Violencia / Esperanza

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Things have been so busy that I haven’t had time to write, despite the plethora of things that are bumping around in my head.

One of  this week’s mistakes was an overload of news media. One of my students came to school and told me about his cousin who got shot. I had heard about the 7 year old girl who was shot by the Detroit Police during a mistaken raid, but hadn’t actually read the story. I made the mistake of doing so over lunch break. (This is another reason why I have given up on bringing lunch to school.) The girl got a flash grenade thrown onto her while she was sleeping, and then got shot in the face by police who entered the wrong floor of the duplex they were raiding. They were looking for the girl’s upstairs neighbor, who shot and killed a 17 year old high school student after an argument.

Reporters interviewed the 7-year-old victim’s classmates, and it is clear that their teacher had already discussed the issue at length with them:

Dion’tae Drake, 7, who sat next to Aiyana in the classroom’s front row, said, “I feel bad because she died and she won’t be coming back.”

But when asked if police officers are good guys or bad guys because of the painful circumstances surrounding their friend’s death, the entire class shouted in unison, “Good guys.”

“But they make mistakes sometimes,” said 7-year-old Frankie Coleman. “Yesterday (Sunday) was a big mistake.”

This sounds like conversations I have with my own students. There’s only so much you can do to reassure someone in a time like that, but kids need to feel safe somewhere. It’s been a bloody month in Detroit. Spring is in the air, I suppose. There have been lots of fatal shootings – a Detroit cop, a high schooler on his porch, a man at a gas station shot by a man riding by on a bicycle, an older woman in her living room hit by a stray bullet. When you are going after people with guns – whether you are chasing a car thief, or looking for a murderer – mistakes can be deadly.

I am worried about my kids. I can see the violence filtering through into my classroom. Spring is in the air, and everybody is restless. We’ve had some serious fights at our school in the past weeks, among middle schoolers in particular but even in younger grades. I’ve broken up a few less serious and more ridiculous fights in my own room. In certain groups of kids, tensions are high enough that they’re like dry kindling, and it doesn’t take much of a spark to make an inferno. Many times when I have the offending parties at arms length and am piecing together the chain of drama that led to blows, one kid will say something along the lines of: “Write me up if you want, I’m just doing what my mama told me to. If anyone lays a hand on me I’m going to fight back.”

Unfortunately, self-defense for young kids can be carried out in a misguided fashion. If you look like you want to hit me, I’m going to punch you in the face first. If you accidentally run into my chair while passing out papers, I am going to take you out. Etc, etc. I always tell them that I understand that they need to defend themselves, and that if someone is trying to hurt them they need to prevent that. But in a school environment, we are here to keep you safe. Don’t use violence as your first defense.

It’s tricky, however, because from a wider perspective they are not in a safe environment. I can do what I can to keep kids safe in my own classroom (for once, some the fights I’ve broken up this week have been between kids smaller than me, and much easier to break up… ) but many of them are not in safe environments even at home. It’s hard to tell someone they don’t need to use violence as a first defense when they are surrounded by violence. I do my best to cut down on the “fighting words,” first. Every class is tired enough of my rants comparing homophobia to racism that they know not to call eachother “gay,” and anytime a kid says something about someone’s family member, s/he has to apologize directly to that family member. (Which is horrifyingly awkward enough that the class avoids bringing “yo’ mama” into things, at least in my room.) But there’s still so much dry kindling and short fuses, and we’ve seen a lot of fireworks recently.

So what is my point? Do I really have one? Am I just up on a soapbox for the view?

  • We need to be careful while filling up at Detroit gas stations, for one.
  • We need to find new ways to teach conflict resolution and keep kids safe at school.
  • If we want to own guns, we need to be careful with them.
  • If we need to throw around flash grenades, we need to be careful with those, too.
  • If there are police oversights that lead to children being killed, we need to fix that.
  • And if I want to remain composed and hopeful in front of the sea of small faces that I see every day, perhaps I should avoid news media on lunch break. Save it for at home, with a bottle of wine and a box of kleenex.

On a much more positive note, the last few classes with my middle schoolers went surprisingly well. Perhaps because so many key characters are suspended or absent? Perhaps because certain individuals have pulled it together? I was so thrilled to send a positive note home this week with the kid who I have spent most of the quarter writing up for a variety of offenses.

Adding to the general tone of our class was this little guy outside the classroom window for two days, making even the coolest 8th grade boys get mushy:

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And somehow, after everyone crowded to the window and thought of a variety of names for our new visitor (Geronimo! Oscar! Stuart Little!), everybody sat down and did their work. Even some kids who haven’t done a scrap of work for me all quarter.

Small fuzzy animals as classroom management? I don’t know. Maybe.

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3 Responses to Violencia / Esperanza

  1. maggie may says:

    that story is so horrifying and so brutally final i am at a loss for words.

  2. nashifeet says:

    is that why kindergartens have hampsters? we had a hampster in kindergarten.

    major perspective here. thanks ❤

  3. Pingback: (More) Gratitude Lessons « Me importa. Me importas. Me importan.

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