Time to seriously look at the level of student protection, safety and academic success on college campuses.


For years I and other high school principals have, more or less successfully, warned parents against “disengaging” when their child reaches high school. I think this warning also holds true for college.
For also like many present and former high school principals, I have experienced several “bad incident”, “bad endings”, college stories. In some situations I had to either on the phone, or actually leave NYC to go and deal with a crisis a student found themselves in. And I may not have the data to prove it, but I truly believe that “bullying”, physical and sexual assaults on college campuses are terribly (for reason of institutional self-interest) underreported. Another important piece of “quiet” data; are the number of students who suffer non-violent trauma, confusion, disillusionment and/or depression, and just flunk out, and come back home. (When a NYC principal my contacts, and the fact that we insisted ever senior apply to the CUNY system have saved the day many times!)

During a crisis, too often the feedback college officials give parents (I have listened in my conference room to these conversations) is that the student is an adult. But that is not reassuring or comforting to a parent who has learned (often from the child) that they are arrested, in the hospital or involved with some kind of conflict with a roommate, professor, staff person or a fellow student. It is not uncommon for colleges to prefer to handle “problems” internally, for what might be some very good reasons (Good PR being the least of them!). But in many situations that results in an injured victim’s rights and care becoming a secondary concern. To their credit many colleges have taken a bold step in the right direction; by warning all students that: “if a crime is committed on campus, the local (not campus) police will be called”

At some point we need to face the issue of the lack of counseling and supervision for young people attending college away from home. This is one of those quiet national tragedies that slips pass the press, until there is a death. Although I believe that we have at least turned the corner on much of the extreme and dangerous “hazing” activities that take place on college campuses, we are not home-safe yet; annually stories still emerge, perhaps due to administration under-sight, or the existence of clandestine and unofficial hazing activities, committed by students who are, just hoping that nobody is seriously psychologically harmed or physically injured, so they won’t get caught.

I get that the colleges prefer to consider them adults, and I understand the “legal-statutory” standards involved here. But the truth is that nothing magical happens to one’s judgement after a high school graduation. These young people going off to college in a couple of months, are very often the same young people we had to counsel out of a bad decision a few months prior. High schools tend to remove parts of the psycho-social scaffolding as the students move from 9th to 12th grade; but we (and alert parents) always keep an eye (even if they don’t notice) on the students as they prove to us that they are making good and sound decisions. Further, young people are at very different places on the independence-maturity achievement scale.

On a college campus, death and serious injury is the extreme situations that can occur; but there are many small tragedies that never hit the news media. And if you are the parent of one of the few students in the nation who die every year at a college; national statistics don’t alleviate your grief and sorrow. One thing I have learned in education, numbers don’t matter when that one tragic number is your child.

Me & Navy

The interesting phenomena I noticed when I spent the day at the Naval Academy was that every student was “connected” to some team, project, activity, program that was connected to an adult. Every student was also connected to a team of other students, who were officially charged (and held responsible) for looking out for each other. The Naval cadets were also connected to families and religious institutions “off-campus”; it seem that to go “missing” or go into isolation was impossible.

Recently, I also spent a semester taking a class at an HBCU (Miles College-Alabama) and one of the things I admired about that institution was that the faculty (and the staff) took on a more parental-mentoring role as opposed to just separating themselves from students, and making themselves only available during scheduled “office hours”; and access by way of “official titles”. It seem that the faculty and staff took a personal interest in the personal well-being of individual students.

Me & Miles

I understand that most large universities can’t (for reasons of size, culture and tradition) duplicate the structures I saw at Miles College and the Naval Academy. But I do believe that they can do better. It’s not enough to see this as a “public relations” problem once something goes terribly wrong. There must be some positive proactive steps that can be taken, that allows students to experience “adulthood”, while at the same time feel protected and connected.

I think we can start by having a counselor (not academic advisor) officially assigned to a case load of students. This counselor of course can check on the student’s academic progress and challenges; but more importantly this counselor can consistently and continually check up on the student’s emotional state on a regular basis to determine if more extensive therapeutic or support services are needed. How is the student adjusting to being away from home? Away from family and friends? Who are their present (campus) friends and associations? What are they involved in outside of academics, i.e. clubs, teams, associations, etc.

We also need to look closely at the HBCU model. When institutions of higher learning take a social-political-cultural interest in the students well-being; and importantly a commitment to making sure that the student graduates; college campuses can become physically safer and emotionally healthier places! They must start looking beyond students as numbers and tuition payees.

That means moving past rhetoric (“Our students lives matter”), and more into operational-structural changes; again before, not after the tragedy! Colleges and universities must look closely at their mission statements to make sure they cover the psychological and physical wellbeing of all students (particularly women); and this can start by connecting every students to a “life-advisor”; who is concerned about them as a person, not a number.
Just having someone check on you, to ask from time to time: “How are you doing?” may not be seen as part of the college’s mission; but it could be seen as part of their humanity mission; after all you can be any age, and still appreciate someone checking up on you; even if you pretend it’s not that big a deal; it really always is! In the meantime parents, stay alert!

I guess when it comes to utilizing the new social media I am clearly old-school.


I try to approach social media first with having the daily objective of encouraging and inspiring some person I may, or may not know. I also enjoy informing people of some good and vital learning enhancing information opportunity, i.e. a scholarship, internship, or an informal education experience (museum event). I further like to see the personal progress, successes, victories, achievements, accomplishments, new jobs, job promotions, graduations, and positive completions that people are able to realize; in particular I look forward to seeing the “good-news” of the many young people I have been blessed to work with in the past. And yes, I love, and never get tired of their children’s pictures! (My personal enjoyable and funny pay-back is when they sound like me when dealing with their teenage children!:-)

I (a passionate and consummate learner) also see social media as a tool, and opportunity for me to learn something new, something different, something for which I was unaware, some piece of knowledge or information I can use in one of my many “projects”, diverse study interest and numerous hobbies. I think that one way that I would define death (sorry biology teachers); is the personal end of learning. I utilize social media to fill my knowledge gaps; and in this practice I am very fortunate to be connected and “friends” with a large number of smart, intelligent and creative people, many of them former students or collogues.

The term “life-long-learner” is too often a throwaway line in my profession; but I really find joy in constantly expanding my knowledge-information resource bank across many different subject areas; particularly those topics outside of my intellectual comfort zone. If the end of learning is a kind of hell; then the reluctance and failure to get outside of ones learning comfort zone, must be the road to that hell. I love to read something that shakes-up my assumed knowing or a “sacred” and passionately held belief. The reason I think most people actually avoid pursuing life-long-learning; is that it can often put you in the very uncomfortable position, of having to continually think about your own style and substance of your thinking. (What we call in the field: metacognition)

That’s the good side…

But too often, I also find some very disturbing behaviors in the social media world. People will use the electronic distance, and the anonymous “handles” to say very ugly and hurtful things. To say things to and about people they would not say in a physical social-group setting, and definitely not to the person’s face. Now I am not talking about the critiques of public figures or officials; although even that can at times go a little too far. I believe that you can’t benefit from being a “public person”, and at the same time not expect to hear “negative feedback” from that same public. I know as a former superintendent of those dreaded monthly meetings where at 3 minutes a clip, you could receive the sometimes not so pleasant “advice” (often conflicting) from the public, as to how you are, or not doing your job properly. Public critiques are part of the “price of the ticket”; but we can very easily forget that these “public people” are also human people. And this would include the ever increasing “parent rants” about their child’s teacher on social media (It would be more productive to set up a meeting with the teacher and administrators at the school!) Public service should not translate into public abuse. On social media I think that too often even “humorous” comments at times rises to the level of abuse and disrespect for the humanity of a public-person; particularly when it includes the passing on of unconfirmed story lines; or drawing in their innocent family members into the conversation for reasons of inflicting unearned ridicule and rebuke.

My personal practice is to first read a comment or a posted article. And if it’s an “interesting” (defining interesting is “a whole nother” post!) article I may save it in one of my many reference folders; i.e. creative writing, early childhood education, Art, history, school improvement, “bucket list stuff”, school leadership, etc. Or sometimes I will read an article or post, and just take “interesting” sections (quotes, books, references) put them in a file and revisit them later for an article, or to shed light on something else I am reading. This style of reading-studying-note taking, the comparing and contrasting of different articles, the process of dissecting, deconstructing and analyzing is a result of several autobiographical experiences:

(1) My having spent so much of my “latch-key” childhood life in the unofficial after-school care of the Brooklyn Public Library. There I learned that searching (researching) for knowledge and fun was, well fun! I learn to love the pursuit of what appears to others to be disassociated, disconnected and obscure topics of interest; for no other reason except that they are in the world to be known. Since the 50’s (reading the entire Sherlock Holmes series) I interpreted, “smartness” as to mean that you were conversant and a student of knowledge across multiple subject areas. Later in undergraduate school one of my heroes was my social psychology professor Dr. Kenneth Clark, who could link and move effortlessly between the disciplines of history, anthropology, philosophy and political science, etc. later I would feel the same way about people like W.E.B. Du Bois and Michel Foucault.

(2) I had great k-12 teachers, and in particular a 12th grade English teacher who threatened us kids with torture on “the rack” if anyone ruined her perfect pass rate on the NYS English Regent’s exam. The courts may have taken religion out of public schools; but not out of her class; we were warned: “The Lord himself will need to come to the rescue of anyone who fails that Regents exam!” Some of us may have trusted in the Lord; however in this case, we preferred not to use that option. But it was not only her fierce admonitions; these words were matched with her commitment, efficacy, competence, and the ever present, and ever ready to be used red pen; for which no essay, book report or composition could escape without a red corrective comment (how on earth did she find all of those small mistakes?). I think somewhere in the middle of the semester we all gave up on: “no red marks”; and redefined victory as a small amount of red marks. I know that in our modern pedagogical era the “red pen” has been ruled verboten, but back in the 60’s they were more concerned about our academic achievement and success, then our “hurt” feelings. In any event no one from my class ended up on the “rack.”

Finally (3) I had a gem of a professor at Columbia’s Teachers College doctoral program for my research methodology class, the late Dr. Linda Powell. She actually taught me “to read” in a new and different way, such that even now as I read any article or paper I can almost instinctively detect the slightest bias, faulty premise, a flaw in logic, or inadequate-incorrect research methods; and any disconnect between the title, hypothesis, the body of the work and the conclusion. And so I bring all of this to my social media readings.

And is this wrong?

I say this because I often read the “comments” and responses that others post in response to postings (including mine); and I am left to wonder if the responding individual even took the time to read the post or the article in question. I have visions of that dreaded 60’s “red pen” hovering above my head, as I read some of these comments. “Did they read the same article I read?” Sometimes I have even gone back to re-read the article (including some I have posted) assuming that: “maybe I read it wrong!” Nope, (that’s time I will never get back!) I read it right. It seems that the “off-topic” respondent wanted to make a point, and to hell with the actual point of the post or article! There is a lot of: “putting people in their place”, or “straightening people out” on social media, and less learning from others. But I think many of these incorrect corrections are really social media putdowns masquerading as the free flow of differing ideas. And not to get lost in all of these efforts; I have also seen some very enlightening (respectful) and educational debates and dialogues on social media; but I think the anonymous nature of the medium encourages too much of the “put down” stuff.

Perhaps this is a place where K-12 educators can be helpful (where are my curriculum and instruction majors!); after all I don’t think that social media is going away anytime soon. Mabey we should put this media into the (ELA?) curriculum. Help students to see it not only in the context of communication, but also as an educational learning tool with standards and accompanying rubrics to define and explain those standards. The technical aspects of social media (how does snapchat do what they do, technically?) A business-entrepreneurial use of the medium. And what about an “anti-bullying”, respect, tolerance, conversational etiquette component in the curriculum. And finally some “Too Much Information Sharing” standards; there are somethings that the public, family, friends, co-workers; future: voters, constituents, college selection committees, students, customers, employers or employees, (present or future love interest!); don’t need to know about you! I can’t speak for my other collogue-friends, but I did not plan to be a principal in high school or college (and had no idea what a school superintendent was or did)

Clearly, I don’t fit into the: say “whatever” (comes to mind) age…

Thinking of the term “old-school”; I have now accepted that the term defines me in both ways. For I can’t count the number of times in the past that I have had students in my office as a principal where I suggested to them that: “Just because an idea, enters your head, it does not always mean that you are required to verbally share it with the teacher or class.” Or: “Imagine if you did not allow that phrase to leak from your head to your mouth; instead of sitting here now with me, the teacher could be thinking, (not having any proof to the contrary), that you have a great deal of sense!” Mabey calmer and more thoughtful “heads” will eventually come to be the best and common practices we see on electronic social media. I sure hope so!

Holding us in, holding us close, holding us up, and holding us to our calling…


Holding us in, holding us close, holding us up, and holding us to our calling…

    “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

    We hold these memories to a sacred conclusion,
    these are those, the sad society of unnested orphans,
    recipients of the ever forgiving hearts,
    the ever giving milk of kindness;
    our mothers are in us as we were in them,
    swimming inside of our thoughts, singing in our words:

    (“did I just sound like her?”…“say something she would say?”)

    And the constant and often inconvenient voice:

    “If I did, said that, what would Pauline Johnson say?”

    The motherless fellowship, we always feel alone now, today and most days;
    sailing on a rudderless ship, we just try to get through the day,
    abandoned by laughter and exiled to our quiet remembrances,
    we can at least smile as the end products of fierce prayers and tears,
    and for those things that can never be lost, or taken away;
    the things wrapped in and around DNA, the nuanced little habits;
    time leads our learning to love a calling given, like our names at sea,
    I fell in line to my maternal labeling:

    Michael, the warrior Arch Angel destined to directly confront satan,
    Anthony, the wilderness wanderer, compassionate, alone and sensitive saint,
    built to enable and inspire others to their calling with God.
    Why these two opposites, I would ask her now,
    why the terrible burden of wanting to both fight and pray, destroy and heal?

    (“I will always be there with you, I am praying for you now, and for when I am gone”)

    And so I am always caught before I fall,
    warned out of my own fondness for forgetting the reason and why,
    emissaries sent and signs signaling, push backs against occasional regret and sorrow;
    And even now I still seem to recall everything:

    words soaked in wisdom and warnings of pending winters,
    looks that could instantly stop any pre-inappropriate behavior,
    smiles soaked in the sacred secrets of a promised offering,
    the warmness of touch pushing the scrapes and bruises away;
    words, looks, smiles and the warmness of touch,
    was essential for a black boy to survive the brooklyn streets,
    to survive the world’s cruel intentions…

    In many ways I was a dedication to disappointment,
    an unreturnable gift;
    (“I understand you care about your people, but they…”)
    But she always cared,
    for my hope was not to disappoint,
    to not waste great efforts born of solemn, bold and silent sacrifices.

    I am still swimming in a maternal sea of hope,
    connected and nourished in spite of all the discord in my life,
    by the prayers of a faithful & brave woman,
    who without future evidence, and with no proof of the promise,
    dedicated her child to the mysterious call of God.
    What was she thinking?
    She was not, she was praying.

    -MAJ/Mother’s Day/2016

School: A place you go to learn to live, not to die… Part 2.

We don’t serve the families of our imagination, or even the “perfect” families that nurtured us, rather we serve the families who send us their children everyday…


A philosophical cultural narrative of weakness rules the thinking of too many educators. It is the “If only…” factor. It asserts that we could successfully educate children: “If only parents taught them a list of prerequisite skills prior to their arriving to our schools!” “If only parents knew how to assist their children with homework and home study techniques!” “If only parents exposed their children to the many informal educational activities and institutional resources that exist outside of school!” “If only parents would insure that their children take school and learning seriously!” “If only parents taught their children to behave properly!” If only…

For sure our work would be much easier if parents were able and willing to engage and enforce the before mentioned best parental practices. And yet sadly, this faulty belief is sacredly held by many who have done the required educational readings in developmental psychology; and therefore should be fully aware that the adolescent stage is the internal psychological (and physiological) signal to the child to begin the natural and necessary: “resistance to parental control over my life” period. But if our work is truly a vocation, then we must serve people where they are, not where we wish they were, or where our work would be made easier; for as I read somewhere that:

“…It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

The truth is that we don’t serve the “model” families of our imagination, or even the imagined “perfect” families that raised us; rather we serve the naturally imperfect families who send us their children every day, seeking what most parents seek for their children, a better life; and definitely they are not sent to school to lose their lives…

And so, in order to have a safe learning environment: The principal must be strategically proactive, preventative and investigative in the approach to student safety. A safe learning environment is your first priority. I don’t want to give any students all of the secrets of the Principal craft; but here are a few small things to get things started, that can make a large impactful difference:

1. Personally meet, greet and welcome students at the door each morning; with one of the objectives being to read “body language”. Many students are forced to travel from and through very stressful situations at home, or on the way to school. If required, initiate some preventive-counseling if the student arrives with the signs of “going to have a very difficult day”. Know what challenges your students are facing outside of school. Be a “nosey”, “inquisitive”, “pushy”, “in the business” type of building administrator— “intelligence gathering” from multiple sources is critical; the school family members must have access to you, in order to communicate with you. The age of the “ivory tower” principal (my 60’s high school days when we never saw the guy!) is over. The people who accuse you of “doing too much”; don’t share your responsibility for keeping your students and staff safe, and based on their comment, neither do they know how. There is a conspiracy to keep you in your office; fight it! Get out of your office and move around the school–Including at the start of school, lunch periods, and at the end of the school day! You especially need a relationship with students that would allow them to feel safe and comfortable to “put you on” to a present or possible conflict, particularly, in its early stages. As a superintendent I used, (as was the case with my Brooklyn H.S. superintendent with me) the “preventing an incident” statistic as an important measurement for determining effective school leadership. You need a plan in place to counteract various possible scenarios; for example: Alternate (change from time to time), your walking habits and the security petrol plan to make them less predictable. You need a safe integration and oversight plan for a “new” student transferring into the school in the middle of the year; a standard cause of conflict in H.S., because students have already started to “group-up”. Provide them with an initial good group of (your) selected friends. Don’t believe everything you hear about teenagers; I have always found that young people are honored, and take this assignment seriously, and are also flattered that the principal would ask for their help (which is how you should begin the request: “_________, I need your help”)

2. A clear and widely understood discipline code: A discipline plan must be proportional to the violation, equitable, just; and it must have consistency and act with predictable consequences. And the ultimate learning objective of the discipline program is not punitive, it is to be instructive. You are not solely in the discipline business; you are in the teaching of appropriate, positive and productive behavior business.

3. A student involved conflict resolution program, where the reward-weight is placed on seeking a resolution to a student to student conflict. The plan can’t just be based on prohibitions and penalties (as severe as they must be); students need positive incentives not to fight.

4. Good and rigorous instructional-learning practices invite good behavioral practices. A good and strong instructional plan/program will also cut down on the amount of time, for a large portions of the school time, when a student is out of class unsupervised. A “principal for a day” corporate executive once joked to me: “My goodness, these kids don’t ever go to the bathroom during classes!” (“Nope, they are high school students, they can be encouraged to manage that biological process efficiently!”)

5. Offer a rich survey of student clubs, activities and teams that cover a wide spectrum of student interest, gifts and talents. In this way you are connecting large numbers of students to an adult in the building, and to each other. The principal must enroll every adult in the building (including school aides, custodians, cafeteria staff, etc.) in the securing the school mission!

6. I don’t know what this particular fight was about; but my experience has been that girls will often fight over some type of real or imagined “boy issue”; the boy involved usually is neither sympathetic nor interested in the conflict (“Mr. Johnson, I did not tell them to fight, can I go back to class?”… No, you can’t!); even if he has purposely caused it. The key factor is that the adults in the building must take these kind of conflicts seriously; you can’t project your adult ideas onto the situation, and just dismiss it as: “silly”, “childish” or “puppy love”.

7. Once you have the two antagonist in your office (remember: the principal’s office is a classroom); you must spend all the time necessary to truly end the conflict. Shake hands and saying: “I’m sorry”, is not necessarily a teenager’s concept of “it’s over” (there’s that knowledge of developmental psychology thing again!). Ending a conflict between teenagers takes time and work, you must be willing to put in both. You must also be willing to do the necessary follow-up and “check-up” on the status of the situation. You must balance punishment with counseling (This is a palace where me and my late-great guidance counselor Mrs. Cammarata played our best good guy/bad guy routine; she would say: “You two better work with me, because if it’s all Mr. Johnson’s way, I can’t save you from what terrible and harsh ending that will befall you”

8. Have a friends and audience on notice plan (bring the key “potential candidates of instigation”, the “Paul Revere types”, into your office to receive their warning): Anybody “instigating” or “hyping up” the situation, verbally, online, written; engaging in rumor mongering: that is starting, carrying or delivering of same rumor or threat; you have been dully warned! Any incitement in the format of a rap, poem, song, or drawing; the facilitation of the conflict through “venue selection”, “audience informing”, or even offering to “hold a coat”; will lead to serious and very painful consequences. Any type of first, second or third hand involvement in promoting a conflict; if your name comes up in any way as encouraging the conflict, and it results in a fight; you get the same penalty as the combatants. Anybody watching (cheering or encouraging) will face sanctions. Don’t waste your (comments) time educators, I know none of this is “officially” legal; and since we are on the topic of not legal; yes I suspended two students for fighting on the weekend (nobody tried that move again!) And at another school I blocked another fight when I turned up at the “fight site” early, having been tipped off by students; and yes the potential combatants paid dearly for ruining my Saturday morning!

9. Engage and enroll students into the mission of the school; ultimately you will need them to manage their own behavior, as well as the behavior of their peers. The students need a political and moral philosophy that leads them away from physical conflict. Make “snitching” to prevent violence in the school a virtue (by changing the word and the concept); protect the identities, honor and reward those who inform you of threats to their own, or the school family’s safety (“But, how did you know Mr. Johnson?… “Never mind how I found out; now let’s talk about this “beef” between you and ____________!”) Make peace a practiced cultural imperative for the entire school family. The concept of: “why we are here”; and why we need each other to survive and succeed!

10. Finally, the principal must be able to take “the heat”. You could be designated as “too strict” by a parent; that is, until that parent’s child is a victim of violence, and then you are “not strict enough”! And so you might as well do what you need to do in the beginning, to make the school safe! The principal must also be prepared to take every push-back and criticism that the “liberal-do-gooder” community will throw at you; because trust me, none of them will be standing with you, when you lose your job for leading an “out-of-control” and/or dangerous school. And they will also be absent in the worst moment of the profession; and that is when you are forced to inform a parent that the child they sent to you alive and well that morning, is in the hospital, or worse is now dead.

In my 11 years as a principal I have experienced the full spectrum of “parenting skills”; some great, some not so great. I have worked with students from all types of living conditions; good housing, bad housing, group home housing, to no housing. One parent, two parents, no parents, grandparents, deployed parents, foster parents, parents living in another country, one parent in prison, or both parents in prison. In any event, I saw my job as principal was to serve as a counteracting force to what the external society wanted to bring into the school; that meant I had to think and plan on how to keep children and staff safe. I did this because as a high school principal I knew that re-raising teenagers was an impossibility; and asking only for perfectly raised children was a wasteful act of fantasy. The school environmental culture must offer an alternative peaceful and predictable reality; that would allow children a break from (read: a rest away from) the world.

An effective school culture of peace places the emphasis on prevention, “an early warning system”, clear and precise behavioral standards, the conditions and consequences that will occur for not meeting those standards; and the ultimate goals of: peaceful resolutions, having a peaceful environment, and the teaching of appropriate and productive human social interactions. Any principal with the title can suspend students after a fight, or after a staff person, or another student is seriously injured.
However, the principal who is effective, seeks to be a master incident preventer! And that requires thoughtful strategic planning skills. Build a school safety culture that responds to the present reality that exist both internal and external to your school. It must also be a safety cultural that effectively balances justice with compassion; punishment with rehabilitative-counseling-restoration; and the protection of individual student rights, along with the right of the majority of the school family to work and learn in peace.

Michael A. Johnson is a former school teacher, principal and superintendent.

School: A place you go to learn to live, not to die…


Part 1

“Investigators in Wilmington, Delaware are expected to charge as many as three teenage girls in the fight that killed a 16-year-old high school student. Charges are expected to come down as early as Friday. Amy Francis-Joyner, died at the hospital following an assault in the bathroom at Howard High School of Technology”—WTXF News; April 30, 2016

Like every earlier generation we could blame this on the present generations: “bad behavior”, “poor judgement”, their disregard for life; their loss of values, their choice of music, and lack of proper moral and ethical codes of behavior. And like the elders of my youth who were sure that our behavior, our manners (or lack of), our language, our style of dancing the: “slop”, “boogaloo”, “Shing-a-ling”, and “grinding”; along with our taste of music that was based on love without the mention of a Christian marriage: “Ooo-baby-baby”, “Baby I need your loving”, “Ain’t too proud to beg”, and “Get ready” and “Let’s get it on”; was surely accelerating the world on the path to hell. But between their finger waging sermons they forgot to tell us that their elders bemoaned their manners, their lack of attention to social protocols, dancing styles and taste of music; and their elders were also convinced that they were paving the road to hell, and taking the world with them. And although both our generations were/are not perfect, considering all of the things that could have gone cataclysmically wrong; we did not turn out too bad; and the planet is relatively intact.

Perhaps we could as so many on social-media have done, attribute this tragic incident to the decline in “parenting skills.” But in my many years of interacting with a lot of parents, particularly those families that are struggling under hard to horrific social-economic pressures; I think that the overwhelming majority of them do a better job than both they, and we give them credit for. Parenting is not a perfect science; for even many families who have all of the “keys to the kingdom”; meaning: wealth, education, political and racial entitlement, can still see their children fall victim to the pitfalls of society. The recent trend to move drug addiction away from criminality, and into the category of a health issue, is a response to the accelerating number of white children becoming addicted. And listening to the now flurry of interviews by the parents of these children, poverty, parental unemployment-underemployment, depressed social-economic housing-living conditions was not necessarily the cause of the child’s addiction.
Now each case is unique, but these parents, don’t for the most part come across as neglectful and disinterested parents, who were not involved in their children’s lives. Interestingly, one of the major fears of these parents, is that because of this drug addiction, their child is now forced to travel from their safe neighborhood, into “bad” neighborhoods (Read: “Colored”) in order to purchase their drugs. And so parenting, no matter how well done, and bracketed by societal advantage, can in the end go terribly wrong, because teenagers can act as independent agents of their own lives; you can teach them, but you can’t be them, or be with them 24 hours a day.

But wearing my superintendent’s hat here. The conversation I would have had with the principal of the school where this young lady was killed, is not on the topic of: “the presence or absence of quality child rearing strategies on the part of parents”. Rather, what operational structures did you have in place to prevent such a tragedy from occurring? I am also sure that for the parents of the deceased child; there is little comfort in critiquing the shortcoming of our “modern era”, or the parenting skills of either the victim’s, or the perpetrators parents. The truth is that schools have never, in the history of public education, been able to control the socio-economic, societal factors that children bring with them to school.

But we are responsible for strategically designing smart responses to: The bad things that exist outside of our school doors. We do have some control over how much of “the world”, is allowed to enter, and control our school world.

And I don’t think that children need to die in a school.

I will explain why next week in Part 2.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal and superintendent.