Yesterday I blogged about how I was thinking of adding an occasional Dear Alan wrinkle to my blogs. This was a question posed to me.
Hi Alan, Could you please do a blog about rosaries being a sign of gang affiliations? My high school has had six police cars in the last week, added security and two lock-downs. We have a gang problem. Our high school accepted more schools of choice kids than any other district – no background checks – period. We had a rumor this week that someone was going to come in and shoot up the school. It was not substantiated. We had so many students absent on the day it was supposed to happen, it was unreal. Students were scared. Staff was scared.
In our “Emergency Staff Meeting,” I brought up the fact that many of our students are suddenly wearing rosaries and this is a gang symbol. Our administration basically told me that I was absolutely wrong and that it’s a trend. This is the same administrator who after I sent reported a student wearing a tshirt with his gang air-brushed all over it, he called him out of class and made him turn his t-shirt inside out and then sent him back to my class for two hours. It was hell. The kid was furious and was extremely disruptive. Some staff said that I never should have reported it because I could get my tires slashed…
I’m frustrated! Did you ever deal with gang issues in your classroom and was your administration helpful?
I know for a fact that rosaries are a touchy subject, but I also know that many students are strutting their gang affiliation right under our noses and not one person is doing anything about it. Any suggestions?
Okay, have I ever dealt with the problems of gang members in school? Yes.
Have I ever dealt with silly admins who were entirely too dismissive of the very real threat that these kids posed to the safety of other other kids or to staff? Yes.
How did I handle it? It’s a REAL challenge. I mean Grade A number 1. And when it comes to kids and gangs and violence and schools, there are no easy answers. Anyone who tells you there are is probably trying to sell you something.
On one hand, to let the threat of these kids take precedence over education is to allow “the bad guys to win”. (And save the hate mail, please. I have done EXTENSIVE work with gang kids and I clearly understand how troubled these young people actually are. Read my book HOMEBOYZ if you doubt my street cred on this front. But I do need a simple [oversimplified] term right now to address the bigger issue and, in case you have your head in the sand, some of these kids are actual felons with violent and malevolent dispositions… so if I am not all-that-PC right now in using the term ” bad kids” please know that if you have ever been in the thick of it, the word “bad kid” is a very mild description as compared to some of the stuff being perpetrated by more than a few young people today. Anyway…)
Thus, as a teacher I am torn. Why? Because it’s my job to be on the front lines and make sure the “bad guys” do not win… so making sure that I don’t let their fear and intimidation tactics sabotage my professional aims is VERY important. It’s why, when I have had days like these, yep, I did, indeed come to school.
Then again, I did so with a prayer in my heart. And why’s that? Because I have no aspiration to “die for the cause”. And when foolish admins don’t take threats of violence like this seriously, I think heads ought to roll. I mean Holy Moly, we we need proactive responses to the threat of violence in schools – not reactive ones – and reactive ones are what we all-too-often see.
There were days that I truly believed it was going to take something as tragic as a teacher to get shot before I’d see a reasonable response to the frequent threats of violence I felt on campus. Thank God nothing like that happened. But do I think far too many admins are playing with fire on this front? Oh, hell yeah!
Of course, I do student assemblies all the time across the country. And just last week I did one in at an inner-city school and asked the crowd (hundreds of urban high school kids), “How many of you know someone that has been shot?”
At least 40% of the hands flew into the air.
Think about that. Put that in context of your own high school experience. Put that in context of your ability or desire to do homework when this is what your home life/neighborhood existence is like. Me, I didn’t know one kid who had been shot when I went to high school. Not one. And if a friend or cousin had died at the hands of a bullet, I really don’t think my ability to prepare for bubble tests like the SAT would have been the same.
(Side note: My goodness, I took the SAT over 25 years ago. Can we please build a better form of student assessment before the year 2200 hits?!)
See, the rule for shootings is pretty simple: avoid it happening to you. Do whatever you need to do in order to avoid being shot. Everything else is secondary. It’s why you give a mugger a wallet instead of standing your ground. Bullets trump!
This means that if means the rumors are flying and there’s a chance that someone might get blasted on campus, as a kid, most play it, “Better safe than sorry.”
And I don’t disagree with them at all. Live to learn another day. Especially, if you do not feel the school has an adequate grip on things.
Plus, if I am a parent and I do not feel the school is being as diligent as they ought (and in your case, it seems pretty clear to me that the parents probably wish the school was able to better insulate the campus from the community violence) then there’s no way I am sending my kid to school that day.
Safety first. That’s the rule.
Additionally, if the teachers are scared it’s because they lack faith in the authorities who are supposed to be able to ensure campus safety actually exists. Cavalier attitudes combined with, “you better not report that kid or else your tires could get slashed” tips from fellow peers wouldn’t inspire me much at all to believe, “Yep, the adults on campus actually have a good grip on this.”
My feeling is that if the teachers are being asked to deal with “gang kids” that are being sent to the office, then sent back to class with their t-shirt inside-out, the implied message is, “just teach, would ya… and don’t send me your minor problems”… which shows a total lack of appreciation for the fact that kids will die for the affiliations being boasted about on their shirts.
As an adult we may think it’s stupid and what-not, but to kids who are real gang-bangers, that’s their “flag”. And they will “represent” for their hood.
They will shoot for their hood, they will fight for their hood, they will shed blood for their hood.
And if school allows them to fly their flag on campus, it’s inviting fantastic amounts of trouble. A campus with these challenges needs to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to attire because really, attire is a gigantic fuse.
The rosaries, now they are a touchy subject because of the religious implications, But if gang-members have absconded with the symbol and violence is a by-product of the rosary’s association, IMHO, they gotta go.
That’s my take. And I have a feeling even nuns might agree with me on this one.
So, what can you do?
- Stay safe.
- Create an environment where your students feel safe. (to the best of your ability).
- Don’t be afraid to be a whistle blower when admins are not doing what you feel they ought to ensure campus safety. Better for nothing to happen with extra precautions than something to happen due to less precautions.
- Remember, if you are scared, the students are even more afraid… even if they do not seem to show it. Dialogue, expression, exploration of “what we can do to make our campus community better”, there are all sorts of things. But to deny it… it’s just begging for trouble. Cancer thrives on inattention.
- There is no real playbook for this sort of thing. Talk to six different educators and you might get six different answers. At the end of the day, you sort of have to follow your heart.
- This icon really tells a tremendous part of the story. I am not sure they have all the same puzzle pieces I would list, but the big point is that it takes a lot of different folks to keep a school safe.
America really has a variety of different school systems all living under the banner of American Education.
Some schools know absolutely nothing of violence on campus. Others can’t even imagine how the school might operate on a day to day basis without the threat of gangs and violence.
The only thing I can tell you is that, at the end of the day, senselessness seems to have grabbed certain corners of public education by the throat.