All children deserve a safe, orderly school that enhances effective teaching and high student achievement. It is education malpractice to keep them in chronically low-performing institutions. It takes mettle to challenge the status quo. It also requires leaders who are bold, capable and courageous.
There is a critical need to overcome denial, guilt, name calling and assigning blame. Our children are at risk. Children of immigrant workers face the risk of deportation. Children living in urban projects lie on floors each night because their mamas are afraid stray bullets will blow their child’s brains out.
America, we have a problem of epic proportions. The “real” curriculum of children extends beyond the schoolhouse. We are right to mandate rigor, relevance, and relationships, but we cannot afford to ignore the “real-life” authentic syllabus of our children.
The tragedies of fatal school shootings mirror the trauma suffered by youth each day. The words of Thomas Jefferson resound like a deafening volcano: “I tremble for my country when I consider God is just and his justice will not sleep forever.” Dr. Martin Luther King’s message may explain classroom disruptions: “True peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice,” he said. When there is no justice, there is no peace. The perception of injustice creates discipline problems and chaos in our classrooms.
We are not powerless. We can make our streets, homes and schools safe. Cowering to violent individuals is an unacceptable option.
The National Crime Prevention Council reported 135,000 illegal guns are in schools each year. The U. S. Department of Education Institute of Education Science states 2 percent of public schools use daily metal detector checks or other security procedures.
Fearful pupils do not do well on state tests. Profanity, pants rebelliously worn low enough to show butts, provocative clothing, sexually explicit T-shirts, vulgar language, unsightly graffiti, gangs, suspensions, uncontrollable behavior problems beg for competent leadership.
We can turn around low-performing schools. We must listen to our teachers, administrators, counselors, social workers, and staff. They want a greater voice in the improvement of safety and discipline.
Yet too often educators courageous enough to mandate discipline codes, character education, high-academic standards, dress standards, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras risk their careers.
It takes a small number angry parents to get rid of a superintendent or principal. The average superintendent is fired within three years. Principals work under fragile contracts instead of tenure.
Teachers are afraid of principals, principals are afraid of superintendents, superintendents are afraid of school board members, and board members are afraid of voters. Fear and intimidation rule!
It is often professional suicide for change agents to promote school reform as an alternative to reform school.
Nationally, school security is a tragedy waiting to happen. When people are afraid, they make stupid decisions. Racial profiling and stereotypes create additional problems. Suspending every child with a problem is not an effective discipline plan or an effective strategy to improve test scores.
Tragically, the epidemic of disruptive behavior, school violence and shootings temporarily enlighten us. We believe the problem is someone else’s school, neighborhood, or only applies to the bad crowd. “It is not my child and will not happen in our school.”
Safety is a mandatory responsibility that requires consultation with school safety experts, parents, students, educators and law enforcement officials. We need gang experts, street smarts, experience, common sense, and proven research-based solutions. It helps to have a fearless principal with a documented history of success and support from supervisors, parents and the community.
It is time to stop playing Russian roulette with the lives of children.
Despite everything, we have some of the best schools in history. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa, George Washington, George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Clara Barton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Howard Hughes, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Henry Ford and most historical figures did not have the opportunity to receive an education from computer experts or educators trained in the curriculum frameworks of the 21st century. We also have some of the best teachers in the history of education, and they deserve better pay, working conditions and a stronger support system.
Henry J. Pankey is a former Durham Public Schools educator. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org