Interlude: Crisis At The Edu-Mountain!
As I said…yesterday was an odd day at school. In many ways emblematic of some of the realities of modern Public Education. Some harsh, unfortunate realities, actually. I’m going to need to be circumspect about many of the specific details, because confidentiality applies…and out of respect for some of the parties involved.
Thursday (yesterday) a large number of the students were pretty agitated. There were unexpected, increased security measures on campus, sudden searches, and many more campus police than usual. Tagging had started to appear, and that tagging had both threats in the writing, and various symbols that were found disturbing. The threats were direct, and against the school itself…the kind of thing that puts one in the mind of many previous events that have happened in the United States, and ended badly.
At the beginning of the day, all of our Classroom Hall Passes were collected by the Main Office with no explanation. By second period, out of classroom personnel had come to my class to get writing samples for various students, in order to compare to the tagging. Third period, my students started to ask questions about student safety, and how safe campus actually was…although by that point, the staff had not yet been “read in” on what had been going on. It all seemed random, although the student rumor mill was in full swing. They were worried.
Lunch happened after period three, and in that time, the Dean of Discipline came to my room for another writing sample. By that time, I had started to put two and two together, as it were, and begin to work out various probabilities. At the end of lunch…before the bell rang for Period Four, all teachers were directed to a Mandatory Meeting in the Auditorium. I closed up with the Magic: The Gathering players, and headed over with Princess Pony.
At that meeting, we were told pretty much what had been going on, complete with photos of the various items of graffiti wall art. They were pretty direct, providing both threats, and a date that they would happen, as well as theological ideas, an inverted pentagram, and an inverted cross. There had been apparently three of them done, one on Monday, one on Wednesday, and one yesterday, suggesting an escalating timeline. It was very much Not Good.
Schools deal with these sorts of threats now. It’s a thing that there are procedures for, and processes that help to cycle through it. The meeting was a Question and Answer session, and made lunch take a full hour. By the time it was done, the students’ anxiety was somewhat greater, because the meeting was not normal, and really could only be about the one thing, that they had already been talking about.
It was not a Sherlock Holmes quality mystery. Not at all. In fact, Shaggy and Scooby could have figured it out, and they were simpletons. Crowdsourcing the problem to the teaching staff brought a solution forth VERY quickly, and the student was picked up very promptly. At that point, the Process went to its logical next steps, involving Law Enforcement and Mental Health Services. That’s just the Process…Standard Operating Procedure.
Some of the teachers and I were tangentially involved in the Process, for picking up the right student…since there had been evidence of the symbolism in various elements of the young person’s work. That is precisely why the information was Crowdsourced to the teachers…we interact with students and their work daily, and constantly…and could possibly “connect the dots” more rapidly. It was important to do so before the end of the day…because once everyone goes home, the whole thing changes shape. Assignments can be thrown away, evidence destroyed or hidden…and to be fair, given the date on the various threats, it would have been debatable whether school should even be in session.
When the young person was called in, apparently it came to light very quickly that they were in fact, the person in question. There wasn’t any debate about it.
As a result, a fairly vague announcement about school safety was made at the end of the day, before students left, and two “robo calls” went home during the evening, explaining to parents that the situation had been handled, and there was no danger at all. It was handled as well as anything like that could be handled…and when I did a Google Search on the subject at home, I noted that there have been two incidents of the sort in Southern California, covered by media, in the past six weeks or so. Sadly…it is a Standard Thing in our Modern World, fielding this sort of crisis.
That’s the first thing that struck me, as the whole thing was unfolding. This is something that we accept now, as part of our reality. Such a thing would have been unheard of when I was in High School.
The second thing, that hit me on the drive home, was far more subtle.
That student…a young person that I know, is in an incredible amount of trouble. That seems like a “no brainer” as well, sure…until you consider what actually happened.
You see…that kid didn’t come to school armed. They didn’t act out in violence. They wrote scary things on walls at a school site…the kinds of things that are in our minds from the media. The kinds of things that bring up dark visions of school shootings and acts of terrorism. That’s certainly NOT okay…except the consequences for such wall scribblings are amazingly large.
You put up a gang tag, proclaiming affiliation with a criminal street gang, and it is a substantially lower response than what I just saw. Gang related tagging is commonplace, and treated as a nuisance at best. That said, gang tagging is also directly related to one’s activity in a group that we know is actively involved in crimes, often felonies. Things like racketeering, drug trade, and murder. Things that are definitely not good, and not safe at schools.
This kid had a Sharpie pen, and some odd ideas about religion. He had emotional problems, and a date in mind. He didn’t do anything but write on walls, but the system is forced to take him super seriously. Again…it seems an odd response, given how we react to gang tagging.
It gets me in the mind of Marvel’s “Civil War II,” which is about profiling the future of a person, to determine what they MIGHT do, and preventing it. In this case, we found the student who DID do a thing…vandalize school property. Due to the content of the vandalism, because of the “expression” if you will, he is now being held accountable to what he may have done. This is, as in “Civil War II”, for the good of the many, for the safety of the group.
Heck…I lent a very, very active hand in making things come down on the side of safety.
At the end of the day though…there’s one kid who is in a vast amount of trouble, who is being declared as “making terroristic threats”, because of a week’s work of poor decisions. That doesn’t sit well when your job consists of trying to better the young people in your care. It sits even less well when you know the kid, and have to help out in putting them in custody, because of what they MIGHT do.
As Mr. Spock, a famous Alien American said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”
Obviously, today’s art is about this. I was going for an indie comics vibe, given the nature of the kid himself. You’ll note the one horn and the tattoo of a “6” on his face…that’s to follow up with the imagery of the tagging, actually, and the punk rock/indie “look and feel” certain things surrounding the case. I also wanted a recent Frank Miller kind of tone and feel, hence the minimalist dialogue, and abstracted look of the art.
I stand by the way things went, and my role in it…at the same time as I’m uncomfortable with it.
For those of you True Believers out there who wonder how things happen, behind the scenes, when a threat comes in at a school, this is a very vague, and general summary. There haven’t been any names (as always), and a few of the broader strokes have been left out. However…this is a reality of schools now, and something that Teachers, Administrators, Parents, and Students cope with.
In case you are wondering, a huge percentage of my students were absent today…”just in case.”