As I See It 7-1
Sunday, February 3, 2008

A State of Emergency

By Gregory Jones

       After the recent gun incident at Everett High School, I felt compelled to write this article. My opinion is that an emergency situation is unfolding in many American schools. However, I want to point out that this article is not about the Lansing School District (LSD). It’s about events at an suburban high school. My experiences have revealed a disturbing link between the urban and suburban students, and that link is that many young black students are raising all kinds of hell at schools, and that disruptive behavior is apparently crossing economic class lines.
     Recently I was a guest teacher at a suburban high school. While sitting at the teacher’s desk, I glanced out into the hallway and saw a large mass of students standing around. I got up and went to check it out. Right before my eyes two young brothers were circling each other, preparing to do battle. They were surrounded on all sides by a group of students, practically all black, who were cheering and jeering them onward, some were even videoing the fight with their cell phones. Students were rooting for their favorite fighter, and no one really seemed to care that I was now standing vulnerable between these two combatants. In fact, all I could hear from the crowd was that I retreat. It was obvious to me that this fight had long been in the making, and that many students were eager to tape this gang-banging episode and down load it to You-Tube or My Space.  Before I knew it the intensity of the moment really began to dawn on me, that I could be seriously hurt if struck by a glancing blow. At this point the two boys were still circling each other, stunting, grimacing and name calling. Time seemed to slow down and bend, and the situation seemed to get out of control. As I tried to keep them apart, I could feel their strength and adrenaline peaking, even as my own seem to wane. The moment was surreal and palpable. Suddenly, one of my white students began to assist me in breaking up the fight. All of the black students, who smile and greet me daily, now abandoned me to my own wits.
     I was quickly becoming demoralized by the fact that many of these students just stood there, cheering, jeering and video taping, while I tried to put an end to this silliness. Mind you now, many of these students are from middle class families. At this point in the scheme of things, it dawned on me that there’s a link between young black students across social economic class line, as it relates to disruptive behaviors running amok in classrooms across America. I would have expected this at any urban high school, as this fighting is common , but to see that behavior and attitude being expressed by middle class students at this suburban school caught me off guard. At this point of analysis, it was apparent to me that something new is happening here. I’ve sensed a cultural shift in this generation, where fighting is encouraged, even enjoyed. I recall an experience at an urban high school where the students were talking among themselves, and usually that dialogue involved fighting, an
d one of the student’s said that she was looking forward to fighting this person the next day, as she had lost the fight miserably, and now the whole world could see her shame on You-Tube. There was excitement and gleam in her eyes at the prospect of fighting again and possibly winning this time. I was astounded at what I was hearing, because back in the day when you lost a fight, you just accepted it and went about your sullen business.
     Many of these fights are advertised, and the crowds all show up on cue, to support their boy, and of course, video tape the event for future down loading. I believe this linkage involves a syndrome uniquely to the Hip Hop experience. The whole fight scene, with the cheering, jeering and video taping reminded me of many videos that I’ve seen on BET. Much of the music glorifies violence, and the lyricism is full of misogyny and anti-social behavior.  
     Although, I do realize that not all rap fits into this category, but the rapology that does, is enough to warp and disfigure young minds to the point, where the acceptance of this behavior within the school setting, has become an unfortunate and uncomfortable reality. I haven’t exaggerated one bit, about the drama of the fight that day. Students were expecting one of the brothers to be beat down and defeated, live and in Technicolor, just in time for a You Tube video cast.
     In zeroing in on student conversations concerning fights, there’s a constant theme of glorification, beating the brother down, humiliating him, all the while achieving some strange catharsis, a sick and pathetic 15 minutes of fame to be forever memorialized on My Space. The common denominator to this behavior points directly at what I believe is a cult of rapology. The fronting, stunting and ego tripping with inflationary spirals of self congratulatory bravado, is eerily similar to watching a rap video. It’s as if a rap video is being made. The accessories of video phones, I pods and other technological devices, lends themselves to this glorification, as they provide real time recording and video taping. In fact, many social scientists believe that the Computer Age has desensitized many young people to violence. Surely, those students that day were numb about the prospect of violence. Co-mingled with this technologically fed insensitivity, is a rap culture that in many respects, glamorizes misogyny, and bragging, both of which lean toward the dehumanization of the person. This dehumanization process is coming front and center before our very eyes in schools across America. It is not an urban problem anymore. It is spreading all over. This combustible mix of techno-computerology and rapology breeds narcissism and ego tripping that manifest itself in all the destructive behaviors that we’re witnessing in schools across America. Unfortunately, fighting and guns are part of the mix. It’s an emergency.
     There’s a constant drum beat in the news media concerning the crisis of the black male, his menace to society and even him being an endangered species. Unfortunately this crisis is being played out on many school grounds. The fighting and disrespect to authority, the bad behavior and attitudes, and the greatest torment of all, the disdain in many cases, of the educational endeavor itself. What happened at Everett could just as easily happened at any suburban school, as these students are influenced by the very same cultural shifting and paradigms that involve insensitivity and ego tripping, resulting in disrespect for authority and the individual. It’s no exaggeration to say that a crisis is present, and can become epidemic, as well as endemic. What can be done about it?
     Whenever an emergency is declared, all options are on the table. No more horsing around. The problems must be identified and strictly dealt with. Emergency measures operate best when they’re fully explained and meant to be transitional. Once the situation stabilizes, then normalcy can return. Those students who are consistently raising all this hell, must be identified and marginalized. This marginalization process, however, must not be void of mercy, but it must be tough love. This type of marginalization involves separation, or worse case expulsion.
     Number one, an emergency must be declared. The emergency management tempo must be zero tolerance for disruptive behavior. Many students come to school with massive chips on their shoulders, who must be helped somehow, and for those who are willing to meet the adult’s half-way; they must be exempt from the most rigorous marginalization process. However, the thugs, knuckle-heads and gang bangers, and those resistant to change must face the consequences; otherwise the necessary solution will not take place. Students must comply with normal social etiquette and decorum. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to control rowdy, thuggish and brigandish behavior. What’s absent is the iron will to address it. As I said once the situation stabilizes, that iron bar of tough love can gradually be replaced by the balm of normalcy. Since administrators can’t legislate parents to be responsible, they must focus on what they have control over, and that’s the school grounds itself.
      Before long the school is safe and expectations of educational excellence is shared by all. The will to do so must now become paramount, as a state of emergency exists.

Editor’s Note:  The Lansing School District is implementing a hotline number to report student problems.  We will update you on that issue.

 

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