School and Safety; What We Do When We Deny
© copyright 2013 Betsy L. Angert empathyeducates
Look to the left. Look to the “right.” In respect to education each side is willing to talk about sensitive subjects. Granted the two sides differ in respect to the specifics and the solutions. Nevertheless, either or each will dive deeply into a dialogue.
In reference to the subject of Common Core, the Left and Right cannot get enough. Many Republicans and Democrats want nothing to do with Federally imposed curriculum restrictions and requirements. “Teacher Professionalism,” each embraces the topic, although again their values and views vary. But publicly state that Black and Brown persons do not feel safe in their neighborhoods and that this veracity has a profound effect on education and people will come after you!
The politically astute and apathetically proud alike, pounce when asked to ponder the problem of urban violence and its affect on parents and children in the community. Cyber-bullying and bullying in general are constructs we can discuss. But speak of the unspeakable and people will likely proclaim that you are being unjustly punitive, politically incorrect, or in short, you are a racist. “Shhh” they say. Let us not talk about that. Other subjects, yes. We can discuss those, but not how anxious an inner city resident feels when in their own home or community. Instead, let us talk about Common Core, bad teachers, and great ones. Those topics are fine; even favorites amongst the education elite. But how fragile life is for the Black and Brown persons who fear crime in their communities? Many say: let’s not go there – literally or metaphorically. The effects of crime on the psyches of children of color, and its impact on education, are rarely discussed.
Let’s not go there intellectually either, or at least not in any great depth. Skating along the surface will suffice. Academics admittedly do not wish to tempt the fate that of the Moynihan Report  on the Black family. The mainstream too is timid. On occasion, the Press will dip their toes in the waters of awareness. Indeed, in recent months and in the last few years nationally Broadcasters gently touch that tender topic of “violence on our streets.” However, mostly these stories feature tales of mass carnage – the shootings in Tucson, Aurora, Milwaukee, and more recently Newtown, a white suburban Connecticut community, but none of these approach that dreaded third rail, violence in Black and Brown communities and its effect on education.
Mentions of the circumstances that cause youth to use the term Chi-raq when speaking of Chicago are scant and indiscriminate. Even these, when discussed, rarely venture into the overlap evident in education. Neighborhoods severely affected by violence are also the communities in which schools are forced to closed, poverty is high, hopes are low, and fear is ever-present.
On one occasion recently, we were afforded a glimpse into what occurs in inner cities. First Lady Michelle Obama paid homage to a teen who was struck down in the heart of the Windy City. However, once again, the real issue was not on view. Gun Violence supplanted the subject; frequently people of color, parents and their progeny, do not feel safe in their own urban homes. And why would they? Roadways are riddled with danger. Playgrounds too can be quite perilous. Incident after incident affirms what remains invisible from the masses. The streets are not safe and too often, urban schools and surrounding areas are no sanctuary.
As she does at the end of every school day, Rakayia Thompson waited for her 12-year-old outside the Parkside Community Academy just before 3 p.m. last week.
“Next thing you know, gunshots,” she said.
As she stood outside with her 6-year-old son and her 7-year-old daughter, a flood of bullets suddenly came their way from East End Avenue, near 70th Street, next to the playground.
Panic followed the incident on Nov. 20, Thompson recalled. The stream of kids leaving the pre-kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school scattered in every direction.
“There were kids’ shoes everywhere,” said Angel White, who had been waiting for her three kids. “They ran out [of] their shoes.”
Thompson said kids were falling and busting their lips as they scrambled.
“They tried to shoot me!” her 5-year-old son interjected.
Real-life stories from Camden, Philadelphia. Detroit, Baltimore and St. Louis, rarely see the light of day and when they do the discussion is gun violence, not the root causes or the insidious effects of inner city violence.
Again, the public avoids the physicality that is the condition of our communities, and more importantly, emotionally we disconnect. Granted, we study the situation from afar and make recommendations. Experts engage in theoretical and methodological research. Some study the fear urban residents feel, be it real or imagined. Scholars look at the individual’s sense of vulnerability. Others examine social disorganization, (rate of marriage, racial heterogeneity, familial disruption, socioeconomic status, and urbanization (core indicators of social disorganization)) and again, avoid the people.
The public favors assumptions. Some prefer the numbers. Densely populated areas or drugs are to blame for violent behavior, although the statistics do not always bear this out. Countless of our largest cities are relatively safe. An analytic examination reveals that disinvestment delivers the despair, despondency, and dread that at any moment, you too may be murdered.
Andrew Schiller, Neighborhood Scout’s founder noted that “in many cases, city centers, which benefit from development, an influx of people and more amenities, experience less crime than outskirts and even inner ring suburbs.”
Regardless of the look and separate from the literature, the consensus is the same; stay away from what frightens you. Gun shots. Children murdering children. Crime on inner city streets, or the inner city itself, people believe these are the problem. Indeed, a too constant refrain is “It is those urban communities and the persons who reside within them who commit violent offenses and victimize their own. Such statements preclude preventative policies. These serve as excuses for suburban and rural Americans who tend to think that people need to take care of their own.
Oh, the more “sensitive” will say the reactionary rhetoric is not true. Academics will defend the downtrodden. However, these individuals too take no real ownership. Poverty, the intellectuals will say, that is the problem; it is as simple as that.” Simple? Safety and the reality that a bullet in the hallway or coming through the window will kill you or your child instantly is not a simple subject. Nor is it one that as a society we can rightly dismiss.
It is easy to place blame on a circumstance, or put the onus on the “other,” but perhaps there is more that can be done. What might that be? Face our selves and our folly. Ask yourself; will we ever dare do what is difficult; look at the ways in which we, or more significantly our silence contributes to crime in urban poor communities. Could we acknowledge and accept that the greater paradox and bigger problem is that we do not even challenge our perceptions or see what is right there, in front of our faces.
The children cry. Parents plead; ‘see us!’ Feel our pain! Understand that we fear crime in “our communities!” Fifty-four  percent of Black adults see violence as a “very serious problem” in their communities. Sixty-nine  percent believe it is fairly serious issue, one among many. The presence of guns is a grave proposition, one that haunts adults of color each and ever day. However, it is not the only issue that burdens our poorer and impoverished citizens. It is but the most obvious one, the one uppermost in the minds of persons who by circumstances are forced to question their mortality and it is also the one that is “safest” to discuss.
Fueling these concerns is the reality that for too many Black young children, there are too few safe harbors from these ills that plague their neighborhoods, schools, and for some, their homes. Children and adults alike identify neighborhood violence, drug-related violence, gun violence, and violence in schools as areas of significant concern.
When a young girl in Memphis was asked to name one thing that if changed would help her to achieve her goals for the future, she replied: “To help me live through this dangerous world today so I can [grow up] to be a marine biologist.” – Young person, age 11 to 14, Memphis, TN
The prevailing view among Black adults, caregivers and leaders is that today, the situation for people of color is worse than it was a score ago. Disenfranchisement and disinvestment have destroyed the fabric of their communities. Guns only deliver a more deadly and frequently final blow. The newer and insidious issues that have emerged in the last few decades, have had a devastating effect on Black communities and the children growing up in them. Economic isolation and unemployment. Disproportionately high Black imprisonment rates, especially among Black young men, and then, of course, the older challenges exacerbate the crisis’ that plagued Black communities. Violence. Drugs and addiction. Failing schools made more so by policies that presume failure before it is proven. Negative cultural and media influences. Fractured Black families and communities, which conceivably lead to a loss of moral values. Teen pregnancy.
Adults, caregivers, and leaders look to the future and express guarded optimism. Innumerable say they are hopeful, that is if they and the young survive. According to Black Perspectives on Black Children Face and What Their Future Holds “Two-thirds of caregivers worry a great deal (45%) or quite a bit (20%) about their child or children they know being victimized and a large majority believe that many Black children will be victimized before reaching adulthood.
“I asked a 17-year-old the question you asked me: What do you see in 10 years? How do you [see your life] in 10 or 15 years? And the bottom line was he said I don’t think I’m going to be living after four years. Now that blew me away, because I knew the young man was serious.” Low-income caregiver, Washington, D.C.
The starkness of this thought and the reality that prompts such a dire reflection is all too common in disenfranchised communities. Yet, we do not discuss it. The subject is too delicate, or is it the thought that we might be criticized, as Patrick Moynihan was when he asked Americans to assess what their inaction and inattention condones. Could we at least begin to have the conversations previously left behind? In June of 2013, The Urban Institute chose to Revisit The Moynihan Report. Might we?
Surely, silence and surface assessments have not served us, our children, or troubled communities well. Indeed, Black and Brown people state that life in their communities is now worse. Saying safety is not an issue for those who live in fear or that it is less significant than poverty as a whole is like saying my pangs of hunger have nothing to do with the reality that there is no food in my cupboard or money do buy fare.
Disinvestment, poverty and hopelessness are borne out of neglect. Let us neglect no more.
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