Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Am I Missing Here?

WEST END - In a passionate defense of herself and her staff, the interim principal of Hays-Porter Elementary School blamed parents Wednesday for the extreme disciplinary problems that have plagued the new school since it opened in August.

Adonica Jones-Parks, addressing the school's "chaos" publicly for the first time, said teachers, staff and outside agencies are trying hard to curtail student violence and other misbehavior. But parents too often don't follow through on discipline, she said.

Let's see, elementary school kids are what --- first grade through, maybe, sixth or eighth grades? So ages 6 to 14 or so, right? Presumably Hays-Porter Elementary School is run by adults and the parents of these children brought them into the world, so have assumed the responsibilities of adults even if they themselves are children. Yet, "chaos" apparently reigns? How can that be? Why should "chaos" be tolerated by adults charged with supervising children? Why should an elementary school simply be allowed to become a training ground for the penal system?

Is education critically important for the lives of these children? Do their parents believe that? Do we believe that? If we all, including the parents of these children, can agree that education is critical to the future of these children, then how can we tolerate "chaos"? How can we as a society not intervene into an environment that allows such "chaos" to occur? What would that intervention look like?

I think about how my late mother handled those moments of "chaos" involving me and my brother and our friends. More often than not it was simply THE LOOK that instilled fear and calmed the chaos, in that we had learned from experience that THE LOOK was to be respected. Embodied in THE LOOK were years of learning boundaries and discipline and respect for those who had authority in the world by virtue of their status --- Now, it seems that such respect has all but disappeared in much of our culture. How do we teach respect in a world where respect is not valued?

Are we to simply write this situation off to poverty or racism? Is that a legitimate response in the face of the world in which these children will become adults --- a world where a black man with a foreign sounding name, raised by a single white mother, is poised to become President of the United States. Are we to simply say to another generation of children in our cities, "we don't know what to do with you, don't really care much about you because your own communities seemingly care little for you, and therefore, we will do nothing about the chaos you create and live in --- other than partition it"? This is not enough. As Senator Obama has said:

"A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family contributed to the erosion of black families — a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods — parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pickup, building code enforcement — all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continues to haunt us.

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For all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it — those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations — those young men and, increasingly, young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future."

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