Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Those Who Do Not Know the Past...

I have been out of my old school in Newark for almost two years.  But, as you know from the posts on this page, I was deeply affected by my experience there.  In fact, it changed my life.  I formed relationships with the teachers as well as many of the students and therefore am still in touch with what's going on at the school as well as Newark in general.

I can tell you that Newark, as a city, is a mess.  The gun violence is out of control.  Young people are getting fatally shot or wounded on a weekly if not daily basis.  Most of this seems to be gang related which means the gang violence is also out of control.  The schools are a wreck.  I still talk with many of my old teacher friends as well as administrators, and they all tell me the same thing: the powers that be are trying to turn Newark Public Schools into a charter school system.  They are more focused on dismantling the union and taking power away from the teachers instead of focusing on the kids.

My old school is a micro-example of what's going on.  Some of my old students have completely lost their way and are caught up in drugs and gangs.  One student was caught smoking marijuana in the bathroom and received in-school suspension.  Nothing else.  The gym teacher - who is over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds - was recently threatened by a student and no disciplinary action was taken.  Students run the halls and disrespect the teachers.  Kids are living in poverty and come to school stressed, anxious and angry...but let's focus on dismantling the teacher's union because that's the problem.

The former mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, ran for a US Senate seat and during his campaign no one ever asked him about the gangs, poverty, or crime in his city.  Here was a man on the national stage with national appeal and popularity and no one in the media ever stood up and questioned the status of the city that he was about to leave behind.  Why?

I was speaking with a friend of mine the other night who is a principal in a Newark High School.  He proceeded to tell me stories about students who had punched administrators, and cursed at teachers.  He told me an unbelievable story about a disabled student.  He stood there shaking his head but, like all of the educators I know in Newark, was going to go back.  These people are not turning their backs on the kids or the city for that matter.  They are working within to try and make a difference.  I post on this blog and other writings as my way of trying to help.  I may have physically left Newark (not by choice) but my spirit, beliefs, and passion for the kids will never leave.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Knocked Down but Not Gone

II read how the town of Newtown, Connecticut recently bulldozed Sandy Hook Elementary School, sight of the horrific shootings in December of 2012.  While I understand the want and need to knock the building down, I think it speaks volumes about our national mindset when it comes to violence, and our schools.

Yes, a school and the horrific memories of what happened there can be knocked down, but that's not going to change anything related to the crime.  As I am writing this, there have been a number of shootings in public places (LAX in California, the Garden State Plaza Mall here in New Jersey) within a week of each other.  Also, a school in Colorado was just broken into by two young boys dressed in black and carrying what turned out to be bebe guns.  Two weeks ago (October 21) there was a shooting at a middle school in Nevada and of course the horrible killing of a teacher in Massachusetts. We can keep knocking buildings down or trying to move on in other ways, but what we really need to do is change policies.

A school is a structure that is home to our children for an average of thirty-five hours a week.  Our kids spend more time at school with their teachers than they do with us - their parents.  Don't you want to send your children to school knowing there are national policies in place to protect them while they're there?  Or do we just want to sit around and wait for the next one?

I grew up in the 70's in what was a rural part of New Jersey.  So rural in fact, there was no daily mail delivery.  We would all gather and stand in line at the Post Office on Saturday morning to retrieve a week's worth of letters, bills, etc.  My middle school was at the end of a farm road and was surrounded by woods and farmland.  Like many middle schools, we had clubs and organizations of which the most popular was the Hunting and Fishing Club.  This club had so many members, that it almost filled the entire cafeteria.  Now here's the crazy part: when clubs met, kids in the Hunting and Fishing Club would bring their guns to school.  If a student forget their gun - their parent would come and drop it off.  I have vivid memories of walking past the cafeteria and seeing about 75 kids sitting down with assorted weapons on the table.

When I tell people about this I always ask "Is this a commentary on how naive we were or how crazy our society has gotten?"  The thing is, when all of those kids had their guns in school the thought or idea of someone taking their gun and killing students and/or teachers never crossed anyone's mind.  The thought of that happening was insane.  I am not saying this was a smart move by my school and am not defending it.  In fact, maybe it was a bit nuts.  But again, is this a commentary on where we were or where we've gone?

I think it's safe to say the current gun laws and policies in our country are severely outdated.  The fact that background checks were voted down seems almost as crazy as...allowing kids to bring guns to school.

If you ask me, it's time to knock down current gun laws so we can stop knocking down schools.