Tuesday, November 1, 2016

294. Another email to Al

Dear Al,
I wanted to write to you about an event that I attended last week. It was about the school-to-prison pipeline and how to disrupt it. It was a robust panel discussion with a few hundred people in the audience. There were I think eight panelists on the stage with one moderator. Seven were men, only one was white. There were a variety of people from the law field and the education field.

A lot of issues were discussed: punishment in schools, helping teachers out, after school activities, parent involvement. All good stuff. Here were a few things that stood out to me.

-There was a woman who worked as a special education teacher talking about classroom discipline. She said she felt like she couldn’t control her classroom. Now I’ve never led a classroom, but I’ve been around enough teachers to know that’s important. She said that she sometimes feared for her safety. She asked the panelists if they had any advice. All of them gave roundabout answers that didn’t really give any solid advice. That confounded me. Mental illness isn’t the only problem here, but I’m guessing that it’s a huge one that we still don’t understand very well.

-I was following along on Twitter with the official hashtag of the conversation (bad idea.) One of the panelists led a mentoring program for kids after school. He said something along the lines of, that he encourages kids to get involved with music or sports or some other sort of activity. A woman (who I assumed was white based on her Twitter bio) was tweeting along. She responded to the panelist by tweeting that it was condescending to assume kids just needed football or the trumpet. There was a time when I would have sided with her, but I’ve cooled that aspect a little bit. I don’t think that is trying to solve institutional racism, I think he just wants to give kids a safe place for a little bit outside of school. That’s a good thing. I think you would probably agree that kids sometimes just need a safe place and a productive outlet. That’s a good thing.

-After the program, I saw on Twitter that a young girl (who was black) posted a video of her friend confronting the (white) chief of police from St. Paul. She was yelling at him and telling him that it wasn’t his place to be on a stage in a discussion about disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. She also wrongly stated that one his officers killed a teacher. I’m assuming she was referencing the Philando Castille shooting. He was killed by an officer from Falcon Heights. The officer didn’t really engage and was polite.

A few things here. I don’t envy the police officer. I’m not an apologist for the actions of the police, but I don’t think being yelled at and being recorded for everything you do is very healthy. I’m guessing a motive of taking that video was to get him to say something stupid. (Which is a whole different aspect of internet culture.)
Also, I disagree with the girl that the police shouldn’t be on stage. First, people would be asking where the representation of the police was if they weren’t there. Second, he was also the only white person on stage. I’m not saying that’s an issue, BUT I’ve heard at more than one event along this line that black people have had all the conversations about race, and white people need to discuss this issue more among themselves. I can agree with that statement, but I don’t think you do any good by shutting people out of the discussion.

I also hate it when middle-class white liberals way things like “I’m so humbled to be here discussing such a difficult subject.” We don’t need to say that, or tweet that. Say something like, “Hey, I’m probably going to be uncomfortable in this discussion, but I’m ready to listen.”

Ok, may have more thoughts on this later, but got it off my chest.

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