In the United States, it seems that childhood is a privilege afforded to only certain people. We only recently ended juvenile executions and still practice juvenile life without parole; we are a country that lets children go without food and water; we are a nation that purports to welcome "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" – only to stack up the juvenile poor like cord wood in euphemistically-named government "detention centers" before bussing them back to whatever violent place from whence they fled.
The verdict in the biggest Occupy related criminal case in New York City, that of Cecily McMillan, came down Monday afternoon. As disturbing as it is that she was found guilty of felony assault against Officer Grantley Bovell, the circumstances of her trial reflect an even more disturbing reality – that of normalized police violence, disproportionately punitive sentences (McMillan faces seven years in prison), and a criminal penal system based on anything but justice. While this is nothing new for the over-policed communities of New York City, what happened to McMillan reveals just how powerful and unrestrained a massive police force can be in fighting back against the very people with whom it is charged to protect.
In the national debate over education, corporate education reformers are arguing that charter schools are just another option for parents who deserve to have an array of choices on where to send their children. This framing purports to situate charter schools alongside public schools in coexistence rather than competition. But this is false. The harmonious vision falls apart when charters literally push out public schools, as illustrated by the current battle between charter chain Success Academy and several public schools in New York City’s Harlem.
For New York City schoolchildren, the process of visiting schools in search of a good match, worrying about assessments and tests, filling out applications and writing long essays starts long before preparing for college. Some kids begin competitive testing and applications as early as pre-K, hoping to get into gifted and talented programs.
It’s been more than two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, but for many students, the storm has continued to affect daily life and routines. “It was pretty tough,” says Calvary, a 17-year-old high school senior from Rockaway Beach. “You have to adjust to this.” Her school was one of dozens displaced by the storm, and she was just able return to her home school, Beach Channel High, on January 2.
The potential school bus strike looming over New York City right now is important. It is important regardless of where in the United States you live, and whether or not you have children. It is important even if you’re not a school-bus driver, or a union member or a child with special needs. The battle between the city and the bus drivers represents the supremacy of budgets over quality of life. It illustrates what happens when communities, jobs and families are devalued, marginalized and destroyed while the language of austerity reigns, infallible. And it illuminates the hypocrisy of those in power who claim to care for our children’s safety but refuse to invest in it.
Every year, the elementary students at the after-school program where I teach administer a survey to each other, designed to measure the children's feelings on various aspects of the program. The survey is written by adults, but it's the job of the student council to explain it to each class -- it feels more kid-centered that way, and also more adorable. One of the questions the kids ask each other every year is about safety. “I feel safe here,” a fourth-grader will read aloud to a class of third-graders. “Do you really agree, kind of agree, disagree,” and so on. “Do you guys understand what that means?”
Power remains out in at the Bay Towers apartment buildings in Rockaway Beach, forcing residents there to climb up to 14 flights of stairs carrying essentials like water, canned food, and toilet paper. On Sunday, November 4th, residents organized an ad hoc supply center in a communal space on the second floor, and a motley crew of Occupy Sandy activists, neighbors, and unaffiliated volunteers helped distribute goods throughout the two massive buildings.
This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. You can celebrate by reaching out to one of your teachers from childhood and telling her how much she meant to you, or by taking your teacher friends to a bar and buying them drinks till they can’t see. (As a teacher, I can assure you either would be equally appreciated.) On Web sites created in honor of the week, you can find lists of famous teachers throughout history, gift suggestions and even lesson plans for teachers.