Friday, February 27, 2009

Reform the Neighborhoods

Alas, there seems to be a recurrence of winter in Streeterville today. It's 25 degrees with light snow at the Mini. It's days like this that encourage one to make sure there is plenty of good red wine in the house so as to make it nice to stay in. The lake is churning and the waves are breaking over the concrete barrier. It's easy to be content on the inside of the floor to ceiling windows on the 14th floor this afternoon. The gray and cold can stay out there. It's nice and comfy in here.

Three days ago the Chicago Sun-Times ran an op-ed that was titled, "Murder of three teens must spur CPS reform." Being a CPS employee, that title immediately made me bristle. I know the incident being referred to. It did not happen in a school, so how was CPS somehow being held responsible? It seems as though there are an awful lot of headlines in the newspapers these days lamenting the large number of CPS students being shot. It is true that there are a lot of CPS students being shot, but the fact is that they are not being shot at school. They are being shot in the neighborhoods where they live, after school hours. A lot of very young people are dying. Of course they are CPS students. It is state law that they go to school until the age of 17.

As I read the op-ed in question, it turned out that the Sun-Times was advocating programs in schools that address the social and emotional needs of kids who live in the worst neighborhoods and endure endless gang violence. It was advocating that schools work with kids to learn how to get along and solve problems without resorting to confrontation and violence. That in and of itself is great, but the public needs to realize that this will require money, training, and personnel. Counselors in high needs schools are stretched thin. Teachers already have way too many tasks to address in addition to teaching their regular curriculum and they already recognize the need to do some serious socialization for these kids, a great many of whom do not get what they need at home, who turn to gangs for security and guidance.

The schools say bring it on. Just give us the resources to properly do the job. Don't give us an unfunded mandate, that is impossible to follow through on because of lack of resources, manpower, and appropriate training. The schools also say, "Quit printing inflammatory headlines that suggest the schools are somehow to blame for the violence in the streets. The violence is socialized into the kids in their homes and in their neighborhoods where they live. The schools are safe zones."

Every time a headline is published that links murder and violence with students who are part of the CPS, it further cements the idea in the mind of the public that the CPS is somehow to blame. I have worked in high needs schools on the South Side of Chicago for the last 15 years and I have never in all that time seen a single incidence of a student being shot, stabbed or involved in anything beyond a fist fight inside a school building. I'd like to remind people that teenagers, with their hormones pumping away, come into conflict and get into fist fights. This happens everywhere. I, personally, went to a suburban high school and it happened there as well.

I just want to counterbalance this perception that the schools are somehow responsible for the violence and they are all run amuck in rampant violence. We in the schools would love to do something to counteract the bad homelife, the bad street life, the miserable existences many of our students experience outside of school. We, as educators, are there because we care. We resent becoming the whipping boy for something society either cannot or will not deal with, and therefore, shifts the blame to us.

Often bad schools and bad teachers get the blame for students who don't meet standards. Having spent the last 15 years in high needs schools and examined the problems closely, I can tell you that the same social problems that result in the early deaths of our students from gun violence form a disruptive factor in the lives of our students that prevents learning. They don't bring the guns and violence into the school, but they do bring anti-social behaviors that disrupt their own learning processes, and that of those students around them.

Give us the job of socializing and reforming behaviors as well as that of educating students so they can go on to post-secondary education and get jobs and become functional citizens. Give us the resources to do that as well. Just don't continue pointing your fingers at us and blaming us for the violence in the streets while you do nothing but point those fingers and shake your heads.

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