(NOT Really) “Learning Under Lockdown…..”

“Flying bullets near Bed-Stuy school grounds prompt lockdown for impressionable youth; teachers call for greater police presence. Four schools, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, located in the Tompkins Ave. institution in Bedford-Stuyvesant, have been subjected to five lockdowns due to gunfire since Feb. 4. There have been nine shootings near the school since July, said Success Academy Principal Monica Burress….”

By Mark Morales AND Simone Weichselbaum / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

 Thursday, February 14, 2013, 10:09 PM




 Adopted by UN General Assembly Resolution 1386 (XIV) of 10 December 1959

     WHEREAS the peoples of the United Nations have, in the Charter, reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

     WHEREAS the United Nations has, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,

     WHEREAS the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth,

     WHEREAS the need for such special safeguards has been stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924, and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the statutes of specialized agencies and international organizations concerned with the welfare of children,

     WHEREAS mankind owes to the child the best it has to give,



        “Learning under lockdown…”; or in reality, not really learning under “lock-down” is a  sad commentary on our inattention to a large class of children in our nation. It is an indication of the failure of our collective will to act boldly on behalf of our most vulnerable citizens. Other species of animals that lack our high level of intellectual brain capacity; instinctively protect their young from danger. So much for being situated high on the evolutionary scale?  Lately, understandably much of our focus has been on armed intruders entering school buildings. But for many children in this nation learning in an active, and dangerous war zone, is an everyday reality.  And if you think that “learning under lockdown” is hard; imagine what it is like to live your life under lock-down. I can only wonder what the “Poverty does not matter” crowd thinks about  this news story. It would seem that poverty does indeed matter a great deal; and only a person who has not lived it, or saw it up close, and felt its debilitating and painful effects, can say it does not matter.  Poverty hangs like a ever-present cloud that invades every aspect, every decision made in the life of the poor. The feeling of not being safe in your neighborhood, your apartment building, your house. The feeling that your environment is so dangerously arbitrary is a thought you carry with you always. This feeling of circumstantial powerlessness very often gets in the way of other good thoughts, like learning and thinking about the future. As Black teenage males in Brooklyn our conversations would often turn to the idea of not living life, but surviving life. Could we last (live) into adulthood? Will we get old enough so that the police will cease to stop us for suspicion of “being Black”. Will we escape the ever-ready arms of the criminal justice system; as we saw the numbers our friends who entered “the system” grow every year.( And we would even use soda to mimic the older teens, who before drinking, poured a wine “libation” to the guys “upstate”). And so perhaps  some of the worst effects of poverty on young people is hidden just below the surface. In rituals, fears, and a lack of confidence in their own powers and ability. Below their understanding and awareness; in places we would want to forget, if we could only remember. The scars of poverty are planted in a mind that grows to inform your worldview; your understanding as to how, “your world” and “other worlds” operate in very different ways. I came face to face with this understanding while attending a majority White high school. I visited the homes of some of my White friends and wondered: It must be amazing to grow up, and not think about being shot while walking down the street; or a “sightless” bullet slamming through your window in the middle of the night. It must be something to know that if you were not doing anything wrong; the police indeed were your friends. A White friend/teammate once confided to me in the locker room that he and a few friends were acting “rowdy”(disturbing the peace) one weekend; and damaged and defaced the storefront of a local business in their neighborhood. They were picked up by the police. Thinking to myself that I already knew the end of the story, I pushed him on: “What happen then?” I said. “The police took us all home, and my dad whipped my A___”; and our parents had to pay for the damage done to the storefront. I was stunned; “Wait, you mean you guys did not get taken to the police station?” You didn’t get a “JD” card?”. “No reporting to JD court?”  “No threat of being sent to Spofford(NYS Residential Youth Detention Facility)?” “You did not serve as a solution to an “unsolved crime”? It was an “eye-opener” to another reality; and now looking back I now understand why my White friends felt hurt and betrayed when we formed a Black Student Organization. “Why are you (Black) guys so angry, so upset and unhappy; what’s wrong with our society; after all, segregation is over?”  I think of the haunting words of  the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko:                                

        “…These panting people did not know

     that I myself was once a hungry kid,

     that the war hit me hard,

     making two childhoods and two of me…”

            Children who live a life under siege can’t expect to simply emerge at the end of the process as “OK”. Or, go through the “process”, and see the world as “OK”; the danger here is that many children in our nation are robbed of a great deal of their childhood. But one of the wonderful things about a school is that it can serve as a lighthouse and a sanctuary for children under “the gun”. In the midst of a world saturated with arbitrary Hadiya Pendleton type horrific events (doing nothing wrong, but in the wrong place, at the wrong time); the school can serve as a very predictable and positively routine place. Losing the school as a place of refuge and rejuvenation leaves many children with few defenses against the bad and sad things of life. But the recognition of  the deleterious effects of poverty on children, can’t be confused by the use of poverty as an excuse to inflict low expectations on children. Educators can’t fall into the trapped-bad- habit of  not fully exercising the full capacity of their brains, creativity, imaginations and future aspirations. Poverty does not signal the acceptance of inappropriate behavior, or academic mediocrity. In fact it should inspire the opposite. Schools must recognize the ‘in-equalitative’ effects of poverty on a student’s ability to learn; and then build in- school cultural counter-measures to neutralize these negative effects; to not do so, is to create a new and insidious form of separate and unequal schooling. A school can’t perform at a high academic level if  inside the school, students don’t feel safe with other students. However, a school in constant “lock-down” mode because of external threats also can’t function properly. A “lock-down” is an extremely disruptive event in the life of a school; learning essentially stops as understandably, the immediate and present danger is the priority; teachers can’t teach effectively in such an environment; and children can’t focus on learning in such an unnatural atmosphere. For the sake of our children, we, the people, must somehow find the courage to do better. Let’s have a constitutional amendment (since some folks seem to like them so much these days), that guarantees that all children can attend a school in an environment liberated from a war zone.