What I want you to know about teaching inner city kids

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post is by Bronwyn Harris.

I taught in Oakland for eight years, in the part of Oakland that everybody knows, the part that gives Oakland its bad reputation. I had many students who faced violence, poverty, and neglect that no child should have to face.

One student who wormed his way into my heart more than most was Fred. Fred was in the first-grade class I taught at East Oakland Elementary during my first year of teaching. He taught me, in a visceral way, the pain and tragedy of a talented, wounded black boy colliding with a system that has limited tolerance for disobedience and too few avenues of help and support.

Our relationship got off to a rocky start. Fred’s class had had six substitutes before I arrived in January 2000. Within the first ten minutes of my first day of class, he threw a book at my head and I had to send him home. That volatility was never far from the surface. He was so angry that it all but oozed out of his pores, even when he was only six years old.

But sometimes this child, who was known around school as a terror, would curl into a ball and sob uncontrollably because he didn’t know how to deal with all of his feelings. I taught him the word “frustrated,” and when he’d get mad, sometimes he’d still act out and scream, “I . . . am . . . so . . . frustrated!”

Fred left our school in second grade, reputedly for hitting a teacher. I believe he was expelled, but it may have just been a “push-out,” where the administration “encouraged” his mom to send him to another school. In third grade he came back to our school, and I, now a third-grade teacher, agreed to take him in, because I thought I was his best chance for success—since I actually wanted him there.

One day, when Fred was in my third grade class, he threw a tantrum that was more self-directed than usual. He flailed on the floor and yelled “I hate myself. I’m no good,” crumpled paper, and knocked things over. It was after school, so I let him bluster for a while. Finally, I said, “Fred, we’re going to make a list of things that are good about you.” He froze. I got on the computer and started typing.

I had no help from Fred at all. He alternately screamed and flailed on the floor (and this wasn’t just a temper tantrum; it was obvious that he was in serious emotional pain). But soon he was curious enough to come look at what I was writing. Although I no longer have a copy of the list, I suspect I included things such as “He is a great reader” and “He always respects me.” I finished typing and told Fred that I was printing two copies, one for me and one for him, so that we could each remember some good things about him. I told him that these weren’t all the good things about him, because that would take way too long. These were just the first ten of many.

I printed Fred’s copy and he said, “I don’t want your stupid list. There ain’t no good things about me!” He crumpled it up and threw it in the empty garbage can. I told him that was fine; he could do whatever he wanted with it. I said that I was keeping mine to remind me of some of the great things about him. He kept repeating that he didn’t want “no stupid list.” I think he really wanted me to react angrily to justify his own anger, but I stayed calm. He stormed out.

I resumed my work on the computer and heard the door open and someone rustling in the garbage can. When I turned back around, Fred’s backpack disappeared though the door. The garbage can was empty again.


A decade later, Rosa, one of Fred’s classmates at East Oakland Elementary, was volunteering at the organization I worked for, about to return for her senior year at UCLA, when she came into my office one day in 2015 looking downcast. “Ms. Harris,” she said, “Do you know Fred’s last name?”

I knew immediately what Rosa was going to say. There weren’t a lot of reasons that she would have brought up Fred. And honestly, this was a likely outcome for him. But more than that, I just knew. I felt a sinking in the pit of my stomach as she told me that Fred had been shot and killed that week in East Oakland. I wasn’t surprised, but I was still heartbroken.

Rosa showed me a brief news article about a young man who’d been killed, confirming what I already knew in my gut: the young man was Fred. I’m grateful to her for the kindness of telling me herself, sparing me the shock of finding out about his death on the news. She knows how much I love “my kids,” even once they’re grown.

I have since heard from a reputable source that at that time, Fred was trying to get out of the gang life, and that he had started going to job training not long before he was gunned down. I don’t know if this was true, or even if it matters. No one deserves to die violently. I knew and loved this child, who barely got to become a young man. I saw the potential he had and how much he wanted to be something other than what he was.

It breaks my heart that he couldn’t get out of this life before the violence caught up with him.

Losing a student to violence is unimaginable, even when this much time has passed. You second-guess yourself and wonder what else you could have done. As an adult, I’m sure Fred realized that the world, in many ways, is even more unfair than he imagined it to be as a child. But I hope he also knew, somehow, that there were still people who believed in him and believed that he was more than the sum total of his anger.

Kids who grow up in places like East Oakland are too often viewed as a burden on society, the costs we bear for incarceration and violence.

They are worth so much more than that.

Getting to them sooner, with real alternatives, and proving their value to themselves and the greater world around them are the first steps. Even Fred, who had incredible disadvantages in where he was born and in his early family and school life, who made bad decisions and paid for them, was able to redeem himself and start on a different path. And yet he still wound up dead, as do so many of his black and brown brothers who never make it out of the vortex of violence swirling around our prisons and inner city neighborhoods.

This tragic reality and the lives it continues to destroy break my heart, and yet the challenge remains clear. We must remake our society to keep kids like Fred from choosing the wrong path, and we must help them to successfully pursue redemption even when they do.

Source Link: What I want you to know about teaching inner city kids

Original Source of this article: Ruth Davis’ OC Blog , https://ruthrdavisblog.wordpress.com

That’s what SHE said: how to help the ‘Boy In Ambulance’, the flood of Southeast Louisiana, #LochteGate and white privilege, some excellent old-school parenting ways and more…


[WARNING: Disturbing photos in this article] If you’ve seen the viral photograph of the 5 year old boy, dazed and covered in blood and dust, sitting in the back of ambulance in Aleppo, here is some direction on how you can help and where you can donate money…“So, as the photo of Omran gets circulated over the next few days, by all means, share it. Get angry. Get sad. Just try to stay feeling that way. Because as is the case with so many other iconic photos that epitomize the scope of an unspeakable issue, this one could, just by the end of the weekend, get filed away as “tragedy porn.” These are the types of stories and images that are so horrifying, we almost mindlessly consume them. But, then what?”


Between August 12 – 14, four trillion gallons of rain fell in Southeast Louisiana leading to 20,000 people needing to be rescued and several people who lost their lives and yet the media coverage was dismal and most articles about the flood have been about the poor media coverage. Here is an interesting diagnosis of what makes for “worthy reporting” when it comes to national tragedy…“In order to achieve the goal of coverage, those of us who care about the heartbreak in southeast Louisiana are forced to package it in those narrative frames of entertainment and historic loss in order to get anyone to care… and that to me is the larger tragedy. The tragedy is that strong, loving, cohesive communities, because of their strength and resilience, cannot be celebrated and assisted at the same time. That in order to be worthy of attention the very fabric of societal order has to have been sheered away; news media requires scenes that look like a zombie apocalypse, not scores of hometown heroes trying their best to rescue one another.”

For more examples of white privilege in action, see #LochteGate…“I will be glad when all people would admit that white privilege is an incessant thorn in America’s side. It has gotten to the point that white men can do disorderly things and be dismissed as troubling teenagers. What is even sadder is the fact that these actions are nothing new. Ryan Lochte’s situation are dream circumstances for anyone with a pale complexion. In the end, white privilege has made being a white swimmer the popular occupation for those to escape true punishment for their transgressions. White privilege has become a moral get-out-of-jail-free card in the global society.”

Saved from movemequotes.tumblr.com
Some real gems in here…“1. I don’t play with my kids. Neither did my parents; they worked a lot. It was up to me to entertain myself or fight with my brother. And now? Let’s face it, I have way too much to do. If I can get ahead on house cleaning and laundry, I’ll do games or crafts. I’ll sculpt Play-Doh and have a tea party, because really, who doesn’t love a tea party? But for the most part, it’s kind of why we had their siblings — and by “kind of” I mean it absolutely is why.”
Looking for some apps that get kids outdoors (other than Pokemon Go), here are 4 STEM tools…“Playground Physics is an inexpensive, intuitive way to get students out of their chairs and learning about physics in real and tangible ways. Students use an iPad to shoot video of any motion, whether it’s their friends running around, or tennis balls flying across the schoolyard. The program then measures variables like speed, position, direction, energy, and force. Any controlled experiment is fair game, with the potential to empower kids’ learning and encouraging curiosity. Younger students can have fun tracing motion, while older students can work out the calculus involved.”

An inspiring read with some great excerpts from Bird by Bird about the urgency of your creative life…“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen. Repent just means to change direction — and NOT to be said by someone who is waggling their forefinger at you. Repentance is a blessing. Pick a new direction, one you wouldn’t mind ending up at, and aim for that. Shoot the moon.”
After a study in global parenting, a mother realizes that expected developmental milestones are actually not universal and mostly shaped by culture…“It’s natural to compare our children and fret over their development. We are encouraged in the United States to look at a child’s expected milestones and make sure they are meeting them on time. It wasn’t until I started researching global parenting that I discovered how many of a baby’s and child’s stages and milestones actually aren’t universal. What we expect of a child at any given age is influenced and shaped by culture. Viewed through the prism of culture, some notions of “normal” look totally different.”


1. I saved the rest of the kid’s leftover mac n’ cheese just for you.


LA families, if you haven’t yet been to the drive-in movie theatre this summer, check out the Vineland Drive-in which is playing some terrific, current family-friendly movies.  If you are looking to dodge the heat, the Annenberg Space for Photography has a breathtaking exhibit, Refugee open through August 21. There are also some fantastic art exhibitions around town including Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life at The Broad and James Turrell’s Light Reignfall at the LACMA. In & Of Itself is in its final extension at the Geffen, so be sure to check that out.  If you have any dinosaur lovers in the home, mark your calendars for the Natural History Museum’s first annual Dino Fest September 24 -25. 

Picnic-goers and theatre-lovers can check out The Tempest at the FREE Griffith Park Shakespeare Festival or the FREE Shakespeare by the Sea productions happening around Los Angeles. More Shakespeare festivals include Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum lineup  The Odyssey Theatre is currently rehearsing for Go Back To Where You Are and The Suitcase is at Echo Theater Company through August 25. For families in the valley, check out Sam Harris’s HAM: A Musical Memoir at the Pasadena Playhouse.  For the kiddos consider Theatre for Young Audiences coming up at South Coast Rep. Also, Snowhite at the Santa Monica Playhouse has been extended through September 25. For some outdoor cinema in a truly spectacular location, check out Cinespia’s lineup at the Hollywood Cemetery or for Long Beach residents check out Moonlight Movies on the Beach and for Westside residents there is Cinema Under the Stars at Westwood Village. Be sure to check out free Summer Nights in the Garden at the Natural History Museum. If you have some Pokemon Go gamers in your house, check out the Pokemon Go walks in National Parks led by National Park Rangers. Also, the Long Beach BBQ Festival is this weekend.

NYC theatre-lovers can pack your picnics for the 54th Annual Shakespeare in the Park festival at Central Park or Socrates Sculpture Park’s International Film Festival this summer. Currently, the New York International Fringe Festival is running until August 28. Also be sure to check out the Hallett Nature Sanctuary – four acres in Central Park – reopening after a massive restoration project. The section has been closed since the 1930s. If it gets hot, check out Edgar Degas’s lesser known printmaking career at the MoMA or MADreads at the Museum of Art & Design. Also, for children’s theatre, the New Vic Theater has some incredible shows coming this fall, starting with a fresh production of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.

Source Link: That’s what SHE said: how to help the ‘Boy In Ambulance’, the flood of Southeast Louisiana, #LochteGate and white privilege, some excellent old-school parenting ways and more…

Original Source of this article: Ruth Davis’ OC Blog , https://ruthrdavisblog.wordpress.com