2.21.2010

Flash Mob, the Gallery and Parenting

This week, Philadelphia schools made headlines for a most undesirable reason: flash mobs and violence at a Center City shopping mall (the Gallery). More than 150 kids were said to have been involved in the violence, which caused several hundred dollars worth of damage. As school officials gathered to talk about the incident, the press repeatedly pointed out the names of the schools that the kids attended (noting, for example, that eight of the fifteen arrested were from Simon Gratz High) and highlighted that expulsions from school might be in order.

Really?

No, that wasn't sarcasm. It was genuine surprise. I'm perplexed as to why expulsion is even on the table.

In the suburbs, your kid gets on a bus from the school parking lot and travels home, more or less. Or, if they're a little older, they drive home. But in the City, your route home (because of the wonky system of "school choice" which is another issue altogether) can be a series of buses, trolleys and subways. The likelihood of something going wrong, including getting into trouble, is a bit higher. And I realize that from a legal perspective, we've decided as a society that the schools should be held accountable for the safety of our children until they get home... But is that realistic? Or fair?

I'm not sure that it's the school's responsibility in all of this to ensure that this kids don't get into trouble after they're a certain distance from the school. And while I don't profess to know what that magic distance should be, I feel comfortable saying that Nicetown to Center City qualifies.

In all of the coverage surrounding this mess, I've heard from the police, from the School District, from store managers - and in the Inquirer, even from the kids themselves. Anyone else notice a rather important omission? Where are the parents?

I know that parents can't be expected to be around all of the time. I'm a working mom, I get it. But I am really surprised - and thoroughly disappointed - at the apparent lack of parental intervention in any of this. Parenting matters. Period.

I realize that not all families are created equal. And I am not so naive to believe that each of these children come from perfect homes (as if there were any such thing in the first place). But I am also not so jaded as to believe that we should accept any of that as an excuse.

Parents have a fundamental responsibility to be involved in their kid's lives and that includes times when the parents are not around. One of the things that I've been struck by at my kids' school is how involved the parents are. And it's not a group of latte moms around a table. I see moms and dads, as well as grandparents (!), from all walks of life getting involved. Whether it's painting over graffiti, baking for the school sale, playing coach or writing grants for more funds, parents make an effort to be a part of the school community. That means that they have some skin in the game - the success or failure of the school is tied to the parents.

It's easy to point fingers and say that not all schools are the same and that perhaps these kids involved in the melee at the Gallery are just different. But I think that sort of thinking is just an excuse to write these kids off. It somehow justifies the idea that we can kind of shake our heads and walk away because there's nothing we can do other than accept that they're going to do what they want to do. But that's just wrong. Kids are largely the same at heart. And they all, despite their circumstances, want love and acceptance, as well as rules and order. And it's clear that these kids don't have the latter: you don't get 150 kids that feel comfortable enough to terrorize a shopping mall without some sense of approval, tacit or otherwise.

All of that said, the burden of parenting these children should not be laid at the feet of the School District. The School District claims that:

The mission of the School District of Philadelphia is to provide a high-quality education that prepares, ensures, and empowers all students to achieve their full intellectual and social potential in order to become lifelong learners and productive members of society.


There are more than 160,000 public children that deserve the full attention and resources of the School District. Don't shortchange those children in order to resolve some kind of public relations issue with the City. Philadelphia school children are not bad and I don't appreciate the children at my school being labeled as trouble because a group of unruly kids felt emboldened to cause some trouble.

In fact, let's leave the schools out of the equation altogether. Would we be having the same conversation if these were a group of parochial school kids? Or a group of kids from Lower Merion? Wouldn't the police be dealing directly with their parents? And let's not forget that the whole mess was arranged allegedly not at school but on the internet - is the next step having the School District monitor the internet?

This should not be made into a Philadelphia School District problem. It's a problem with badly behaved kids outside of school. Expulsion isn't the answer - in fact, it likely creates more problems than it would solve.

Parents, not teachers, should be held accountable for the behavior of these children. The discussion about what to do should be between law enforcement, those students and their parents. Period. That leaves the School District to focus on education, not policing, after school hours.

1 comment:

  1. Quit making excuses for behavior that cannot be excused under any circumstances.

    ReplyDelete