Monday, April 27, 2015

A Riot is the Language of the Unheard... Pt. 1

This quote was stated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 during an interview on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace. 

I have a question, when you have nothing to lose, wouldn't you throw rocks at the police too? The death of Freddie Gray,while in police custody, has sparked peaceful demonstrations and violent protests throughout the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Today, following his funeral, the city broke into a heightened sense of urgency. In the midst of protests, young Black Americans took to the streets, responded violently to the police, and for many, they began throwing rocks at them.

Photo Credit: NBC News Image of young Black male, most likely an 8th grader or freshman in high school, throwing rocks at police armed and ready for war.  
I think the MLB Baltimore Orioles executive, Peter G. Angelos said it best:
"The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the bill of rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kid's game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards," Angelos tweeted. "We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the US and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don't have jobs and are losing economic, civil and legal rights and this … makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans."
I like most that he spoke of "families and Americans of all backgrounds". So often is there a separation of Americans, which mostly means white, and then Black Americans. I'm guilty of this too.

So what does this have to do with education. Well I believe it has A LOT to do with education.

My targeted audience for this blog is anyone who is an educator, advocate, supporter, policy maker, parent, or even stands on the side of the opposition. Most often, you had a seemingly quality education, something you cherish to this day.  It would be fair to say that you tried to stay almost out of trouble, or you got in just enough trouble where it landed you on punishment, but nothing to the extent of expulsion, arrest, or a jail sentence. Not only did you value your education, but you most likely valued whether your parents were disappointed in you or not, and you desired to please them. And lastly, it wasn't socially appropriate to participate in amoral crimes. Your friends weren't involved in it, so you most likely weren't.

This isn't the case for kids like the ones in the picture above. Keyword, kids, students, like ones you and I teach for at least 180 days out of the year.

Point blank, we have not given these students anything of value. We have not given them a reason to think twice about throwing that rock and landing them in a heap of trouble. We have robbed them of what is within their rights which is an equal opportunity for education.

The question can be asked, are schools supposed to fix everything? Of course not. As an educators, we are already inundated with a myriad of responsibilities to attend to. However, we are the staple community institution, that possesses the power to make a life altering influence on our children.

I must say, I don't blame my students for their often unruly behavior in the classroom. If you felt that your education was totally inaccessible to you, and didn't incorporate aspects of your life, you would place little to no value in it. During my year long student teaching I, as well as a colleague of mine, wondered, "So we do all this work on the inside, but how does it translate on the outside of these four walls?" And what I am coming to terms with, is that, for the masses, it doesn't. What long lasting impact will teaching my students how to multiply 2x2 digit numbers, if I am not able to supply them with life skills, and equip them with constructive strategies to manage their conflicts, and promote socially appropriate emotional responses, educate them using a curriculum that is most salient and relevant to them? What it seems we've been told is that it's not important because its not on the test.

Like our students, we are tested each time another life is stolen relentlessly at the hands of government, or another generation enters our classroom doors. With some, we have passed and helped to flourish, and others we get by with just the skin of our teeth. It has become apparent, that today, we are the failing this one, before they're even able to drive.


  1. Thank you for you post, it's spot-on. I've worked in the schools for ten years now, and my experience is the same as yours. "Learn this because it will be on the test," we say, to kids whose long-term thinking doesn't reach past lunch recess. "Learn this because you will need it in High School," we say, and then in High School, what do we say? Kids aren't dumb. They know the odds of their getting into college, they know what their chances are going to be of getting a good job after they finish. Kids buy into education when it is meaningful to them, and these days everything seems to be conspiring to sap all the meaning out of it. We can't give young kids the play they need, we can't talk about the realities our middle-grade kids see all around them in their community for fear of taking time from test prep, or provide a decent chance of a future to our High Schoolers. I am often reminded of Langston Hughes' words about a dream deferred: "Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun/ Or fester like a sore --/ ...Or does it explode?"

    1. Thank you for your comment Wendy! And you're absolutely right. They aren't dumb, and they know. They know this isn't for them. And after a while, as an educator, its hard for us to maintain the buy in because we half believe it ourselves.

  2. I actually taught students "tools" (life skills) from Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) and Education (REBE) to my students as part of health education. Tools that helped them better manage what goes on inside their own heads in response to their life events, both past, current and future - to help them gain control over their emotional thermostats, and thereby their behavioral thermostats, by teaching them to control their cognitive thermostats. Kids have to be in the right emotional place to be ready, willing and able to learn. Too many simply are not. That's understandable given their life experiences, but unless we teach them how to get to a better place emotionally, trying to educate them is like putting the cart before the horse. I always promise to give them real power and control in and over their lives - to feel the way they want to about themselves and anything else, to feel as good as possible regardless of what happens, to keep people out of their heads, and defend against those who've been living there much too long. But first we have to start giving these "tools" to teachers as part of their professional preparation, for their own sake, and the sake of their students. They simply aren't being prepared to deal with much of what their students struggle with, and not only miss opportunities to make things better, but often make things worse instead. Teachers need to become mental health first responders for students, and you don't have to be a psychologist or social worker to do so. But teacher preparation has always neglected this aspect of teaching, instead basing preparation on the erroneous notion that the more you know about your subject matter, and the better lesson plans you can develop, the better teacher you'll make, and the more kids will learn. It doesn't long for a new teacher to realize it doesn't work that way in the real world. Unfortunately, school districts (at least the powers to be) have actually gone in the opposite direction they should have, and have doubled down on this faulty premise. I taught grad classes for teachers based on the "tools", and they've been cancelled because districts will no longer approve grad classes unless they are in a teacher's subject matter area. I actually ran "Tool Time" groups for the most troubled and troublesome kids in my wife's school for two years, and this approach was very successful. You can read about the "tools" at: You can read about how teachers can utilize them at: (Teacher Effectiveness and Stress Prevention). I also have developed a program for police based on the "tools" called C.O.P. for Cognitive Overreaction Prevention. The problem is getting people to listen to you.

  3. As a fellow educator, I can appreciate the sentiment of your post: the anger (I hesitate to say the actions) of disenfranchised Americans is justified and yes, public institutions are partly to blame.

    But as a fellow educator, I can't agree that "Point blank, we have not given these students anything of value " or that we've "robbed them of what is within their rights which is an equal opportunity for education." I sincerely hope these statements were intended as rhetorical flourish rather than literal truth because there are very many educators out there who do their darnedest to make sure that their students (of the same background as yours) are receiving a good education and all that that entails.

    There are still those who are trying their hardest to bring relevant, interesting lessons to their kids. But who is to say that some kids will want to receive those lessons on Harlem Renaissance literature if they don't have the skills to think about it and who is to say that my 3rd-grade class consisting of low-income, ELL students won't love and identify with the feelings of Wilbur, a pig on a farm, in Charlotte's Web. Universality, as a concept, is taught in schools for a reason; any educator worth her salt knows that her job is to teach the abstract ideas and instill the soft skills along with the hard skills. (BTW, I imagine that knowing how to multiply 2x2 digit numbers will come in handy to any child interested in careers requiring math or science. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Mae Jemison, anyone?).

    And students are not allowed to summarily dismiss anything they don't find interesting. Nor are they allowed to act in disruptive ways towards others. It may be on us to lay down that expectation kindly and firmly, but we can't do our jobs well if we're not met at least some of the way with curiosity and willingness.

    You bring up a lot of issues in this post that touch on that knotty intersection between student, family, teacher, public institution, and society, Each one invariably pulls on the others and, as the Baltimore riots showed, the balance is way off in there. I don't mean to take away from your points, but I do intend to add a little nuance to this discussion and to push back against using sweeping doomsday rhetoric that fails to mention that many of us quietly take the best lessons of the past and present, make adjustments, and keep trying.