After reading your post, I feel like there is yet another individual on the
list who understands the nature of the real problem with the gang images.
I had five years with middle schoolers in our district. Although the
majority of our students came from nurturing homes with parents who cared
for and loved them, some of the kids were third generation gang members and
gangs were a constant problem. Several of the students in my classes have
brothers, mothers and fathers in prison. With the assorted criminal
activity, fights, drugs and drive-bys, some of my former students are now
dead while others are in the juvenile correction facility, others are in
prison for their participation in the violence. Thinking back over some of
the students that I have worked with, I have seen a few of the kids try to
break out of their situation after getting into a gang, but unfortunately,
numerous others who had resisted the gang affiliation when they were younger
have given in to the pressure and the treats and turned to it as they grew
older. Early on, the gangs provide the kids with a sense of family, identity
and a sense of security, only to enslave them in a downward spiral of the
drugs and violence. So many of these kids are pulled away from any formal
education by pressure from their group and their criminal activity added to
the lack of education seals their fate. The longer they survive that life,
the harder it is for them to try to change direction.
I assert that the teacher needs to take responsibility for the quality of
the learning environment and take a stand against image making when it
relates to gangs and crime. With other students in the classroom who are
trying to resist the pressures and face the fear that is presented to them
by the presence of the gangsters, the teacher and the school authorities
have to take a stand for what we feel is right. The students who are
trying to stay out of gangs face frequent invitations mixed with threats
from the gangsters in their classes, in their school, on the bus and in
their neighborhoods, we can not afford to give the criminal way of life
legitimacy. The classroom is one place where the teacher can try to provide
a place to learn where the serious students do not have to deal with the
overt activity of the gangsters. I think if we pander to their images and
try to give these kids the idea that their symbols have a place in our
learning environment, we pander to the content behind those images. We have
chosen to tolerate and even encourage the symbols and the content they
bring. We invite it into the learning space. In the eyes of the other
students, we have taken the other side. We soon loose a sense of respect
from those students who are threatened by the images. Those are the very
same students who have a chance to take advantage of our educational system.
I think perhaps those individuals on the list who are quite liberal in their
expression of a legitimacy for the images associated with crime and
suffering of so many people in the community do not understand.
At any rate, I appreciate you sharing your experiences. Perhaps others of
us will begin to get a clearer picture of the problem with the images.
On a personal note, Dawn, I just want to say that I can tell from your
description of your teaching experiences with the gangs that you have
survived some very tough times in the classroom. I respect you for trying to
make a difference. I was drafted and spent time in the infantry as an
elisted man in Vietnam. I saw quiet people do heroic things. Years later,
after turning to public education, I find myself working with quiet,
wonderful people doing very extrordinary things in difficult situations.
You sound to me like one of those heros. I think education and my years in
the infantry have in common the reality that others often do not understand
what you do....You can't explain just what it is like to try to do your job,
you can not communicate fully what the experience is like, yet you find
some very real respect from those who have been in similar situations.