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updates for 03.01.2012

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Violent Threats and Helplessness

In the reporting on school shootings, everyone seems to want to discuss warning signs. From Facebook posts to vague comments to strange behaviors, the newspaper articles always seem to suggest that there were clues everyone should have responded to. I keep reading encouragement to "tell someone if you see warning signs."   While it's true that you should report those things (please don't misunderstand me there), none of these reporters seem concerned with what's going to happen after you pass that strange Twitter comment on to a Trustworthy Adult.  I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's nearly impossible to use some strange behavior as reason to Do  Something about a potential shooter. Seriously, think about it - what is the next step supposed to be?  Everyone can Take It Seriously by passing the threat up the chain of command, but no one is going to lock up a kid who hasn't even done anything yet.   This may be ridiculous bad luck, but had 2 high-threat students in my TFA commitment, so I actually have experienced a fair amount of this process. Those situations were never handled satisfactorily, but I also don't know how any more could have been done.   The first kid tried to set fire to our school - twice. Over the course of a few months, he became dramatically more withdrawn and shut down and stopped socializing with anyone. He informed a teacher that he was going to bring in a gun and shoot us. He repeatedly drew pictures in class of violent gun scenes. I would try to help him in class, and he'd stare straight ahead and sing songs about murder instead of listening. The kids started making relentless fun of him for being a loner and a loser. How many more warning signs do you want? None of that is exaggerated. It was all reported and documented. We had a formal Threat Assessment meeting, with mental health professionals, district officials, and teachers, and he was deemed High Threat. He was back in my classroom the next day. He was supposed to get his backpack checked for weapons every morning, but he'd come to school late and there was no communication system that let Admin know they'd missed him. We did find a reason to suspend him for a few days just because it got so scary to have him in classrooms. We had Meetings and there were some angry Do Something confrontations with District, but there was nothing more anyone could actually Do. He finally got pulled out of school because his mom thought we were picking on him and couldn't stand all the trouble he was in anymore. I think she home-schooled him until high school.   The second one was less extreme but still creepy. He made some individual threats of violence and liked to draw pictures of himself hurting other students. He was a smart, conniving kid with an obsession with revenge. The school psychologist warned us he was a textbook case of the type of psychological profile likely to commit mass violence - deeply desirous of being part of the community, but with intense social difficulties that caused him to alienate his classmates further the more he tried to fit in. He had this really eerie way of just informing people that he was interested in being violent, saying it in this very matter-of-fact, quiet way.   We ran behavior assessments, implemented every intervention we could, and worked hard to integrate him into the community. We couldn't get him more psychological help without Mom's permission, and she refused. Eventually she also got tired of us "always harassing them", and she took him out of our school too.   What are the options? What more are people supposed to do? Even if you can expel a kid (Policy said we couldn't), you're only passing them on to be someone else's problem. If those kids hadn't had fed-up mothers, they would have stayed in the school, and who knows what would have happened. Maybe they would have been completely fine, and just big talkers who would never actually act on their threats. Or maybe they would have gone through with the things they said they'd do. Then we would have a bunch of newspaper reporters, scolding us for not Acting On The Warning Signs.   I'd love an answer for what to do. I don't mean to just be hopeless and negative.  But the truth is that hindsight is 20/20, and predicting the future is impossible.  


Thoughts and Prayers

I sit and cry while I read about the Chardon school shooting. The thought of such terror and violence in a place that should be so protective and safe just wrenches my soul in this terrible way. The realization that people can do that to others horrifies me. And the thought of how I'd feel if those were my kids - any of them, from the victims to the shooter to the ones left to go about life today - is what really leaves me in a ball of tears and heartache.   I am so, deeply saddened by what happened. My thoughts and prayers and all my good wishes are with that community.


So... if I write another sentence, I get another star? What about 4 sentences?

My kids are so freaking competitive.  One pre-k student said the pledge over the intercom the other day, and now I have two weeks' worth of students waiting THEIR turn to do the pledge. (The scheduling process caused some tears). Now, after one student received so many extra star stamps for her chimpancé exposé, two more are basically obsessed with getting even more stars.  It's great!  The English speakers aren't even waiting to have me help with the translating--that would waste too much precious time!  Instead, they writing the Spanish phrases they do know...which is exactly what I want them to be able to do anyway.  mwahaha.  


Are we the greater fools?

I've been reading a lot of interesting dialogue and debate regarding TFA and other "corporate" reform measures (not my favorite term, but unfortunately the most widely understood). It started back in January when an ed student and TFA naysayer posted a rather spiteful comment on Wess's post "Bang for your buck", and I ended up having a constructive, albeit short-lived, e-mail exchange with her about our radically different perspectives on the TFA experience. More recently, by following links from TonyBontheMIC's post "Don't Hate Me 'Cause I'm TFA," then following links from those links, and so on, I was able to read many different appraisals of the value and effectiveness of TFA, ranging from those who think the organization can do no wrong to those who would scrap the organization entirely, at this very moment, if they had the chance. I'm glad that this dialogue is happening. I believe that we as a society can progress if and only if we are willing to be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry" (James 1:19), especially with those whose perspectives radically differ from ours. Yet for the same reason, I'm also saddened and frustrated by much of what I read. The vitriol and judgment in some comments by very intelligent people, even in response to fairly reserved and unassuming opinions (see TFT's comment on Ms. Katie's post about charter schools) are downright scary. I'm even more frustrated by my own tendency to become defensive at times and start making comments that I think are impassive and witty, but probably sound just a tad bitter. People all along the spectrum* of support for corporate reform measures are knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate. Yet sometimes I wonder if we are also wise. I think of a quote by Charles Spurgeon on wisdom:

"Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom."
Maybe somewhere in the shouting match between the pro-TFA and anti-TFA, the pro-charter and anti-charter, the pro-Rhee and the anti-Rhee, we've lost some of our ability to take all of our knowledge, training, and background, and come together to actually serve a common, noble purpose. Maybe at some point, students stopped being the focus of the conversation and became talking points in our tirades about what we believe is right and who we believe is wrong. I wish that weren't the case. I wish we'd acknowledge that no good can come of stereotyping a group of people and attacking their individual motives, whether those people happen to be CMs, traditional teachers, or what have you. I wish we would encourage each other, get to know each other at a personal level, and understand that passionate and unique people everywhere are working and demonstrating progress towards educational equity in this country. Maybe it's not too late? "Wisdom is what's left after we've run out of personal opinions." - Cullen Hightower ————— * I've said this before, but I truly believe that it is a spectrum, along which I probably fall squarely in the middle, judging from the many concerns that I've directed towards TFA staff and my TNTP-run certification seminar. I'm not sure it would be prudent to publish those concerns on this blog quite yet, but I hope to do so one day.

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