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Message to Compton: Try Some Student Engagement, Not AR-15s

Publication Date: 2014-08-19

I wonder if the decision-makers in Compton and other cities in California that are buying up AR-15s have considered the message this brings to schoolchildren. It is definitely not a message of safety.

Compton students deserve a better vision of school--and life-- than revealed in this headline: Compton School Police Will Be Armed With Semi-Automatic AR-15 Rifles.

I wish every member of the Compton community would take a look back at the message one of their schools promoted some years back: OT: Our Town, a remarkable account of Dominguez High School's first theatrical production in over 20 years. Critics gave it a vigorous thumbs up--88% rating.

Who would ever guess that an update of Thornton Wilder's classic set in Grover's Corner could deliver such educational and social value to a tough and violent school and its tough and violent neighborhood in Compton, California?

Although the play is now enshrined as a Grade 11 Common Core exemplar (with all the ugliness that portends), ten or so years ago at Dominguez High School, it transformed a community. The kids who voluntarily showed up after school to learn how to put on a play had their own way of doing things and they were untouched by David Coleman's entrepreneurial goals.

As we watch the kids mill around the cafeteria, which is the only school space for putting on a play, we see they aren't reading and re-reading and re-reading complex text. They are jabbering and joshing; they are busy worrying about everything but Thornton Wilder. You won't find any of their behaviors on a Charlotte Danielson teacher evaluation checklist. You need a very good eye to see any student engaged in anything that looks like "on task" behavior or any teacher "delivering" anything that looks like "instruction."

Actually, most of the time the viewer has a hard time finding the teacher in the melee. And when she is visible, it takes a very good teacherly eye to figure out what she's doing.

I was thrilled by this depiction of the subtle ways a teacher works her magic on kids who hate school, kids who have lots of things to worry about besides memorizing their lines. As I watch the film, I'm reminded of Deborah Meier's observation: "Teaching is mostly listening, and learning is mostly telling." Schools today suffer from a whole lot of telling funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and pass on by the National Governors Association and associated partners.

Watching a teacher working with students who had life stories of abandonment, suicide and parental waywardness and producing something they could be proud of shows us a whole lot more about those students than anything stored in the school data bank. Wendell Berry, Kentucky poet, farmer, and teacher, writes often of the accountability of words and of deeds faithful to words. If we "stand by our words," insists Berry, then we must speak in specifics about this child and this curriculum. Specifics. Not grand statements about preparing all students to be workers in the global economy. When we are unable to stand by our words, we fall back on the dictates of Standardistos, resorting to the slippery language of public relations, which means abandoning our students to political abstractions.

Compton School Police Will Be Armed With Semi-Automatic AR-15 Rifles

Students at a Compton school will be facing some changes as the new school year starts next Monday: the campus' police officers will now be allowed to keep semi-automatic AR-15 rifles in the trunks of their patrol cars while they're working.

The school board approved a policy in July that allows selected campus police officers to buy these rifles and keep them in their cars in case they need to use them in instances of mass shootings or terrorist attacks, according to KPCC. They plan on training these chosen officers and letting them carry the weapons in their cars within the next month.

Folks in the community are criticizing the policy and questioning why such high-powered weapons are needed on campusâ€"and in the hands of the school police. Francisco Orozco, a recent high school graduate and founder of the Compton Democratic Clubâ€"a group that discusses local policiesâ€"said that students have complained about the campus police's excessive force and that there was a lawsuit filed by parents last year in the district about the school police's racial profiling. (Fox News Latino reported that Hispanics and Latinos make up 65 percent of the Compton community and African-Americans make up 33 percent.)

"The school police has been very notorious in the community and in reality has never had to shoot anyone before," said Orozco. "So this escalation of weapons we feel is very unnecessary."

On the Compton Democratic Club's Facebook page, they've been writing about their opposition to the school's gun policy, including a post titled, "School Wars." The Compton School Police Officers Association wrote this in response and also noted other schools that were allowing their police officers to carry AR-15s:

Dear, Compton Democratic Club

Compton School Police Officers are not planning to attack the Galaxy of Teachers and Students.

Currently, the following School Districts authorize their Police Officers to deploy these weapons; Los Angeles School PD, Baldwin Park School PD, Santa Ana School PD, Fontana School PD, San Bernandino School PD.

If we encounter an active mass murderer on campus with a rifle or body armor, our officers may not adequately be prepared to stop that suspect. School Police Officers will undergo a training course, followed by a shooting proficiency test on a firing range and a written exam. The rifles are designed for increased accuracy and use rifled ammunition than can pierce body armor. The safety of our Students, Staff, and Parents are very important to us.

Last year, the Fontana Unified School District Police Department purchased 14 AR-15 rifles, with plans of keeping them locked in safes on campus, according to CBS Los Angeles.

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