My hope is that you wont be sure if I am serious or not by using that title. I am serious. Believe me when I tell you that this case and the young man involved are going to be a pivotal turn in the abolition of bullying and peer victimization. It doesnt matter in the least that the district, "[makes] no admission by the Board or by any of its employees of a violation of any law or duty owed to the Plaintiffs..." Or that they will never get a dime from the actual bully. The repercussions are going to sound all over the country.
This case will be the precedent for future civil and criminal cases against school districts and the families of bullies. Provided you are willing to take a beating to document the victimization you are suffering at the hands of a brazen bully and an apathetic school (and district).
Sawyer had written emails [good thinking Sawyer] advising the school and administration that the harassment was continuing and in one email told the administrator that it was getting worse and asked the person for coping strategies for dealing with the bully (pretty good terminology if it wasnt his parents). Unfortunately, no one did anything of substance and, despite what the "district spokesperson" says, I seriously doubt any policy was enforced because Sawyer and his family have shown that NOTHING CHANGED!
So one day, the bully punches Sawyer in the stomach - it resulted in a blood clot that moved to his spine - and burst. He is now paralyzed and wheelchair bound. 4.2 million dollars isnt enough if it is my child - but he isnt so they settled. In court, while it would have cost more and you are taking a chance - i think a jury punishes the district very hard. I am guessing the insurance underwriters for the district have a cap and they knew they werent getting anything from the bully's family, so they settled. But they arent ready to settle the advocacy.
Here is a statement from the defendant:"The board denied allegations that it or its employees had “failed or compromised its responsibility to develop and to implement effective policies and procedures to protect the safety and rights” of the school community, the statement continued, noting that the district "prides itself for the role which it has played in recognizing and developing an awareness of the dangers of bullying, intimidation and harassment in the school setting."
This is not a case of the district not having a plan in place or a policy forbidding bullying. This is about the enforcement and USE of the policy(ies). This is the situation for a multitude of school districts. A recent survey of principals around the country showed that they report not having the resources, time or training to implement anti bullying policies and practices. This is the sad state when an issue that has been prevalent since people got together in groups is suddenly thrust into the spotlight and catches everyone who has turned their head from the issue are forced to pay attention and FINALLY be held accountable.
So, good on ya Sawyer - make them pay and maybe they will listen. Though I doubt it! You will be a news broadcaster and youll be able to hold your head up while the bully may grow up to be successful but has to live with the fact that he inspired you to be even more outspoken - though the cost was dire, the benefit is to society and thats even better than being a millionaire.
Many anniversaries have come and gone. The 50th of Brown v Board of Education, 40th of JFKs assassination, the death of Rosa Parks and, of course - the 40th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King's assassination on April 4 1968. When the date of his assassination was upon us, I remember hearing people on talk shows ask what Martin might think if he was alive today. They asked Al Sharpton - a circus ringleader of racial conflict. They asked Jesse Jackson, friend and comrade of Dr King - and an opportunist if I ever saw one. They never asked me.
I would tell them that Martin would weep. Not only has it taken 50 years for a black man to become president - even he was a target of racially motivated cartoons and ridicule. Let me repeat that, a PRESIDENTIAL candidate was a target of racially motivated cartoons and ridicule. Also, the last year that comprehensive numbers were collected, 38 million Americans live in poverty. Further, America is at war. Finally, racism is still a constant in the American landscape.
What is wrong with us?
Im not upset that a presidential candidate is drawn in caricature - politics has been that way for 200 years but the racist vitriole that was present in political cartoons even in the mainstream - was shocking. I believe Martin would turn the other cheek, and weep.
38 million Americans living in poverty - that is, a family of three living on about 14,000 a year - in the richest country in the world. Martin would try to unify the business world, social assistance and general public - but in private, he would weep.
Martin was an outspoken opponent of the Viet Nam war. He felt it was an odd hypocrisy to employ military means to kill people who oppress and kill other people. I think Martin would talk with Obama - take a moment to imagine that picture! - clench his fists, and weep.
Inequity, and I know about schools so I will use schools as the example, still exists. But the inequity isnt so closely tied to race anymore. It is still associated with race but it is more like the associative propoerty in math. Inequity exists for poor people, by percentage of the population and not numerically - there are more people of color living in poverty - therefore, Inequity in education still exists for people of color. It doesnt have to be this way, this Educational Apartheid as Jonathan Kozol calls it, but it is this way due to ineptitude, greed and ignorance. Martin would see a consistency in the number of brown students not being successful in school, he would put his head in his hands, and Martin would weep.
And yet, I believe he would espouse hope. In his autobiography, Martin said that, only when it is darkest can you see the stars shine. I look to the sky hopefully, and wait for the stars to shine.
In the news recently is the story of the Honors student in Chicago who was beaten to death by a group or gang of people involved in an unrelated-to-him fight. This incident connects to me in a few ways: 1) I abhor violence - especially among children; 2) the condition of inner city/urban environments as positive environments for learning and development for children is abysmal; 3) this is an incident that highlights one of the characteristics of peer victimization (bullying) – it very often occurs when young people are on their way home from, or to, school and finally, 4) it brings up the idea of “street smarts” and that’s going to be the emphasis in this note.
Alfie Kohn wrote a book entitled, What does it mean to be educated? I sat today, pondering the same thing. What does it mean to be educated? In the suburbs and in the media, being educated means being equipped with a high school diploma, then a Bachelor’s degree and in the case of about 1 – 20 percent of the population, according to the federal government’s, State of Education report, a graduate degree. Everyone I knew in my youth had college as a goal, everyone; not just the white kids but everyone. That has changed.
John Ogbu, James Banks, Sonia Nieto and a few others I have read, suggest that going to college for many young people in the urban/inner city environment (black, white, latino, etc.) isn’t even a reality for them so preparation, visualization and anticipation aren’t part of their future aspirations. It isn’t about the color of their skin it is about their income and the promise of a good education for them. Martin Luther King Jr., in the year, and especially in the months, before his assassination, focused his efforts on those people living in poverty. Ruby Payne also collected information and research about people living in low socioeconomic communities that illustrated that people living in poverty have a different cultural foundation based on cooperation and relationships. For them it isn’t about attaining a “formal” education, it is more or less needs based and living day-to-day. The education that comes from living in an environment where relationships are important, survival is important and knowing how to turn public assistance like food stamps into cash gives one an advantage in the current system. This education could be referred to as, “street smarts.”
How do I define street smarts? Sheesh, I imagine it’s difficult so let’s look at current resources. After perusing several sources, street smarts means having an informal, shrewd and cunning knowledge of survival skills in an urban, poverty stricken environment. Interesting definition; there was an associated article asking the question whether or not new MBAs (business administration graduate students) need more street smarts. Do some CEOs already have the street smarts to make it big because some of the same shrewd and cunning skills necessary to survive the streets also make one a good business person? Transactional relationships, an “eye” beyond your current situation, how to read people and a shrewdness to your social interactions may have led to people like Russell Simmons, P. Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, Jay-Z and a few other CEOs-of-color who grew up poor but have reached a level of financial and “power” security they probably didn’t think they could attain when they were struggling. They did it without college degrees although some of them may have gotten a degree later on in their careers.
What does it mean to be educated when people who have degrees, even graduate degrees, are jobless after being told all throughout their lives that education leads to opportunities? Does education necessarily mean employment? The best candidate seems to be the street smart college graduate. That might mean incorporating the skills developed as one becomes street smart (for example, being more sensitive to “reading” other people) into one’s formal preparation for whatever career they pursue. This would mean adjusting curriculum to facilitate progress based on the learner’s previous knowledge – even if that knowledge isn’t necessarily valued by the traditional curriculum. That was the idea behind the Oakland School District’s decision to label black vernacular as a dialect of Standard English, or for Stanford University to develop a culturally biased test called “The Chitlin Test” that asked test takers such minority-focused questions like, “how long do you have to boil collared greens before they are done cooking?”
This type of strategy is student-centered and focuses on the experiences of the individual student and by incorporating that culturally specific knowledge into the standard curriculum required by schools, each child in your class can meet the expectations of a district and, Heaven forbid, a national standard. I suppose my conclusion is that being street smart, or not being street smart, should not prevent a child from attaining whatever goals they have in mind. Creative, child-centered teachers can nurture the idea of college in young people because the young person recognizes that the teacher values the knowledge the learner has and supports the idea that this street smart “intelligence” as Gardner might suggest, can improve rather than hinder the aspirations of success in children living in poverty, children of color and traditionally disenfranchised populations.
But this young man did everything right. He earned honors in high school, avoided gangs and gang entanglements; by all accounts (including law enforcement) he was a good son and young man. He even used the street smarts he developed; reportedly, he knew there had been trouble the morning of his death and went home a different way. The melee followed him. They preyed on him; an entire group preyed on him and beat him to death. All of his street smarts didn’t help him; sadly no one helped him until it was too late.
It would be very easy to focus on all the good things he did, find, arrest and banish the teens who did this but, and all the bully research is moving in this direction, we have to deal with the lack of positive conflict skills in the perpetrators and show them that there is a different way for their lives to proceed. A friend who studies gifted and talented youth once said to me that some of these bullies and disruptors in class are equipped with a gift in leadership. However, many teachers are apprehensive about arming these students with responsibilities or are worried that they will be rewarding bad behavior. But it isn’t bad behavior – it is good behavior trying desperately to fit in with a classroom environment that doesn’t seem to value their gifts. I’m not saying these brutal teenagers who killed this young man are gifted, or misunderstood – what I AM saying is that there are systemic issues underneath this behavior and they have been ignored, misdiagnosed and under-resourced for so long that their street smarts have become their first tool for dealing with conflict, “disrespect” or anger. This means strike first, deal with the consequences later – and those consequences aren’t even envisioned, just like the possibilities of college.
I guess what I am trying to say is, hope doesn’t just come to you – hope is fostered, nurtured and passed along by individuals. I don’t know how to fix all the problem(s) of Chicago and many other cities like it – but I know that I can pass on hope to those around me who are listening; Sara has nurtured hope in me and I try to continue to build it within myself – I encourage you to nurture hope in those you love.
My passion in life is raising awareness of the factors contributing to the toxic environment in which children live.