Recently I attended a college graduation party for a former student I taught at Palisades Charter High School. When a fellow guest learned that I left PCHS to teach at Venice High School, he blanched.
"You're kidding. Why would you do that? I mean, I live in Venice and I see the type of kids..."
I wondered what he saw. Rather, how he interpreted what he saw.
I shared some of my teaching history. In my two years at Crenshaw HS in South Central LA and my four years at Venice HS, no gun ever went off. But in my 13 years at Palisades CHS located in the forty-seventh wealthiest zip code in America (out of 44,000 zip codes) there were two drive-bys. Both times an innocent person caught a bullet and fortunately survived.
Yet, I felt that my stories did not make an impression. His stereotype of public school teens seemed set in stone.
Maybe the below essay, entitled, A Murder of Crows, written by 18-year-old Venice HS senior Jason Barrows, who some days wears baggy jeans, a white tee and a hoodie to my class, might help change that guest's mind about "the type of kids..."
Guns were never my thing, except in video games. I loved emptying the whole clip on one person. I enjoyed watching their bodies twitch every time a bullet penetrated flesh.
Everyone in my family grew up in Culver City, California, and we loved it. But when I was five my oldest sister, Jennifer, moved to Idaho. Her move caused a domino effect. My second oldest sister, Lisa and my Aunt Hope soon moved away, splitting the family.
When I was eight, my mom, my kid sister Shannon, and I, traveled to Idaho to visit Jennifer. When we arrived we drove up a dirt road to a farm that sat on a thousand acres. The house was large but its exterior looked run down. But inside her home was beautiful and relaxing.
At 3pm Jennifer said, "Dinner time."
Shannon and I rushed to the dinner table while everybody else ran outside. I was confused when I saw Jennifer's husband, Chuck, grab three guns -- a pistol, a double-barrel shotgun, and a rifle.
"Let's go kill our dinner, youngens," Chuck said.
I didn't know if he was serious or joking. But everyone else was already outside, so we followed.
My sister kept three cows and a scarecrow on her land. Chuck set down the shotgun and pistol and aimed at a murder of crows with his rifle. His first shot was dead on. Jennifer and all her children took turns shooting at the crows. Then it was my turn. I was nervous. The guns weighed more than I did. I picked up the shotgun thinking I was a bad little boy. They told me it could hurt me but I was stubborn and didn't listen. Chuck stood behind me and told me to aim and shoot. I looked up, picked out a crow and squeezed the trigger. Bullets flew. So did I.
I was flung backwards. Chuck, my sisters and mom howled. I stood and heard a cow mooooooing, loudly, painfully.
I looked over and realized I shot the cow's behind off. Blood was everywhere and I was terrified.
Chuck picked up his pistol, calmly approached the cow, aimed at its head, pulled the trigger and put the cow out of its misery.
"Looks like we're eating burgers tonight," Chuck said.
I didn't eat meat for months.
I love guns when I play video games. But after my first encounter with a real gun and the damage I did to that innocent animal, I swore never to touch a gun again. And I haven't.
I realized at an early age that video games are nothing like real life. Real guns left an indelible and frightening mark on me. The blood and guts in video games might seem cool, but when I witnessed blood shed up close, I was nauseated by the damage guns can do.
Guns are not for me.
Hopefully the next time my fellow party guest passes Venice HS, he'll pause an extra second and realize that what he might be looking at are ... writers.
Follow Dennis Danziger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/5ShowsADay