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.