School Dazed

Most of the students were easy to pick out in the gathering. They were the young people wearing red and black, the school uniform of Edison High School, which is where they were coming from when they joined the “rally”. The people who organized the “rally” wore in green t-shirts, one carried a bullhorn, and passed out press releases. There were a lot more of them than there were students.

The word “rally” in this case turns out to mean “prime opportunity to exploit an incident for press attention”. No matter that most of the people honestly involved in fixing what went wrong at Edison High last week have asked well-meaning outside groups like this one to please stay out of it.

Not that these “rally” organizers aren’t well-intentioned people committed to righting inherent wrongs. I’ve reported on more than a few of their events over the years. They have good points and raise interesting questions as self-proclaimed voices for those who have none. Their causes almost always involve a fight or protest against a power structure they accuse of usurping or violating the rights of the poor.

Trouble is, that may or may not be the case at Edison; details are still being sorted out of just what went down during the student protest that devolved into a melee and arrests.

We do know it started with some sort of a confrontation between a student and the assistant principal. The police reports indicate the student defied authority, got physical. The students are convinced the assistant principal got violent first. If that’s the case, why hasn’t that student filed a complaint?… minor technicality today at the “rally”, where the loudest complaints got the most knee-jerk attention from news cameras. And when students perceive that the cameras and microphones that seek them out for soundbites empower them with electronic and print bully pulpits, facts become less important than their very real righteous indignation.

It gets worse.

The diligent news crews today followed “rally” organizers to the door of the school police headquarters, where the chanting people in green-shirts, after making sure all the cameras were rolling, rushed the door and demanded a report that had been done on Restorative Justice, a model program created to manage peaceful conflict resolution.

Take a moment and consider the irony of that move.

The police officers on duty either didn’t have that report to give; the school police chief demanded they leave.

Turns out, the call for the RJ report was the whole point of the “rally”.

The Restorative Justice model is being used in various communities and schools nationally and seems to have a good track record. Miami-Dade School Police commissioned a feasibility study for its use in schools long before the incident at Edison. Its scheduled release was delayed last month, and “rally” organizers are sure that means cover-up and conspiracy. (No one at the rally could explain why anyone might conspire to hide a study on a method of conflict resolution). Hence the orchestrated bust-in at the HQ. Which did little else but make the “rally” organizers look like they needed training in restorative justice.

I asked a few of the Edison students who showed up to be part of the “rally” to explain restorative justice, seeing as that was they reason they showed up. One told me restorative justice would be the arrest of the assistant principal. Another just looked at me blankly before muttering something like uh-uh. Not one had a clue why they were there.

They did have a purpose there, though, which was to rant some more about how they are treated like animals at school, how their rights are violated, how teachers and administrators are criminals. No doubt their frustration is real.

They may or may not be right. We don’t know that yet. My guess is – a basic lack of respect and mob mentality fueled much of what went on that day. Possibly all the way around.

So here come the “rally” organizers. Instead of showing these young people how to speak, act and empower themselves in tense situations, they use them as the news hook for their latest media attention.

They are so intent at railing against the system, they fail to see they can use it to effect change.

What kind of lesson is that for the Edison kids?

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