Monday, October 1, 2007

Get Out the Pickaxes, We Got Work to Do

This article in Education Week spells out ways Jena High School administrators might have been able to stop the train that brought tens of thousands of protesters in:

On Aug. 31, 2006, school leaders in Jena, La., arrived to find two nooses hanging from an oak tree on the campus of Jena High School—and boarded a racially charged roller coaster that has yet to stop moving.

The events since that incident—including the beating of a white student and resulting criminal charges against six black schoolmates that have drawn international attention—offer tough lessons for principals and other administrators who must grapple with racial tensions in their schools.

For one, principals and teachers can head off such incidents by knowing the sources of conflict and acting to defuse them, experts on race relations say.

But when prevention fails, for whatever reason, school leaders should treat such matters seriously, condemn any offensive act, and mete out fair punishment. Communication with students, parents, and the community is crucial to keep the situation from worsening, and administrators may need to draw on outside mediators for help.

At A.'s and B.'s school, the administrators have signed on with this conflict resolution program. It involves "I statements" ("I feel sad when you act like such a freakin jerk") and apologies and is, as far as I am concerned, a buncha baloney, an opinion I frequently share with A. and B., along with my opinion that words mean nothing, and you can tell how people really feel from their actions. Someone can apologize sweetly a million times, but if he keeps tripping you/taking your lunch/failing to call when he says he's gonna (that last obviously belongs to me), you know how he really feels.

. . . Paul C. Gorski, an assistant professor of education at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., who has been a consultant for schools grappling with racial tensions, said he is wary of a conflict-resolution approach if it doesn’t enable people to talk about racism in “deep and complex ways.”

He said that getting to the root of racial friction means “bringing people together in a dialogue so that people’s experiences can be shared—so that people can develop a deeper understanding of how racism is systemic.”

I share Mr. Gorski's wariness. I am all for genuine resolution of conflict, and I am all for the genuine expression of regret (and even remorse) for the negative effects of one's actions and for feeling empathy and all that. But I have a violent objection to coercing empty apologies from unrepentant thuglets.

And I am even more violently opposed to the implicit concept (in the program at A.'s and B.'s school, anyway) that it always takes two to tango and that both sides must always apologize. Sometimes, there is a bully, and the bully needs to be taken in hand. Sometimes, as in the case of Jena, there are people making threats (i.e., the noose-hangers) against the innocent (all Black students at JHS), and that needs to be stopped immediately and definitely.

As Mr. Gorski said, everyone needs to get to this foundation of understanding that "racism is systemic."

Racism is real and not merely perceived and to call attention to it does not mean, as Clarence Thomas seems to be going about saying, a matter of Black people painting themselves as victims:

The vehemence of his contention that he was made the victim of false allegations to keep him from joining the court, and the clarity of his statements about the propensity for black Americans to paint themselves, and agree to be painted, as victims, is certain to raise the issue of race in a presidential election contest in which for the first time one of the front-runners, Senator Obama, is an African-American.

(Thanks to Negrophile.)

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