During my time supporting three Assistant Principals and an Associate Principal, I saw all the Discipline on a 5A, highly diverse High school campus. Most is petty and routine: dress code violations, excessive tardiness, insubordination; a subset of chronic cases who had more serious offenses on their records; and maybe a dozen of the truly troublesome.
I thought of the truly troublesome as the Disaffected Boys, sometimes, because they just seemed adrift. They had messy or tragic home lives, often. If they had been involved in athletics, by High school they were kicked off their teams because of their disciplinary offenses, grades, or absenteeism. They had few friends or fluid, ever-changing friendships among the other truly troublesome students. They weren’t involved in clubs or activities, or seemed to have any church or worship life. Drugs were a common theme, both prescribed (which they either didn’t take or did so abusively) or recreational. They were adrift and seemed angry most of the time. A couple of them scared me, and I don’t scare all that easily; these were the ones who’s own parents were afraid of them.
What they were was dangerous, and they existed on our campuses for the same reasons there are students with profound mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, on your student’s campus right now: every student is guaranteed an equal and adequate education, and most districts find it cheaper to place difficult students or profoundly special needs students on standard campuses with sparse Special Ed resources available to them, than place them on smaller, more expensive campuses where more intensive interventions can take place. Parents may also object to their student being placed on an alternative campus, and most districts have policies of returning even suspended and/or expelled students back to a regular campus as quickly as possible, in order to provide that equal and adequate education.
From my seat in the AP’s Office, I witnessed Teachers, Principals, Special Ed Aides, and yes, Secretaries, too, doing everything in their power to help every student who had need. And you know, we don’t always like every student. Some students can be real jerks by the time they are in High school, and some have parents who are real jerks, too. But schools are staffed with professional, highly educated, big-hearted people who put aside personal animosity and go by-the-book, as defined by their District. I have never seen any who particularly wanted to stick it to even the most obnoxious student. They approach their duty in fairness and compassion, because they know what is at stake: a human being, a life. So I really don’t want to hear anyone blaming the schools when something awful happens. It’s way, way bigger than that.
Let’s look at our society: we’re so busy making money we throw money at our kids instead of time. Many abdicate parenting entirely to the schools, only to rail at them when they try to impose discipline. More often, I saw parents doing their best while working multiple jobs to make ends meet, and/or parenting alone.
Parents and schools are also struggling against a society which hyper-sexualizes and matures the young far beyond their brain’s still-developing capacity to deal with the issues this presents. TV, video games, movies, music, and their friends are all far more influential with the young by the time they hit Middle school, than are their parents or school administrators.
Increasing technology facilitates isolating oneself in a self-selected echo-chamber of voices, many quite dangerous and with malign intent, and validating one’s darkest ideas. Bonus: every one of a teenager’s flaws or mistakes are instant gossip fodder for their friends and enemies alike, via social media.
And we have guns, guns everywhere, big guns, readily available. Guns designed for the military, guns with high-capacity magazines which together permit rapid firing and achieve high body count in the hands of one bent on destruction. We have all these guns because a terrorist organization, the NRA, spreads so much money around the state capitols and the Nation’s capitol that they’ve created an impenetrable wall of cash between our elected officials and anyone who dares suggest meaningful gun reform. You can see how much your elected officials have taken from the NRA here. Over the last 40 years, the NRA has grown from a responsible gun enthusiasts’ group to a dangerous, far-right political lobby.
It is impossibly complicated – so much more complicated than I can express here but, here is the deal, folks: It is ABOUT GUNS. While I believe it is profoundly complex, this problem we have of disaffected boys shooting up their schools, involving a mixture of mental health issues, having nothing larger than themselves to believe in, a cynical culture which values money, power, and guns more than them or our consistently underfunded educational system, Districts with “zero tolerance” policies which do not take into account the individual student, and much, much more. But ultimately, if Nikolas Cruz went to his old High school with a machete or even a hand gun instead of an AR-15, there would be many fewer dead, maybe none, today. Without that AR-15, someone might have had time to help Nikolas Cruz.
After Sandy Hook, after Mitch McConnell filibustered against meaningful gun reform, America should just admit that it values the right to possession of military-style armament more than it does it’s children.
But I guess a little child shall lead the way: the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are marching on their State Capitol even as I write this, and students from all over the country are going to be marching on Washington next month. They watched as their peers and teachers were gunned down and they have had enough.
They deserve better, and they will show us the way.
They’ve renewed my hope on this issue. Thanks, kids. I see you. I am with you.