this american life


I recently listened to episodes 487 & 488 Harper High School on the This American Life radio program. As with many This American Life episodes, I felt a range of emotions from curiosity, anger, grief and guilt…as these episodes focus on the inequity of funding to our public schools and the gun violence that is far too common to many children.

I say “many”, because even though some of my students may be exposed to hidden violence at the hands of partners or family members—the students I teach rarely (ever?) witness shootings and do not have to worry they will be shot while hanging out with friends, on the front porch of their home or on their way to school. We have no metal detectors at school because they are not needed. (If detectors were needed, they would be immediately paid for and installed because there always seems to be money for what is needed.) During nine years of teaching at this high school I have witnessed one fight. One. Our biggest discipline problem is cheating.

I teach very privileged children.

I am curious to hear about community violence from the young people who rarely have a voice. I am angry that so many children are gunned down every day—every single day—and people rarely notice. It angers me that race still seems to be a factor when news agencies decide if a shooting should be covered; adults try to decide if the murder of a child is considered “news-worthy”. I feel grief for the children lost, the childhoods lost and the education that is lost by young people who live with constant worry and fear. I feel guilt for having so many resources and not sharing.

Harper High School is a “Turn Around School” where large amounts of money were pumped into the struggling school to address issues and over 5 years all ‘extra’ money is eventually removed from the school. According to TAL the school is about to lose the last of the money this year which means the school will take a cut of $1.6 million next school year. Money that pays for 4 assistant principals! exclaimed Principal Sanders as I thought, “We have six assistant principals and there is no threat of losing them.” Because of the funding-cut the school, which has two amazing social workers, will lose one and the second will go down to a .5 position next year. (We have 2 social workers, again, with no threat of losing them. We also have 9 counselors, a school psychologist, a public nurse and a clinic assistant. We even have an Assessment/Testing Coach whose sole responsibility is to schedule, organize and run standardized testing.) 

One should listen just to hear how social worker, Ms. Crystal Smith, seems to effortlessly get the toughest students to open up to her while having a simple conversation. Mr. Marcel Smith (who works directly with the failing kids) is shown to work common sense magic to help solve problems with students—which is the “stuff that doesn’t show up in the school budget” reminds Principal Sanders.

The shows are long, about an hour each, but worth the time spent to listen. If you get a chance, listen to the end. The last few moments of episode 2 are especially powerful as   high school principals from all over the US recall their former students, the ones who have been lost to gun violence.

Harper High School Part 1
Harper High School Part 2
How Many People Have Been Killed By Guns Since Newtown?
US gun violence


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