Tag Archives: safe schools

Have Threats of School Violence Become Unremarkable?

Police at Lyman Moore School
Police at Lyman Moore School

While looking for something else on the web, I stumbled across an article from last week in one of the little local free newspapers that cover the region. It seems that one of the three Middle Schools in town had an incident last Monday where someone found some sort of note in a bathroom threatening mass killings. The school locked down the entire building and the police came in and searched every locker and every bag while students — who were not allowed to use cell phones or make calls home — were kept in whatever classroom they were in at the start of it all.

When parents started getting wind of this, many of them naturally went to the school, where they were greeted by police wielding assault rifles keeping everyone away. Some hours later, they were allowed to see their children.

The fact that this school was locked down and they brought in police to facilitate searches is one thing, but the remarkable thing to me is that the little local newspaper is the only place in print that seems to have covered it. A couple of the local tv stations did stories on it, but our regional newspaper did not cover it, our local NPR station did not cover it, and the School Department blog does not mention it. (I searched by the school’s name and went through the week’s news at each site and was unable to find any mention of the event.) The news sites that did cover it did so only when it was taking place, and I have been unable to find any follow up about what happened or what their investigation turned up. Was it a ‘prank’? Was there a real threat?

Have school lockdowns become so common that they are no longer newsworthy to the bigger news sources? I fear that we are moving towards a world where these sorts of things are just part of the common social fabric, not because inquiring minds want to know, but because these events directly impact the sense of community in those schools, and how much students can concentrate on their studies and learn in those environments. Students who attend a school where lockdowns are routine and unremarkable will necessarily learn to distrust their community. And what happens when our culture at large is filled with people who grew up with that sort of distrust?

Political Meddling in Youth

When the economy tanks, some people work on helping each other out, and some look for how to mask their agendas.

In Georgia, some State House members are questioning why Georgia’s University System is supporting faculty with listed expertise in topics they don’t understand or maybe agree with, like oral sex. Aside from the fact that this is a terrific example of why we need the institution of tenure to protect faculty from meddling politicians, I have a major issue with this particular example.

In today’s youth culture, much has been made of changing attitudes in sex among youth, and how oral sex is not seen by many youth as being ‘real sex’. Georgia does not apparently collect sexual activity data, but here in Maine, 17% of 8th grade students have had sex, and in Alabama, which I picked just because it’s next door to Georgia, nearly 51% of 6-12th graders have had sex.

The reality is that nearly a third of 15-17 year-olds in this country have had sex. According to 2002 numbers from the CDC, 49.1% of 15-19 year-old males have had vaginal intercourse with females, and 55.2% have either given or received oral sex with females (they don’t seem to break out same-sex data with as much detail). For 15-19 year-old females, the numbers are slightly higher (53% vaginal, 54.3% oral).

The one other set of numbers (from the same source) that could be kinda scary is this: of 18-19 year-olds who have never had vaginal sex, 35.3% of females and 30.6% of males have given or received oral sex.

This means that there are tons of sexually active youth out there who may consider themselves “virgins” and, therefore, may ignore information about STDs.

Damn right I want experts in oral sex studying the topic. Ignoring things doesn’t make them go away, and often makes them worse. If we’d only talked about AIDS before it became the AIDS epidemic….

Becoming sustainable people

I spent Monday and Tuesday at the FertileGround conference. The conference is about sustainability of funding and programs across the state: how do social service organizations sustain their programs and services when funding sources disappear or change? There were a hundred people there connecting with each other to talk about the challenges and successes they have encountered and how they can plan—together—for the future.

This morning, Robert Chambers, the founder of Bonnie CLAC, spoke about how important a thing like a reliable car is to securing and keeping a decent job, supporting children, and having a (relatively) stress-free life. Bonnie CLAC gets low-income parents into new cars and, with that, they observe major changes in pay rates (people tend to go after and get better-paying jobs), life stress, and overall health of the family.

I would call this individual sustainability, and it occurred to me that there is a strong parallel between organizational sustainability and this sort of individual sustainability: how do we help individuals become sustainable?

In the context of youth in classrooms, how do we teach them to be sustainable, and how do we give them the tools to become sustainable? The corollary to this lies in asking the question, how do we remove the barriers to becoming sustainable people?

One of the tasks that schools are charged with is helping students become the best they can be, and that means becoming sustainable as individuals. In turn, that means creating human beings who can learn, who can interact with the world, who can solve problems, and who can become what they want to become.

If students are living in fear, whether it’s a fear of other students, a fear of adults in the building, a fear of academics, or a fear of what they will experience outside of school (or at home), they are not going to learn. This is simple Maslow’s triangle work: if the bases are not covered, an individual cannot think about the higher-level things in life. How does a kid concentrate on the Pythagorean Theorem while spending time figuring out how to get to the locker and next class safely?

Schools need to look closely at whether they have an atmosphere of fear at their schools. Just because adults do not feel afraid does not mean that students do not feel afraid, so we have to ask the students. If they feel fear, they are not focusing on the work, and they will not be able to become sustainable human beings. If they feel fear, they will learn only how to respond to that fear in that specific context, and not how a2+b2=c2. So what do we need to do to make students feel safe?

Keeping students safe from each other

These things happen daily at schools everywhere: Boys inappropriately touching girls in the hallway. Often it’s bumping or brushing up against unexpecting and unwilling recipients, but sometimes it’s more overt. In class, a student who gets frustrated by another, might angrily blurt out “you’re a fag!”. Other students might exclaim “don’t be gay!” Any conversation about gender or biology at any point is greeted by nervous laughter and dismissive “jokes.”

On any given day, this is all before lunch.

Welcome to middle school, where being called gay is one of the worst things that can happen and where human biology is something to be ridiculed for and embarrassed by. Much of the rest of the day may be spent figuring out what consequences are appropriate for any of these situations and, of course, trying to figure out what else is going on in these volatile lives to prompt these behaviors and keep them out of further downward spiral.

How do students (at any school) learn in this environment? How do gay and lesbian students concentrate on anything except their own safety in this environment? How does anyone in schools concentrate on content with all this going on in the background? How does anybody survive adolescence?