The Problem with Guns, Pranks & Kids

Recently, the school district I work in experienced a social media crisis when kids posted pictures of themselves with the message — ‘Don’t come to school’ as we prepare to return to the classroom after the winer break. The problem is the students are holding what appear to be weapons — automatic rifles and revolvers — all of which have since been determined to be fakes and not real weaponry. The community is up in arms, and on social media parents are threatening to keep their kids home for the day rather than face the risk.

The local police department has issued a statement saying the students have been spoken to and the issue is resolved and there is no immediate threat to tomorrow’s school day. So I guess I will go to work as a teacher in my classroom, but I know I’ll look around and see a lot of empty desks.

There are a couple of directions I want to go with this commentary. The most important being the realization of how dangerous a precedent these students created with their ‘prank’ behavior. I don’t they realize the repercussions. I don’t think though, from reading the thread of reactions on social media that our society is ready to recognize the consequences of such a harmful act.

Guns scare people today, because their volatility, their immediate impact, their prevalence in schools is defined rather than speculated. The problem I have with these students making a joke of a serious issue is not as much themselves as it is the onlookers. Their joke could be someone else’s literal motivation to carry out a heinous act because it has been revealed and attention has been drawn to the idea.

I think the greatest fear of sensationalism is the action alone. Parents are reeling from this news, decidedly keeping their kids home. Some will eventually transfer schools. The community is frightened by the reality of this incident and this needs to become a teaching moment for our kids.

We cannot simply let it ride as a harmless prank. We must set a tone, and students need to know the seriousness of such an action. The students involved need to be charged with a terrorist act because they created an idea, a dangerous one, that might leave someone else intrigued enough to carry out what they thought was a joke.

We live in a suicidal society as it is. We cannot continue to give our students reasons to make poor and life-changing decisions that will impact their world for the rest of their lives.Our kids are being groomed within a throwaway society that is so impactful they have no idea the consequence that lays before them.

Gun-toting activists need to step it up and recognize this is dangerous behavior and not an over-reaction. Keep in mind, the gun could be your own.

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Recognizing Who We Are Today! (a draft)

We experienced a tragedy in (our community) last week. We lost a young man as the result of a traffic accident. He touched many hearts. The city, the district, the students were all impacted by the loss of (student), a student known by many for his affectionate and charming persona, an infectious personality. I listened to a couple of students the night of the tragedy talk about the immediacy, how quickly a life is taken, that we cannot quite comprehend the confusion such a loss leaves us when just hours before they were standing right next to the young man, full of life. We are all surely saddened by tragedy, yet, we are also enlightened by the way the students rallied around the celebration of this young man’s short life. In an intrigue, this experience speaks to an aspect of the beauty of our lives in (our community) as we recognize the diverse nature of our community.

On Friday, as the news flooded social media the night before, the students all wore white to honor the young man. I was amazed to look around the school and see nearly 90% of the student body dressed in white. The sight provided a welcome contrast to the negative image our district has attained in recent months. Here’s why.

What happened inside our school buildings on Friday mattered to the students, they were the ones being represented and cared for, and they responded with more unity than I have seen in my career as a teacher. I watched a school that put aside curriculum for the day, and reasoned with the reality of the human condition in every step of the way. In mid-day, there was a service, known as a ‘smudge’ provided by the young man’s family – his Native American heritage celebrated – and in attendance easily hundreds of students witnessed a cultural phenomena with open arms and respectful intrigue.

I said to a friend of mine late Thursday night, that (young man’s) loss would be a unifying force for allowing our students to recognize life as a whole rather than an individual need for survival. I watched kids from every walk of life hug one other, speak kindly to each other, and embrace grieving in a thoughtful and beautiful manner. (young man’s) death was responsible for that coming together of a school district.

Even more intriguing, I attended a football game that night, a ‘Friday night lights’ experience during which both the visitors and the home team wore white to symbolize (our community) tragic loss. It was remarkable to watch the unification of two school’s students who all recognized together the beauty of life and the tragedy of loss. But together they created and expressed a natural silver lining. Ironically, several schools around the region also showed unity and compassion by wearing white in a symbolic gesture of support. My boss said to me today, ‘It’s a small world’ when I shared my delight in the actions of many.

This weekend we celebrate the loss of a beautiful young man, one that I did not know personally, but understood to have touched the lives of many, including many students in the drama program, for which I am an advisor. The lesson learned from this weekend’s start of the healing process, is that we as a district do embrace the beauty of a unique population of student body that do and can believe in one another if given the proper resources. We as a community need to do our part in assuring our students that we can go forward together.

I think (young man) is imagining how special our world is given his new perspective, and his engaging smile is suggestive of our need to recognize his gift and not forget the message his role in the circle of life provides us all.

*names withheld to respect the student and family.

The White Out

In a sudden state of conclusion,

a confusion,

an interruption of our

ultimatum,

we were in a stirring rendition,

of love, of fun, of childhood,

when simply in the notice of our soul catcher,

we were told it is time to go home.

 

Now in the quiet of the day,

when laying back in my bedroom,

the familiar walls, the sounds,

static realities of my existence …

Now I can stand alone,

notice hanging on a wall nearby,

a dreamcatcher follows my eyes,

I suddenly do understand why.

 

A multitude of personality

spoke the knowledge of a few,

only to find some solace,

in the calm,

the storm that surged last night,

lays down a peaceful blanket,

a security to know we are never alone,

and instead just part of the circle,

that place where our lives,

measured amongst their lives,

and the lives of anyone whom nearby,

can hear my shout, her tear, his solemn plea,

we are all inside this dream catcher.

 

In matters of the soul,

we can cleanse our hearts in the grief

of our confusion,

in a thankful paradigm,

we might suggest,

perhaps another day,

because tonight everything is so fresh –

there is an ultimatum

in the sweet peace of love.

 

There is a cathartic happening today,

meant to suggest love,

in the confusion of wondering why,

it is his soul chosen today.

For all of our heartfelt passion,

for life and the responsive nature

of letting our lives speak loud,

for the loss of a mechanical truth,

suddenly surreal in His sensual sky,

we do know love today,

and the Creator has sung song today,

in the eyes of this Elder is the compassionate way,

we know love, we know love, is this day.

Why “13 Reasons Why” Is Important

13

In the fine arts we are encouraged to go big with our ideas, to allow emphasis on the issue, the illusion, the piece of art being presented on the stage. The purpose is designed to get the point across to the audience, or keep them engaged. The true compliment to an artwork, no matter the venue, is that people continue the discussion beyond the actual event.

Watching 13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix series really blew my mind. I felt like I was back in my high school again, experiencing the turmoil that a teenager goes through trying to adjust, fit in, survive the utter chaos of peer rejection and acceptance, all in the same day, every day.

About half way through the series, episode 6, or tape 3 I was riveted to every moment. Watching Clay struggle with the reality of losing his friend was compelling. I watched the behavior of his circle of people, I won’t call them friends, because so often in this period of a teenager’s life it is difficult to define who a true friend is. 13 did an excellent job exploring that aspect of high school.

I felt like I was the student in the room, experiencing the pain that comes with pressure and bullying. While the world goes on around a teenager, their internal struggle is never really revealed, and 13 explored that well enough to suggest this is real behavior. I thought all the characters fit the proper stereotypes.

The parents of each character as they unfolded in the show seemed normal. What I mean is they depicted the dysfunction of raising a family, holding a job, keeping up with or losing touch with their responsibility. I think the relationship that tore me up the most was Justin and his mom, I felt his pain as he leaned against the wall and she closed the door on their communication.

The administrators of the school seemed effectively overwhelmed by their task. There was the initial counselor who basically didn’t get tenure and then the new guy came in and gradually established their grounding as a central figure. In the end, it was clear things were beyond his control. Imagine the guilt we feel as teachers when we realize we missed something, that if we had just … we can settle behind the reality that our role in the classroom is to deliver our curriculum. Clearly that was demonstrated in 13 Reasons Why, but at the same time, we could recognize the vulnerability that children experienced around adults that were not involved. Or, if they were, they didn’t have a clue.

As I suggested in the beginning, in order to keep an audience, a piece has to have big moments. In television plot lines are imperative, and this is where I began to lose my direct connection to the characters in 13. Everything that could possibly happen, did, all impacting this small group of peers. Why such a micro-managed focus on the energy of a typical high school? Because the ability to attach pain and suffering to familiar characters helps get the point across to the audience.

If we accepted our buy in to the characters then everything they went through was plausible. Much like the movie Crash years ago where a diverse populace all experienced tragedies and successes within a literal block of L.A., though perhaps not possible, the experience the characters endured was certainly believable in the right context.

In 13, the key to this story is they deal with every aspect of being a teenager – confusion with sexual identity, clear cognizance of sexual preference and the societal scrutiny, the lifestyle of a jock, of a nerd, a geek, an outlier, a weirdo, In every aspect of student or teenager, the experiences seemed real and tragic.

What is an important takeaway is to recognize the behaviors demonstrated throughout this series were pretty spot on for the most part. The story line of the tapes could actually happen, though the possibility of getting through a dozen involved students probably not likely. But, they all maintained their characters with a haunting consistency.

Finally, let’s not forget this is about suicide, and the helplessness that everyone feels with a loss they believe they are responsible for. Even though in the real world we always blame the person who takes their own life. The movie itself defined the act as weak. I found it interesting that the young woman who revealed her cuttings on her arms, suggested she was doing it right, that suicide is a cop out. I’ve worked with cutters in my hospital work, and there was always a distinction between real and attention seeking, vertical and horizontal cuts as so eerily demonstrated in the series.

13 might be perceived as a segment of peers in a typical high school all being responsible for Hannah’s death, but if that is a takeaway, it is possibly wrong. It really is the remarkable telling of a young person’s struggle to define themselves while walking through life in a world of hurt, and having the fortune to play out the process with direct and frightening evidence, ironically replayed in cassettes with haunting truth.

I believe this series, beyond the embellishment and soap opera moments, is vitally important, certainly not for the eyes of children under 12 – not yet, even though we think they’re ready. It is a wonderfully tragic piece to create healthy dialogue, whether the characters are realistic or not. I was moved.

In High School We Believed

Everything

mattered, occurred, became known,

whether we wanted notoriety

or a simple life as a student.

 

Remember walking the halls,

feeling the eyes,

wondering about thinking

that could expose your own state of mind.

 

I remember they told me otherwise,

so I trusted their ideal,

and when the walls caved in

they were nowhere to be found.

 

I remember the rumors,

she was so beautiful,

carried such a wonderful spirit,

no one would understand the hate in mirrors.

 

In high school, we lived many different lives,

some would last a week,

others perhaps a couple of days,

it only mattered if we could find definition.

 

When the word arrived in our mind,

how could we possibly imagine

telling anyone, especially those eyes we were

already afraid of, deathly afraid of knowing.

 

While the world seemed different outside,

internal walls protected our sanity

only when we accepted ourselves in earnest,

if not, we relied upon a mask.

 

Though the transparency, when noticed,

became the final reckoning, we did understand.

always just a little late …

Wanting Discovery

I am that person you see every day,

in a coffee shop – caprice with friends,

at the prom, nervous,

in every crowd shot of each rite of passage,

walking to school,

waiting nearby,

the one that popped out of a crowd with a smile,

genuine and as easily drawn to cry as allow laughter.

 

I am that young man, woman, person, entity, enigma, peer,

sad face, happy expression,

tumultuous personality drawn to the drama,

in knowing I am always questioning who I might be,

I am that one counting upon the moment,

when my world crashes,

crumbles, unravels, unwinds the very sustenance of sanity,

who knows you will be there to catch me,

comfort me, offer solace, provide direction, allow failure

to return to a successful rendezvous

with reality.

 

Because I know you care.

 

I am the child,

now the young adult filled with a vigor for pronouncement,

yes, it is my time, to cock, to strut the walk, to corral the essence of time,

with a wish to be recognized,

to be now, finally, in this moment, after years of fear and trepidation,

to be understood.

 

I am eighteen, seventeen, nineteen years old,

I am that question,

son, daughter, neighbor, friend,

Somali, Latina, American unrecognized, white kid down the block,

African-American, in all beauty, all encompassing,

I am that Asian, Russian, Icelandic, Austrian child,

I am that person – please, hold me, and guide me,

let me thrive.

 

I am that teenager, that might not yet realize,

howsoever society defines,

I am that Graduate.

A Silent Decision

Sat in a room tonight, listened to the wonder,

of the world we live in today.

Hard topics, sad outcomes, hopeful realities,

the horrific turmoil in the lives of young women and boys.

 

Earlier this afternoon, I took a student apart,

confronting their need to focus on their academics,

made sure the rest of the classroom knew I was serious,

held out until the very last minute,

felt justified until minutes later,

I realized she suffered from social anxiety & depression.

Who’s the tough guy now?

 

See though these are two seemingly different stories,

they’re really the same,

each one a product of the other,

the initial motives for throwing a young person’s life away,

and the later the end result,

decides just why should we try anymore.

 

Any more and we’ll fall apart and cry,

yet so often we are told not to respond that way,

too many times, we forget the others,

end up in the trapping of silent decision.