A Time for Dynamic Compassion in Our Schools By Dr. Michael Flanagan
During the last decade or so, there have been countless attacks on public education. Over-testing of our students, the implementation of Common Core, test-based teacher evaluations and the proliferation of charter schools are but a few of our challenges. All this is on top of the lives of poverty and violence too many of our children face. As if this is not enough, since the Presidential Election, our schools are now being inundated with outright in-your-face racism, bigotry and misogyny.
In the past, hate-filled attacks occurring in schools have generally been considered unacceptable. Administrative discipline on these matters reflected the social norms of tolerance and equality, achieved through generations of struggle. Demonstrations of these biased behaviors were considered abhorrent. Our schools and legal system increased penalties for proven bias attacks, sexual harassment and hate crimes, reinforcing for our children that it was wrong to be a bully. Now, as of November 9th, bullying and hate have free reign. Civility has been disregarded, and terror tactics in our schools have erupted.
New York Daily News writer Shaun King has been leading the charge in identifying incidents of bias throughout the country in the wake of the election. In addition to an increase of racism, there has also been a disturbing rise in the number of reported sexual assaults on female students. After a 10-year old boy was being disciplined for grabbing the genitals of a 10 year old girl, his defense was, “If the president can do it, why can’t I?”. That is what is happening in our schools right now. Glorified during the presidential campaign, these behaviors are now being demonstrated by our children.
Nazi graffiti. Emails targeting black students for lynching. Pulling hijabs off of young Muslim girls heads. Blocking Hispanic students from entering a school. Placing “White” and “Colored” signs above water fountains in school hallways. Middle school children screaming “Build the wall!”. Children telling classmates they will be deported. Unabated use of the “N-word”. All of this, in just the past few days. And it shows no signs of stopping.
Now more than ever we need something to unify this nation against hatred, as impossible as that may seem. There is in fact one thing we do have in common: we all love our children. We may not be able to change our government, or the corporate powers that control it, but we must raise our children to be educated and caring people.
As parents and teachers we each have a role to play. Parents cannot attempt to justify or excuse bias incidents, even when they involve our own child’s actions. In my many years in education, I have met countless parents who feel their child has been the victim of bullying or bias. But I have met very few who believe their child was ever the bully.
As teachers we must fight hate and ignorance with dynamic compassion.
This country can tear itself apart in the streets, but we must stop that hatred at the front steps of our schools. Bullying, bigotry, sexual harassment, and bias against students must be addressed immediately. Discipline and counseling need to be effective, and specific to each particular incident - but we must not vilify the children who are acting out, based on how the adults around them are behaving. We need to increase the amount of civic discourse in our school curriculums, instead of allowing FOX and MSNBC to program our kids how to think. We need to promote empathy and tolerance in both tone and curriculum. While all those about us are losing their heads, we teachers and parents will not lose ours. We cannot instill another generation of children with hatred and bigotry bred into their bones.
Our duty as educators is to create a safe space for our children to learn and grow. Administrators must be proactive, and teachers must be protected, when speaking out against these behaviors. To all who read this piece: we can work to end the cycle of intolerance by calling out each and every incidence of bias. This is not about bashing students, parents, or the schools themselves. It is about bringing this behavior out of the shadows so we can work to heal it. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Our children need safe and nurturing schools. On at least that one issue this divided nation must agree. We can move on from there.