Thursday, January 06, 2011

School Shooting...Violence upon Violence

Two posts in one day, I must have too much time on my hands.

Tragically, our schools once again become a place not unlike a war zone, as another child decides that violence against those who disciplined him was somehow the perfect retribution.   This afternoon, after suspending a student for driving his car on the school football field and track, a school administrator was killed and another seriously injured as the student calmly returned to the campus with his police detective father's weapon and proceeded to open fire.

All the security guards, metal detectors, locker searches and mandatory drug testing in the world will not change our schools.  All it does is cause them to closely resemble jails, not institutions of academic excellence.  Couple this with the relentless bullying of students who are deemed social outcasts for being different, and what you have is a broken system, one in which it seems virtually impossible for America's children to be safe, let alone educated decently.

What have we come to, as a society, when those in authority in our schools have to fear for their very lives if they discipline a student for vandalizing school property with their vehicles? 

What have we come to, as a society, when our children are targeted and harassed at school mercilessly to the point that they are driven to suicide?

When are we going to see that mass education has become akin to prison camps?

Our children are dehumanized in every possible way.  They are numbered, labeled, categorized, evaluated and marginalized.  They have to ask permission to get a drink of water, permission to go to the bathroom, are herded into middle school and high school classes beginning at age 11 with teachers who teach upwards of 125 students a day and our children's names are often barely known let alone does any teacher truly know how our children learn or what their strengths and weaknesses are.  Heck, why don't we just brand them like cattle, stick an ear tag in them, and have them belly up to the food trough??  Then we throw them in hallways and bathrooms where the strongest prey on the weakest, and wonder why they finally "break".

School campuses are no longer safe.  Period.  We need much smaller school communities, class sizes cut at least in half, and we need our children to feel like they are not just a number.  Our kids need to attend schools that do not have environments resembling penal institutions.  We need teachers who really know our kids and not just for 42 minutes each day...our kids need to be with teachers for years at a time so relationships of trust and understanding can be created.  We need parents engaged and involved in the education of their children, parents who send their kids to school having been lovingly read to for several years and who attend school functions, and don't see the school as a free babysitting service.  We need children to feel loved and supported, we need teachers to feel strengthened and backed up. 

Oh, we need so much.

Is it any wonder that just today, ironically, the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) released a study showing that there are now over two million homeschooled students in the United States, a figure equal to 4% of all K-12 students?  Want to know what that figure was just 30 years ago, prior to the beginnings off the onslaught of school campus violence?  20,000...a mere 20,000 used to homeschool and now that number has grown to 2,000,000.  Doesn't that tell someone something?  Shouldn't someone be paying attention to this?

You all know we are not typical homeschoolers.  We are homeschooling due to extenuating circumstances and school violence was not our main reason for pulling our kids, nor are we homeschooling for religious reasons, which is why a large number of homeschoolers find themselves educating at home.  We are sort of the oddballs, finding ourselves at an unexpected turning point last year and making the very difficult and overwhelmingly challenging decision to become home educators.  Our kids didn't fit the norm, and we feared they would sink rather than swim.  We also knew we had a long road ahead in terms of bonding as a family, and felt this might help better facilitate building those relationships.

But in the words of my wise son which I posted just a few days ago, Matthew said in response to missing public school:  "I don't think I am meant to live that kind of life, Mommy.  I'll never fit in since I don't care about sports,  I don't even like football or basketball!  And you know Kenny and Josh are like me that way too.  I don't want to feel forced to do the things kids in school do or not fit in."  Sad, but at 10 years old when he was pulled from public school he already felt he didn't fit in at all.  I wonder now, if we were ever to return him to middle or high school, how much worse would those feelings of alienation be?  And what about Kenny, shuttled along and shoved ahead no matter how far behind he fell, no matter how he didn't fit in maturity-wise with his 12 year old peers, no matter how he was teased for his speech or his cleft scars...what would he be like in a few more years?  Would he be one beaten in the hall ways?  Or would any of our children be the ones who finally had enough and turned to violence to resolve what the adults couldn't manage to handle? would never be my kid.  We all think that.  We all think our kids wouldn't be the ones with the "kick me" sign on the back of their jackets.  We all think our kids wouldn't be the ones whose heads were shoved in the toilet in the bathrooms during lunch break.  We also all think our kids would NEVER be capable of beating other children near to death, ridiculing them, or slaughtering them while in their desks minding their own businesses.  Not our children, never our children.

But when you place them in an environment that breeds contempt...contempt for the humanity of the student as well as the end up with results you never would imagine.

Folks, we need to rethink how we educate our kids, and we need to do it now.  Our institutions do not work, they don't work academically, they don't work emotionally, they crush spirits....those of our young people and the adults charged with educating them.  Sure, you have the cream of the crop who rise up and manage to not only survive but thrive...but what about the remaining 85% of the students?  What about them?

I might be way off base, and I know it.  This is more a "stream of consciousness" post than anything else.  It is not a "My way is best...everyone needs to homeschool" sort of thought process going on here.  The fact is, homeschooling IS hard and I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.  Please don't interpret that as me saying "I am better than you because I homeschool".  It is just an honest and frank statement acknowledging that it is hard...stinking hard, despite what so many say about it being easier than you think.  So far, I haven't found that to be true and doubts assail daily, but I also see that for our odd little family, it is probably the best solution out of all the options available.  We can't afford private school and public schools can't easily accommodate kids like ours coming from such unusual learning deficits, lacking in life experiences and being slipped into the system at older ages.  I also think public ed can work and overall has done a good job of educating the masses to a remarkable degree, after all, Dominick and I are products of the public schools and though I know we could be better educated we also could be far worse off.  We can read, write and calculate reasonably well and can function decently in the world around us. 

Times have changed, however, and our system of education has not altered one whole heck of a lot over the course of the past 100 years.  When we moved from the one room schoolhouse to huge institutions of education housing hundreds of students, all at relatively the same ages and stages of life, the very fabric of education changed, and not for the better.  We need to rethink it all, we need to re-envision what our children need to succeed and blossom, and we need to be honest about what is not working.  Then we need to be willing to fund it.  Not an easy task, is it?  But completely necessary.

I want all our children to be safe, and I don't feel that just because our kids are "out" for now we can thumb our noses and say "See?  Y'all need to do what we did and your problems are solved!".  I don't want kids beaten for being gay...or wearing glasses...or being Asian...or wearing uncool shoes.  I don't want kids so angry and dejected that they feel the only solution is to kill themselves, or to kill others.

We need to do something.  We need to do it now.

Or literally, more of our children will die.


Anonymous said...

What am I doing up? I fell asleep on the couch,and now am awake and checking blogs.

How tragic, the school shooting you mentioned. And while I agree with some of what you said about schools, I would place the blame on society and the lack of morals and the break up of the family system more than on schools. The trash we adults allow in the media, the loss of respect for God, for doing what's right...the lack of moral conscience in society in general. We protect the rights of adults to do immoral things...whatever you think is right, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, etc. Duh, adults. It's hurting someone...our kids and their future.

My bandwagon, huh? I've been subbing as an aid off and on at the preschool and elementary. I also do book talks once/month, so I'm in the building and know a lot of the kids in our small district. Not to be negative about anyone or to be puttng anyone down, I've seen that more and more kids come from lower income families (in our rural area, anyway), often less educated families (for whatever reasons), and even more often, families from divorce. Many live with moms and their boyfriends or dads and girlfriends, many don't have extended family nearby,or the kids have been moved back and forth, hither and parents move in and out with significant others in search of their own happiness.

Again, I don't mean that to sound like I'm down on anyone. But in all of that, I see more kids in the school system who haven't had much stability, who spend a lot of time in front of the tv or computer, left alone after school, wandering town at a young age, etc. It truly breaks my heart. In the preschool, it also seems that many little ones come quite ill prepared for relating to peers or to any type of simple "academic work", as in little clue about numbers, patterns, colors, just the everyday things a child might know from having meaningful interaction with a caring adult. It seems there are also more and more kids with some type of "diagnosis", needing a IEP, special ed services, etc. Maybe it's just our poorer, rural area. But it didn't used to be like this. Our older kids were in school with kids from intact families, families who had lived here for generations, who had parents who got involved and seemed to know how to encourage more academic consistency and success.

I hear from long time teachers that things have changed from their first years teaching. They are hardpressed to also implement all the state requirements, with less funding... while kids are coming with more and more "issues".

I know you're not down on teachers and public schools totally. I know homeschooling is a wonderful option for those who feel it's in their child's best interest.

In working with the school system, administrators and teachers, to help our older adopted daughters "catch up", we know we're blessed to be in a small system where those people know our family and truly care about the success of all students. I know teachers are frustrated at the changes they've seen over time.

Nancy in the Midwest

Anonymous said...

Knew I had to post this in two parts. You'd think I was a blogger! Your post just touched o things I've seen these past few days at the preschool that have caused me to be thinking about these things.

I don't know what the answer is to all of these issues. I don't see things improving, the way our world is heading. But we're charged to do our part to show the love of Christ to those around us. I know your family is doing your part, as we are also trying to do here. We fail, of course, but we will keep on!

Thanks for caring so deeply. Your kids are thriving because of your love that brought them to your family! I love that they are home, safe and sound to learn at their own pace with you. You're doing a very good thing for them. All too often, parents are in a hurry to turn over the responsibility of educating their kids to the school system. Ours never attended preschool or K, but spent those years at home with me, building relationships and just taking more time to mature before they faced public education. But to be honest, working in the preschool, I see that it's probaby very good that a lot of those kids are there. They get more there than they seem to be getting at home, in terms of those basic building blocks to becoming successful..and I don't mean academically only. The school system is struggling to try to "parent" kids who aren't getting those important lessons at home.

Nancy in the Midwest, again

Anonymous said...

LaJoy Educational Campus works, in part, because it has a clean, well lit classroom for each child, a safe environment, a teacher who cares (and there are so many in the schools who care desperately but are often overwhelmed),parents who love and support both their children and the school, and children who have been encouraged to indulge and expand their curiosity and skills.

I can't say what has happened to family involvement. In some cases, I am sure, economic survival is paramount, in others societal distraction or addictions, and in some values that are do not support children or schools.

When push comes to shove politically and economically, education gets short shrift and across a region some schools get extra support from areas with greated income. School buildings may deteriorate and classroom sizes increase. And teachers are saying that they cannot teach with spontineity and creativity when they are harnessed to test results that will decide whether their school or job will exist the next year.

No schools are not safe now. I watched the federal building in Denver be fortified after the Oklahoma City bombing. We respond after the fact, and that is what is happening now. I don't have an answer. The safety concerns mirror the anger and violence in the society as a whole.

Perhaps it is that uncontrolled anger and violence that fuel bullying. Bullying is nothing new. I endured it as a child. By now, one would think, we could have come up with some ways to deal effectivly with it.

Parents are certainly a key part of the conundrum, but by themselves they cannot do it all. It does take a village just as you have found. The village that will back up your values, the church/faith village, the ones who point you toward curriculum, the librarian who smiles every time you check out 100 books, etc.

And so we might ask, what has happened to our villages? What are we doing to strengthen not only the schools, but the communities and families that exist within these districts?


Anonymous said...

I wish I could understand how these things work. My niece went to what was supposed to be an outstanding school, the best school in the wealthiest neighborhood in the county. She was bullied and tormented for 6 painful years while my sister refused to pull her out because "it is the best school". Just 3 miles away, my daughter goes to a school that my sister would consider mediocre. Lower test scores, much higher diversity. But we love this school. Incredibly strong parent involvement. Incredible staff who know each child in the school. Even the custodians know the kids' names. I'm sure there is some bullying here, but I haven't been able to find it. In my niece's girl scout troop, my sister had to intervene to make sure that her daughter was included. In my daughter's troop, every child is included and valued. The leaders wouldn't allow anything else. And all the parents are heavily involved in the troop. I guess it comes down to parent involvement? In "the best school", did the parents just assume that their little darlings were being taken care of and walk away? In the best school, in it's homogeneous blond, wealthy culture, were the children encouraged to destroy anything that was different and didn't fit the definition of the best? I don't know. But these two schools, just 3 miles apart, are very different.

Anonymous said...

We put our kids in public school the first year (except the oldest, he was home schooled by my mom due to behavior issues). The teachers did care about our kids, but it wasn't enough. There were just too many kids there with "issues". I even hated picking my kids up from school because the parents were so rude. I even had one father threaten me while I was waiting in my car for my girls. (I locked my door and got out my cell phone in case I needed to call 911 - couldn't go anywhere since there were cars in front of and behind me). If the parents act like that, how can their kids be any better??? BTW, this is supposed to be one of the "good" school districts in our area.

This year, we have all the kids in private schools. The atmosphere is so much different. Both schools are affiliated with our church so we know a lot of the other parents; and the kids wear uniforms so no one is there for a fashion show instead of for an education. I don't have the illusion that even private schools are perfect, but it has been much better than my recent experience with public school.


Anonymous said...

And today, a nine-year old dies because her parents (possibly) brought her to see democracy in action. I have brought my son to political events without even considering the "danger" in such a situation. I know that violence and politics have been around for time eternal, but why does the world seem a so much more dangerous place these days?


Kelly and Sne said...

While I DO agree that we are in bad need of school reform, I don't think that homeschooling is the answer. While it may work for some, I don't think it works for all and, frankly, I think many parents could use some additional schooling themselves and are in no position to teach their children. There is a reason that teachers have special skills and special training. Maybe we just don't have enough of them.

I think much of the issues that you are describing have a lot more to do with bad parenting than bad schools. IN fact, as many of your commenters have stated, parent involvement seems to have made a world of difference in the quality of the school. And I would add, the quality of the child.