Unless you're living in a bubble of media-exclusion, you have heard and seen video by now regarding the arrest of a small coterie of adolescent males, removed from school this past Friday before their "Venetian" peers, in front of a drooling array of national media.
The social impact of these events is hard to overrate, its victims extend beyond those interviewed or tapped by law enforcement. Deeply affected is a whole community of children and adults numbering in the tens of thousands, possibly more.
And there is sympathy in store for all these community members; crumpled pride to support in vast measure. This is a school that in my experience, houses a vastly diverse, and notably gentle, student body. It is ironic since the residual reputation from former years suggests a toughness that just has sunk from view. Modern Venice HS students may know all the same temptations that plagued their parents and grandparents before them, but the filmic bullying glorified in Grease (featuring Venice HS in the background) and similarly dated crime statistics of previous decades are no more. As a parent of two current teens, I can attest that springtime capers featuring birds and bees allure as they always ever have, while the business of learning runs stronger than ever. Venice HS boasts the highest academic math scores on the westside and some of the finest special education of any school anywhere. All our students are above average, attesting to their justifiable, authentic and true "Gondo Pride".
One of the key issues that neoliberally-informed education reformers fail to appreciate, is the constitutive role of a school within its community. A good school -- indeed, any school at all, quite independent of absolute quality even presuming that such a parameter exists and is measurable -- school is that village it takes to proverbially raise a child. It is the locale where our children reside when not under our immediate care, where they are taught to be good citizens and learn to be happy, productive members of society. A High School is the proving ground for near-adults before crossing that chronological divide of independence. It is we by extension, it is we by microcosm. It is we.
Thus a violence done in our community, is a violence done on our community, and the consequences reverberate profoundly.
Witnessing our school turned into a spectacle for strangers is a violence perpetrated upon the entirety of all of us, as if we as a community were not already distraught by the primary allegations.
Our school wants nothing more than an adequate staff to support its thousands of above-average students. We need, and they deserve, what are essentially civic services due to them in just the same way that adults expect such services as, say, garbage pickup or municipal safety inspections.
Our polity owes its youngest citizens adequate daily support to mitigate the intemperance of youth. Our kids have a right to expect the same educational services we former-youth, their voting parents, received in turn as youngsters: janitors and hall monitors, classroom aides and administrative clerks, health workers and psychological counselors; maintenance, technology and enrichment with staff and resources to support it.
We voters have empowered politicians over the past decades to systematically withdraw these services from our children, despite their entitlement to it. We have relegated those of our children lacking advocates to fight for them, inside of communities so devoid of adequate support staff as to constitute what is essentially an atmosphere of "behavioral entrapment". With insufficient staff to impose behavior limitations or discipline, and a policy directive to systematically ignore willful defiance youthful though it may be, our precious children are sentenced to an environment inadequate to mitigate even predictable behavioral excess.
We at Venice High School now face so many victims -- from academic students to athletes, from wheel chair bound to college bound, from parent to teacher and community at large -- all around in no small measure because institutionally we have neglected to sustain an integrally supportive school community within our school's boundaries. We have withheld so many resources for so long from our own children that they have inevitably pushed back on the space where there are no limits left to contain them.
When we hear cry the question: "How could this happen on school grounds; are there no classes to contain and absorb these young adults?" The answer is: "Yes ... and No." There are classes, but they are too crowded; there are teachers but they are overworked. There are staff but none with time to patrol for off-course behavior, and institutionally we have emasculated their tools for dealing with it anyway.
Is this our student's fault? Well yes, there is no denying that criminal behavior is the responsibility of the perpetrator, without excuse. And yet we have not fulfilled our responsibility as adults to provide adequate guidance in an age-appropriate manner.
While even children must unarguably be held accountable for behavior that broaches criminality, who is going to hold politicians accountable for creating conditions that enjoin it?
Venice High School is a justifiably proud community of exceptional learners. All its kids would exhibit the respect they deserve were we adults respectful of the deep-seated resourcing needs of their school community.
I support Venice High School! I love its students, I am awed by its teachers and its administrators too. Would that the rest of us, from policy setters to budget contributors and manipulators, were similarly inclined: to follow through with actual resources that constitute functional support; to concentrate actions authentically addressing children's true needs; to forego large-scale political and commercial agendas in favor of children's prerequisite ones.
Friday's activities highlight so many, victimized. But if incompletely attributed effect influences future enrollment at Venice High, more than individuals will fall prey to corrective action; the school itself will. When incompletely explained circumstances affect un-nuanced reputation, the school's future enrollment is jeopardized, threatening the school's viability as yet further funds are erased from its already anorexic budget.
Starving a school until derivative wounds enable drowning in the bathtub is another potential sequela of all this victimization that is terrible to contemplate. Institutions at once robust to change are all the same susceptible to piece-wise atrophy. Our kids need to feel the support of their whole community all around them. A consequence of misstep ought to be buttressing support all around, all the more tightly. The community of Venice High School stands with its students, as should all our district's voters. Resourcing our schools properly equips the teaching of our children well.
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