Pennsylvania’s educational establishment is watching to see if South Philadelphia High School can rebound from last year’s December 3, 2009 violence which injured thirty Asian students, hospitalizing seven. South Philadelphia High has a population which is about 70 percent African-American and 18 percent Asian.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman recently hired Otis Hackney as the 5th principal in six years. Among other remedies instituted at Southern are meetings where students, who have learned much about “cultural diversity,” can now learn even more about “cultural diversity.” Other seminars were held to teach Asian students how to report school safety threats.
Hackney was hired with one purpose in mind–to steer the school straight-but he’s not the only one driving the bus. The U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that the Asian students’ claim of bullying and abuse has “merit.”
I know a little about school violence. I worked for several years in a Pennsylvania “private school” which received all of its funding from the public schools on a per-head basis. Most of our students had been expelled from the public schools of several states-mainly Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. A few of our students bounced from their home schools to jail and then to our school.
One of my best students didn’t graduate due to having murdered a rival in a love triangle. Another of my favorites went truant after a couple of months. I next saw him on a New York television station in the custody of the FBI who arrested him for insurance, credit card, and identity fraud. Those were the “nice kids.” Much as we tried to suppress gang affiliation, some students were connected to outside gangs while others developed the usual protective alliances which resulted in frequent and sudden fights. Many of my students had an attitude: “We’ll supply the violence; you supply the reason.”
As yet, the Justice Department has stopped short of describing the December 3 attacks as racially motivated. A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article says that “the Justice Department advised the district to improve conditions and move toward a settlement.” I wonder if that would be considered an appropriate Civil Rights response for a law enforcement agency charged with “excessive force” against an ethnic population.
The mostly Chinese and Vietnamese students who were attacked last Dec. 3 are described in newspaper accounts as family-oriented and grateful to participate in free universal education. Groups of mostly African-American students attacked them in the school lunchrooms, in hallways, and in the streets after school. Asian advocacy groups expect the Superintendent to do more to provide them a safe environment.
Meanwhile, History teacher William Aitken says he warned Principal Brown that students were using cell-phones to organize attacks against Asians. Aitken has filed a lawsuit against the district, alleging Principal Brown retaliated against him for warning of the impending attacks.
I’m sure “Southern” has many success-minded ambitious African-American kids held captive in the same scared boat as the Asians, but the smart kids “aint sayin'”. There were huge fights in the school where I sometimes managed to teach but some kids were so deep in gangsta’ that water boarding wouldn’t get the “kids” to talk.
That’s probably the way it is now in Southern. The kids aren’t snitching; the teachers aren’t snitching; the school administration needs a public relations victory. The district expelled twelve African-American “kids” , and the Justice Department has gently steered the educational bureaucracy toward the diversity equivalent of multi-cultural basket-weaving.
Doesn’t the public school academic bureaucracy think it would be educational to come clean with the facts? Why the cosmetics? The gangsta’ culture in American schools has a great impact and respects nothing, least of all a population of shy newcomer Asians who honor tradition.
Principal Otis Hackney is a better prospect for the Philadelphia high school than previous principal, Lagreta Brown, who quit in May when her principal’s certificate was called into question. Hackney knows that the problems are “real, deep, and longstanding.” To admit that is the right first step. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer online article, Hackney’s a West Philly high school graduate. That’s as much a qualification for the job as his degrees from Temple and Lehigh Universities.