Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Life At Chicago's Harper High School

Hear a great audio documentary about life for students and staff at Chicago's Harper High School, one of the city's most troubled. This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Staff and students are constantly dealing with violence. It has become part of the culture in the school.


Part I Mp3 Link.

Part II Mp3 Link.

I was struck by the feeling of helplessness, even among staff. This documentary sounded like something from a war torn developing country... not from one of America's largest and most important cities. I came away feeling that the city of Chicago could do more. With a police department with thousands of officers, certainly they should be able to make a school and its surrounding neighborhood safe for students and parents. There are law enforcement and security steps that could be taken...but I just didn't get the sense that there was any leadership from the city government. In suburban schools.. when there is word of potential violence, it is not unusual for law enforcement to do a complete shakedown... check students, clear lockers, check vehicles coming in or out. Why no hotspot policing around the school? (Flood area with extra patrols, send in the gang and drug task forces, establish a school police force and give them the authority they need to patrol surrounding areas, install cameras, proactive car stops, etc).

And before anyone says it's the guns... Illinois has some of the toughest anti-gun and anti-crime measures in the entire country. Yes, the availability of guns and the number of guns in the wrong hands is a problem. However, if they simply enforce laws already on the books... many of the crime issues could be suppressed. Even if you are not a felon and you are caught in possession of a weapon in Illinois without an ownership card (called a FOID card) you are in trouble. The city of Chicago has additional gun restrictions in a State where gun ownership is already a pain in the butt even for law abiding folks. So law enforcement already has tools available. The State and city could add more measures such as loitering provisions, and additional penalties for known gang members. But there is enough on the books right now to start tackling this issue. The problem seems to be a lack of will to do the job on the part of politicians and law enforcement leaders.

The school administrators seemed to be on their own. The staff members are expected to be teachers, social workers, surrogate parents, caregivers, friends, psychologists, security officers.... it's amazing. In part 1, even some of the staff members (those who had been the rock for students) crumbled to pieces...and broke down in front of the microphones. It is clear that the people on the ground who work in these schools everyday have a different sense of urgency than the politicians in Washington DC... including the President. I also found it interesting that (at least in part 1) no one talked about the negative impact that rap culture has had... how it has contributed to this problem. Maybe that issue will be touched on in part 2. The program also highlights how culture & social conditions impact learning. The teachers can't fix this problem on their own. Test scores are bound to be low in this kind of environment. But should you get rid of the teachers? Absolutely not. Teachers who stick around in these environments are heroes. Their salaries should be increased and they should be given medals for what they have to deal with everyday.

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