Rest In Peace. Criminal Justice. Public Education. Why are these words often so closely related?
Recently, I attended a funeral of an American High School student. His family and friends called him Tico. He had just turned 18.
Tico was murdered by three gang members, themselves aged 16, 24, and 33. The cause was retaliation for Tico’s own affiliation with a local gang from his neighborhood. The three suspects have been arrested and are charged with Murder. That’s four lives ruined in a matter of minutes.
A second student, Rodriguez, never made it to class this year at all. He was stabbed in an alley after being set-up by a girlfriend. He was 16 years old. The girlfriend and her accomplice are also charged with murder. Another 3 lives ruined.
I am in my third year here at American High School. I have witnessed violence already: student-on-student, crowd-on-crowd, and crowd-on-student fights occur with regularity.
However, this is the first time that I have lost a student, let alone two. I am not alone in my frustration and grief. In Chicago, Harper High School was recently portrayed by the radio broadcast, This American Life. At Harper High alone, 5 students were killed in a single school year, and gang violence has eroded the community’s sense of belonging (let alone public safety). The news story ends with educators from Los Angeles, Texas, New York City, Atlanta, and many other American school districts similarly lamenting the many young people whose lives ended in violence.
Education is a powerful force. It can occur formally in a classroom, with traditional academic content. Education also happens in our communities. Our youth are socialized towards the values presented to them by the environments in which they are raised. The direction of young lives can be dictated by the streets of their neighborhood as much as the halls of their schools. Young people are attracted to organizations that they perceive as providing security and a sense of belonging. Where resources are scarce, families are overworked (or absent) and crime is high, young people will turn to what is readily available in their communities for structure. When the school day ends, the surrounding communities take over. Not all influential community groups are positive, just as not all indeterminate cliques (aka “gangs”) of people are negative.
Many people have strong perspectives about education and related social policies. Questions of how to teach, what to teach, the role of educators, and the quality and relevance of American public education are debated every day. Parents, teachers, administrators, government stakeholders, taxpaying citizens and corporate America all have a vision for our educational system.
I am going to use this blog to honor those young people that we have lost, those that we are losing, and those that we will lose if revolutionary social changes are not made to save a species that never seems to make the endangered list. Like all social media, this is my perspective – shaped by my experiences as a student and educator.
I invite you to follow this blog, which will be updated weekly.