who can convincingly hack-off heads, explode torsos, drive power drills through chest cavities, and cut legs with chainsaws. In such cases, blood and guts are everywhere, orange-yellow leaking from oozing intestines and dark purple flowing from gushing arteries. If my grandmother were alive today, I wonder what she would think of all this? I wonder how she would react to seeing the movie Hostel, or any of the various Saw films?

Through television, film, Internet, video games, and music videos, students today have an ample opportunity to develop a high tolerance for violence, not just a tolerance for it, in fact, but a taste for it. It’s true. I hear my students talking about it all the time. Over the years, I’ve heard kids in my homeroom passionately discuss the scene in the film American History X where the skinhead makes the black guy bite down on the curb and then stomps on the back of his head, killing him (this, by the way, has become known in the urban lexicon as a curb stomp).

I’ve heard them brag about their prowess in the video game Grand Theft Auto, explaining how they pumped so many people full of holes with a semiautomatic weapon, leaving them to die in a puddle of blood. I’ve heard them proudly recite the lyrics to their favorite songs, either rap or metal or some hybrid of the two, songs with a message about shooting or killing someone or about back-slapping a bitch across the face because she didn’t act right. I’ve seen them huddle together in their desks and talk about the crazy Internet sites they visit, the ones that show actual footage of real war, real murder, real suicides.

In light of the violent culture of 21st-century America and young people’s fascination with it, how should educators proceed with education? How do teachers and schools compete with the adrenaline rush of blood and guts and death when it comes to classroom instruction? With so much distraction and desensitization, how do teachers get on a student’s radar?

Reading teachers have been fighting this battle for years. The further society pushes the envelope when it comes to violence, the more desensitized youth become. Lessons that were once spicy and provocative slowly become tame and fail to stimulate. Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet is a perfect example. Ten years ago, my students sat captivated by the opening scene, which depicted a full-scale gun battle at a gas station between the Motagues and the Capulets. Today, when the film is shown to freshmen, too often they are less than enthused.

This lack of enthusiasm carries over to the literature in many public school textbooks. There’s only so much a teacher can do to make Henry David Thoreau’s 1848 essay “Civil Disobedience,” which is part of the Philadelphia School District’s 11th-grade curriculum, fun and interesting. There’s only so much a teacher can do to spice-up Ralph Waldo Emerson’s tedious 1841 essay “Self-Reliance.” There’s only so much a teacher can do to get 16–year-old inner-city teenagers excited about The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, even when they focus on the bloody fist fight between Douglas and Mr. Covey, the slave master. Teachers might spice up the reading by facilitating discussions about racism, dignity, and self-respect, but ultimately, because teachers need to give their lessons rigor and work on language and critical-thinking skills, students must read the story and analyze it through real, structured writing. And this is where many kids begin to tune out.

Group work may help and so might a more hands-on, project-based lesson. These instructional strategies can only get a teacher so far when it comes to literacy, however. Young people must be taught to come out of their comfort zones and accept the fact that academics isn’t going to pack the same adrenaline rush as the film The Hunger Games; to combat this problem, many schools across the area are making the young adult novel The Hunger Games part of the curriculum.

Teachers are there to inform, not necessarily to entertain. While teachers should work to make lessons interesting, schools must hold fast to academic rigor and fight to undo the negative effects violence is having on learning.

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Congratulations to the Inquirer for Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service

by Christopher Paslay

The subject of violence in Philadelphia public schools is back in the national news, but this time in a good way.  Earlier today it was officially announced that the Philadelphia Inquirer won the Pulitzer Prize for public service for its “Assault on Learning” series, which documented the underreported violence in the Philadelphia School District.  Congratulations to Inquirer reporters John Sullivan, Susan Snyder, Kristen A. Graham, Dylan Purcell, and Jeff Gammage who worked on the story, among other editors and photographers.    

Mike Armstrong covered the win in his story “Inquirer wins Pulitzer Prize for school violence series”:

The Inquirer’s investigation of the climate of pervasive violence in Philadelphia’s public schools Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, the profession’s most prestigious honor.

The award is the 19th Pulitzer Prize for the 183-year-old newspaper and its first since 1997.

The seven-part series, “Assault on Learning,” revealed that violence in city schools was widespread and underreported, with 30,000 serious incidents over the last five school years. Those findings were later corroborated by a Philadelphia School District blue-ribbon panel on safety, spurred an overhaul of incident reporting in the district, and prompted the hiring of a state-funded safe-schools advocate.

Shortly after 3 p.m., journalists in the newsroom erupted into applause, hugs and whoops when the announcement came that The Inquirer had won.

In its announcement, the Pulitzer committee said the series used “powerful print narratives and videos to illuminate crimes committed by children against children and to stir reforms to improve safety for teachers and students.”

Read the full story by clicking here.

Again, congrats to the Inquirer and all those involved in winning this very prestigious award.

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Fox 29 School Bullying Video is an Invasion of Privacy and Puts Minors at Risk

by Christopher Paslay

The airing of video of minors inside a classroom is a violation of Philadelphia School District policy.  It also compromises the safety of middle school children.     

Although the Philadelphia School District explicitly forbids videos of their students to be published on the internet, Fox 29 News has gone ahead and posted cellphone video clips taken by a 12-year-old middle school student inside a District classroom on their website.  

The clips, edited around the melodramatic commentary of Fox 29 News broadcaster Chris O’Connell, show several incidents of rough-housing inside a classroom in Samuel Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia.  O’Connell sets the scene at the start of the Fox 29 News Exclusive by saying, “This video is a starting look at what’s going on inside a Philadelphia school classroom, from a student’s perspective.”  He emphasis the word student’s, as if this makes the video somehow ethical, as if a 12-year-old shooting the video makes it fall into compliance with privacy laws and School District policy.

O’Connell says the video shows “violence” and “complete chaos.”  He says that in one scene, “a classroom erupts in a fight, completely out of control, while a teacher tries in vain to stop the brawl.” 

Hardly.  If you watch this clip, at 1:10 on the tape, you hear a male teacher say, “Stop horsing around.  Let’s go.”  This ten second snippet is taken out of context, with no frame of reference as to time.  It’s relatively playful and without malicious intent—similar to the stuff you’d see outside on plenty of schoolyards around the country; listen to the laughter of the students in the background.  Granted, it was taking place in a classroom, but again, we don’t have a frame a reference.  The bell may have just rung.  Even more likely, some of the students may have been playing to the camera and completely hamming it up.  In fact, to a seasoned teacher’s eye, it almost looks staged.

But O’Connell and Fox 29 want their “exclusive”.  Never mind that the School District’s Computing and Internet Acceptable Use Policy states that students “may not post personal information on the Internet about themselves or other people.”  Never mind that airing videos of minors on television and the internet puts them in harm’s way of possible child predators.  Never mind that the parents of the children in the video never signed release forms.  (How do I know this?  What parent in their right mind would sign a release form allowing their child to be shown on television and the internet in such an extremely negative light?)              

“She wants the world to see the place she’s supposed to be getting an education,”  O’Connell says in reference to the 12-year-old girl who took the illegal cellphone video inside a classroom.  This is indeed noble, but it doesn’t give her the right to violate the privacy of her peers, or the privacy and reputation of her teacher, who is clearly identifiable by his voice in the background of the video.        

If I were the School District of Philadelphia, I would not kowtow to pressure from the public and go into damage-control mode for the situation at Samuel Huey Middle School.  In fact, I would do the complete opposite: I would confront Fox 29 News for breaking privacy laws and violating the District’s explicit policy which forbids the publishing of any picture, audio, video, or school work of any District student on the internet without written parental consent. 

I would also inform the parents of all the students shown illegally in the video—especially the parents of the students who were shown in an unflattering light—that they have the right to sue the parents of the student who shot the illegal video and that they should contact a lawyer and pursue a civil suit against Fox 29 News.  (Would Fox 29 have tried this in the suburbs?)       

Before all of this, of course, I would call a meeting with the teacher whose classroom is featured in this illegal video and demand an explanation.  What was the situation, exactly?  What was the real-time context?  Was it during class, or after the bell?  Were students simply screwing around in your classroom during your preparation period?  Either way, I’d most likely take some form of disciplinary action against the teacher, and require him to undergo some kind of peer assistance/mentoring program.  The bottom line is that this kind of student behavior, regardless of the context, is completely unacceptable. 

Then I would inform the teacher that he should think about pursuing legal action against the parents of the student who shot the illegal video, and of pursing legal action against Fox 29 News.          

There’s no disputing that schools such as Huey Middle School in West Philadelphia have issues with classroom management.  Principals and teachers who are unfit to do their jobs should be removed.  However, this doesn’t give disgruntled students or the media the right to invade a person’s privacy by filming them without their consent, and then posting this film out of context on the internet.

Imagine if everyone, at school and the workplace, pulled out their cellphones and shot video of their peers and coworkers at any particular time in any particular context, without their consent, and posted it on the internet? What would happen to all of our reputations?  What kind of chaos would ensue?          

I myself would not want to live in this kind of world.   

Cellphone videos and social media are not above the law, even if the current trends dictate that they are.  Fox 29 News should do the decent thing and take down the video of the Huey Middle School minors and apologize to all those involved.

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