I’ve been thinking of what to say to my son at the beginning of this strange new school year. Of course he and I have been talking a lot already, most of it in mutually outraged tones about the injustice of the situation.
But I feel there is another conversation needed in advance of my son walking into Central High School tomorrow.
I want to tell him about the horribly contradictory feelings I’m having. On the one hand, I desire disaster and chaos. Wouldn’t that prove to all the leaders who have let us down that you can’t starve schools and expect there to be anything like school! On the other hand, I want my son’s life to go forward in the most normal way it can; I don’t want him to get hurt or suffer because of the folly of state and local politicians.
There is no answer to that sense of internal conflict I have. And my son certainly doesn’t need to do anything to fix my turmoil. But I want him to know what I’m feeling.
And I want to learn from my son how he is feeling in advance of school. What are his fears? What are his hopes?
I want to warn him that the low staffing will put a lot of pressure on the adults, which means it is more likely that, out of their overwhelm, teachers/non-teaching assistants and administrators are more likely to make mistakes, like getting on his case for no legitimate reason. I’ll encourage him to give his teachers and all the adults as much slack as possible and support them as much as he can.
Then I want to move the conversation towards what I expect from him.
- None of the people present at Central caused this problem. None of his legitimate anger that he has about the situation should be taken out, in any way, upon anyone at Central: teachers/non-teaching assistants/administrators or other students.
- The lack of resources and supervision will NOT be accepted by us (his parents) as an excuse to avoid his taking personal responsibility for his behavior. “So many other kids were doing it…” is not acceptable.
Finally I want to engage him. The governor, mayor, and the School Reform Commission need to be held accountable for the situation. Our kids are our best eyes and ears into what is happening at school. I will encourage my son to keep a journal, documenting how many kids are in each class, what is different from the way it was last year, and anything else he notices or feels (good stuff, too!). I can’t force him to, but I hope he takes on this role of citizen journalist. The data he collects can actually be used to document what is going on and hold people accountable. I hope it can be a way to empower him in a difficult situation.
Shai is on the board of the Central High School Home and School Association. He builds web sites and provides digital strategy for non-profits and small business at Content2zero.