School Safety, Shirley Sherrod, Arizona Immigration Law, & the White House Beer Summit: What’s the Connection?

Posted by on July 23, 2010

Schools reflect their broader communities. We tend to see broader societal trends, issues, and challenges cross the schoolhouse doors in one way or another at some point in time.

The politically and emotionally-charged climates around the case of Shirley Sherrod, the USDA worker forced to resign earlier this week, is the latest in a series of high-profile matters generating strong racial tension in the United States.  The unfolding Arizona immigration law battle is intense.  And one year ago in Massachusetts, the arrest of Henry Lewis Gates, a Harvard professor, by James Crowley, a Cambridge police sergeant, raised tension and national discourse on race resulting in the President inviting the men to the White House for what was dubbed in the media as a “beer summit.”

So what does this have to do with school safety?  A lot.

One of the things I have learned in over 25 years in the school safety profession is to stay ahead of the curve, or at least to try to do so, you’d better identify hot button issues and trends in our communities if you want to be prepared for what might land at your schoolhouse doors.  It may be an escalation of gang activity or abuse of a particular drug.  It may be bullying or cyberbullying.

Red flags are increasingly popping up to suggest the next increasing challenge for some schools may be around racial conflicts.  This is already evident in a number of higher-profile cases in several schools in recent years:

  • Ongoing tension and fighting stemming from conflicts between African American and Latino students in several school cases.
  • A high-profile case in an affluent white suburban community where questions have been raised about the integrity of school and police officials’ investigations into a “bullying” or “hazing” incident which some have said would have brought felony sex crimes charges in communities of other color and economic status. 
  • Federal complaint expected alleging a school district failed to address violence against Asian immigrant students by large groups of students who were mostly African-American.
  • Allegations of ongoing conflict between students of Dominican and Arab backgrounds at one New Jersey high school.

But the lack of civil discourse and the politicizing of racial incidents, reinforced by ongoing media coverage, has grown in intensity. The Sherrod, Arizona Immigration, and Beer Summit incidents represent three high-profile, emotionally and politically-charged incidents which have risen to a Presidential level in the last year alone. 

While I have no desire to be alarmist, I do have a desire to put the cards on the table.  In this case, one of the “cards” is the “race card.”  Many people in our society like to play the race card, but fewer tend to have meaningful, ongoing public discourse about the issue of race.

I have no intention, nor the adequate time, to dive into a deep philosophical discussion of race relations in this particular blog post.  But I do want to suggest that educators and school safety officials better start having some brutally candid conversations about the potential for racial conflicts if such conditions exist in their school-community.   And in doing so, the starting point for such conversations might very well need to include taking a look first at the adults before looking at the kids.

What say you?

Ken Trump

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5 thoughts on “School Safety, Shirley Sherrod, Arizona Immigration Law, & the White House Beer Summit: What’s the Connection?

  1. John H. Weicker says:

    What say I? As a person who has served in various positions in the field of education (as a custodian, teacher, building level administrator, and presently central office administrator/Security Director) – I say that by your present stated thoughts on this topic, you will down the road be proven to have been (unfortunatly) truly “visionary” and accurate in your assessment. I have been directly invovled in the discipline/security portion of the educational pie now since 1978. I simply can not agree more with your stated concerns, Ken. I concur with you completeley. As always, those charged with insuring that our schools are safe will need to make certain that they deal with these tough issues on a case to case basis, and not be swayed by political pressure to do anything but what they believe to be correct for not only those directly involved in any disruptive behavior, but what is right for the majority of kids who are just trying to go to school to learn (and as always will learn much from how the significant adults in their lives react). I commend you for publically bringing this issue to the forefront in such a professional manner, so that it can be discussed intelligently in an open forum. John

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Thanks, John. You serve as a role model for school safety professionals and educators. Given your vast experience and years of service, it is so motivating to see your passion today is as strong, if not stronger, than your first day on the job. Keep fighting the good fight. People may disagree, as they can and should when appropriate, but we must get redirected to an environment where they openly and honestly converse versus say one thing and think/do the other to be politically correct. The latter does nothing to serve kids and it also does nothing for the integrity and self-respect (or respect from others) of the education or school safety professional.

  2. This honest and frank conversation is overdue at all levels in this country. Unfortunately, we hesitate to have it at the peril of us all, and no place more than the schoolhouse. If we (schools) are not the place for this discussion and understanding, how can we expect people to change their minds or attitudes later in life? Too often over the years, we all have seen and experienced problems simply based upon the color of one’s skin. These attitudes, by all people, are certainly a contributing factor to school unrest and violence.

  3. Bob Rinearson says:

    Charges of racism from all sides have become all too increasingly common over the past years, to the point where it seems no objectivity exists when it comes to students and managing behavior. Parents become emotional or detatched and refuse to hear any negative news, thus they hide behind charges of racism which in the long term does their child little good when it comes to accepting repsonsibility. In return the child progressively learns how to manipulate by coming to believe “So what if I do wrong, as long as I can make this into a racial issue and knowing that Mom or Dad will back me up…no big deal.”
    It makes any educator’s job far more complicated, and often enough, quite frustrating.

    1. Ken Trump says:

      Sadly, our kids are often modeling the behavior they see unfold before them in their communities and at the political level (locally and nationally). Behavior is learned and it shows.

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