Sunday, November 1, 2015

Officer Fields & Our Youth Entitlement Problem

Part of the incident as shown on
When School Resource Officer Ben Fields slammed a 16-year-old African-American girl to the floor and tossed her across the classroom, his actions that day became the source of national scrutiny.

If not for the video footage would we even believe something like this could happen in a classroom? For some among us, the duty-bound officer also became the face of a ghastly national problem.

Police brutality in light of reports that the student suffered a broken arm, rug burns and emotional trauma? No.

Inequity in our schools, the impact of zero tolerance policies or the role of law enforcement in our schools? Nope.

Racial divisions in the United States? Nah.

Officer Fields is becoming a hero to a cause that has been in existence as long as backpacks. Apparently, we need to address the entitled and bratty kids problem plaguing our nation.

The kids these days, long a euphemism relegated for use by the elderly, now belongs to 30-somethings on Facebook. Even Twitter blew up with shots at the damn kids now-a-days because they are such a rude and smug bunch, unlike the kids 15 or 20 years ago. Right.

When we hear about the kids, just beware of the potentially coded language meaning those kids - the kids whose geography, look and even race may be vastly different from the person offering the critique. Those kids, not our own children or relatives of course, are the ones criticized most. And can we please quit with the glory days when all the good parents spanked their children and it only took a menacing look from an adult to re-direct a kid. Those days have been gone for decades, not weeks. Enough already.

Isn't bitching about kids (and their disrespect, and their video games, and their music, and their saggy drawers, and on and on and on) a page out of an old playbook? Every generation seems to point to the kids as this sort of blanket response to societal problems that erases any personal responsibility from the adults who are complaining.

For instance, in Ted Nugent's ridiculous rant he claims someone "finally gave the child a dose of reality" and how shameful it is we live in a world where an, "undisciplined brat could be made out to be innocent while a good cop can be called a perpetrator." Not sure about you, but I never witnessed a "dose of reality" when an adult took down a kid in school for refusing to comply. Take a look at the comments on Twitter suggesting justice was served. The victim blaming response when a child messes up and displays poor judgment is a petulant comeback by adults who refuse to address the more complex reality. I understand that young people need to learn about accountability, but to assume the best way to reach that end is to body slam the respect out of them is ludicrous.

If you will agree that "legally" allowing physical assault in schools is not in anyone's best interest, I will agree that we have some troubled kids out there making it difficult for schools to deliver a quality education. In some cases, extremely difficult. 

Leon Lott press conferenceAs expected, Deputy Fields lawyer reminds us his actions were "justified and lawful." If the implications weren't so serious, it would be laughable that the same incident that led to his firing and an FBI investigation has also resulted in two teenage girls being arrested for "disturbing school." The 16-year-old student who was the target of Field's aggression was arrested and a classmate was cited for having the audacity to record the incident and speak out in class. Meanwhile, we continue to hear that the videos don't tell the complete picture and some supporters of Fields pretend he had no other options in the classroom that day. I'm not buying it.

Predictably, we have slipped into a programed "national debate" where emotional arguments turn this officer into a hero or a villain depending on what story you choose to buy. We pick sides, exchange barbs with political slants and then fill in missing information with a narrative that fits a particular perspective and ideology.

Maybe this generation of young people is not failing us as much as we are failing them.

Our children are taking their cues from media personalities and adults who avoid substance while turning our attention to slow motion replays and legal strategies so we can strengthen our opinion on the matter.

Maybe it's not as much an entitlement problem of our youth as it is our failure as adults to acknowledge and solve the real problems we lug around every election cycle without much change.

We can start by agreeing on what all students should be entitled so we can divert our attention from the make-believe issues.

We must ensure every child is entitled to:
  • A quality education with professional teachers, leaders and a community of support
  • A safe learning environment
  • A voice that is valued in a democracy that understands their background and their perspective
  • An educational system that is funded with proven interventions and programs that serve student needs 
  • Opportunities for success and preparation for career & college 
  • An educational program that embraces the rich diversity that makes the United States special
  • Optimism regarding what they can achieve  
  • Trust in the people who serve (and protect) them in our schools
This list could certainly be longer (add your ideas in the comments). The point here is that if we allow the conversation to drift off into griping about kids these days then we will miss the part about creating lasting and important changes in our schools. It will take courage and heroic leadership to advance changes that have staying power. Improvements will not happen by complaining about students.

Of course, we want to do a better job raising responsible, respectful and culturally aware children, but let's not assume we are the first adults to raise a generation that is losing faith in our ability to leave them a better world (Remember the Vietnam era?). Our energy would be better spent figuring out why so many young people are doubting the promise of this nation rather than denying problems exist.

We, as adults, share responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in and we can begin by owning up and talking about the injustices and the lessons we are learning alongside of our children. After all, we are the parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors and family friends of these kids and blaming them is counter-productive. We need to start by listening to children, especially those children who may not look like us or come from the same neighborhoods and schools where we live. Listen to their parents. Their teachers. Listen.

If we aren't mindful, we will miss an opportunity to work toward addressing the education gap that exists in our country. I am sick of talking around the tough issues in favor of the hot topic du jour. What example will we set for children if we spend our time and energy keeping score on Facebook and Twitter while ignoring a search for solutions?

Simply being right, no matter how clever our 140-character idea, is not going to solve the problems we have if we're talking about the wrong things.

Our children do have an entitlement problem and we need to deliver what they are entitled. It's past time we own our share of that problem and start demanding we do a better job for all children.

If you feel the way I do, post this blog to Facebook or Twitter and/or write a letter of concern to your local school board member or government official. This is an opportunity to turn voice into action and get to the root of our problems in American education.

All of this, you say, because a video of an officer slamming a child to the floor went viral?

It's not because it went viral. It's because it took me seeing that video to realize that we have an obligation to speak for those who do not have a voice (or a camera).

Sitting by silently will not make our schools better. I do not need another video to remind me that the entitlements children deserve are being ignored. This incident reminds us that as a nation we are not living up to a fundamental principle that all children should have an equal opportunity to pursue their ambitions. Quit with the kids these days routine and do something constructive about the real problem of adults looking the other way.

Eventually, Deputy Fields' actions will become background noise in our education policy. If we fail to shine a spotlight on the negative culture within too many of our schools in this country, our response will be predictable and useless once again: Those damn kids these days!


It is not safe to assume people have heard your point of view before or that they will dismiss your stance. Educational opportunity and fighting for the common good are not ideals beholden to a specific political party or ideology. Please be heard.
  • To find your local school board and school leaders, visit your school district web site. Write to them about your concerns. Your concerns in your district are important.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or news outlets.


  1. Great piece!

    Also remember that you can reach out to your community through writing letters to the editor and/or Op-Eds to voice your concern or opinion on the issue in education that need to be addressed.

    One other way to bring change is through bringing your legislator (those who often set education policy) to school like this organization!


  2. If only we could ensure every child has good parenting. What a different world this could be!

    Nick I enjoyed your article immensely. I admire your passion. You're an inspiration. Kudos to you!


  3. Proud to call you my brother - loved this piece to bits!

  4. Nick- I wish everyone could see this issue as clearly as you state it. Thanks for having the courage to tackle this tough issue head on. I admire your work. Keep being awesome.


  5. Even better - Consider actually running for the local school board. In many districts there is little opposition. It seems that what generally pushes people to get on the school board is anger, disappointment and all the negative motivations instead of just wanting to serve and try to get a handle on the environment that the legislators hand down or the Dept. of Ed. or both. There are a whole lot of reasons that kids feel entitled and keep getting coddled by staff and a lot of it has to do with money. Sometimes the "keep the kids in school at any cost" mentality is costing more than you think.

  6. Thanks for the feedback. My message is simple - we need to open up the dialogue and re-commit as a nation to support all of our children in their pursuit of education. I am afraid that the massive inequity in our schools is only growing and our failure to recognize this crisis and work together is a shame. I am not sure how we fix it, but I know it will not improve if we continue to ignore it. Many people have reached out to me privately and I appreciate it. Thank you also to those people who have passed the blog post on to others. I am energized by people who refuse to underestimate their own voice.