Friday, November 13, 2015

Officer Fields Reminds us of our National Failures

Guest Column - Media Version
By Nick Gregory
Michigan Education Voice Fellow

Three weeks ago when School Resource Officer Ben Fields slammed an African-American girl to the floor most people were surprised that could happen in a classroom. What’s not surprising is that Fields has averted criminal charges and the Columbia, SC incident may become another bullet point on a growing list of national failures. 

Instead of tackling important issues like institutional racism or the impact of zero tolerance policies in schools, the conversation was hijacked by people insisting the officer was simply doing his job when he injured a non-violent student and threw her across the classroom. Rather than learning from the incident, we have been implored to focus on a ‘problem’ that’s been in existence as long as backpacks: The entitled and bratty kids plaguing our nation.

Blaming a generation of students in response to the officer’s rage is predictable and sad. Before blaming the victim, a 16-year-old in this case, consider all of the ways the situation could have been handled better by the adults.

An army of critics want to convince you that kids these days are the problem so there’s no need to examine failed policies or the negligence of Fields.

When you hear about the kids these days, it’s often coded language describing kids whose geography, look and race are different from the person offering the critique. Those kids, not your children, of course, are the problem. Critics of today’s youth recount childhood stories resembling Norman Rockwell paintings – when a menacing look from an adult could redirect a child and obedience reigned supreme. The glory days when all the good parents spanked their children have been gone for decades, not weeks.

Children need to learn about accountability, but assuming the best way to reach that end is to body slam the respect out of them is ludicrous. Our charge as a nation is to provide a quality education to every child, even those who text during class or don’t follow directions. If you will agree that we can do better than “legally” permitting physical assault in our classrooms, I will concede that we have some troubled kids making it difficult.

Our meager attempts to examine our national conscience about important issues are being drowned out by loud proclamations about the crumbling morality of society. As a result, the analysis of the Columbia, SC incident has largely missed the point. Addressing inequity in American schools and advancing how we deal with racism in this country are challenges that require courage and focus. Distracting from those challenges with sweeping, presumptive generalizations is timid and useless.

Our children are taking their cues from the adults. We slip into a programmed national debate where emotional arguments turn Officer Fields into a hero or a villain depending on what story you choose to buy. We pick sides and then fill in missing information with a narrative that fits our particular perspective.

What example do we set for children if we keep score on Facebook and Twitter while ignoring a search for solutions to problems we know exist? Being right, no matter how clever our 140-character idea, is not going to solve anything if we're talking about the wrong things in the first place.

Rather than denying problems exist, our energy would be better spent figuring out why so many young people are doubting the promise of America. We are not the first adults to raise a generation of children who are losing faith in our ability to leave them a better world.

This generation of students is not failing us, we as adults are failing them. It is time to own up to our mistakes and learn from the lessons of injustice alongside of our children.

- Nick Gregory

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Gregory has been a social studies and journalism teacher at Fenton High School since 2000 and he has been a National Writing Project Teacher consultant and a junior varsity basketball coach since 2003. Gregory is a Michigan Education Voice Fellow and he has exhibited photography related to Detroit and social justice causes since 2011. Gregory, who has a Masters degree in Educational Leadership, believes that building positive relationships helps students find their passion for learning.

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