I left campus yesterday at 3:30, and that was just in time for the school buses. The one I followed stopped at every house to let children off, often at driveways only 100 feet apart. I thought to myself, "How interesting to see such safety." Cars were lined up behind me for as far as I could see and we were trapped with the inconvenience of the moment - a banana tank dropping off happy-go-lucky, backpack-toting young people. We were patient with the law, the rules, the pace of the afternoon, and the protection --- all of this for the kids, the next generation.
I was reminded of my substitute teaching during my first two years of a doctoral program when I was taking courses full time, but in need of a supplemental income. I was always mesmerized by the school bus system and its rhythms. It had a purpose for keeping the community alive and well. A routine of transportation became a ballet of yellow ballerinas: the precision was truly remarkable. I was intrigued by the mechanism because I taught in a school that didn't have buses or the meticulousness of the method to move children from here to there.
Yet, I also thought about my four years in New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford, and Norwalk, often at schools that don't have school buses and that reside in communities that are parallel to Ferguson, Missouri. In such districts, children more often than not walk home. This is true where I live, too, yet in Stratford safety guards adorn streets in orange vests and crossing signs. School arrival and departure does not look like this in the neighborhoods of the poorest communities where I spend a majority of my time. Instead, dismissal is often a free-for-all, where the kids disperse from the constraints of school like fireworks. They walk onto streets where stoplights and speed limits seem to be optional, and where challenges and mischief approach them at every step they take. Their walk home, I have begun to think, is a metaphor for the larger picture of the United States.
That is, which children do we work tirelessly to protect and keep safe? Which ones, on the other hand, are left to their own defense?
What is happening in Ferguson is a result of not recognizing severe division in our nation between rich and poor communities. It is true, too, that such civic ruptures are born from deep, racial, and complicated histories. It's about the frustration that arrived when not all people are held accountable for our definitions of what is right and wrong. It is how we define justice and where we see our relationship to it. It is also about a complete disregard for life on both sides of the tragedy.
It is about life, and the pursuit of happiness.
The patience expected of me to stop behind the school bus seemed to be natural because I was trained from a young age that this was the law and I should abide by it. It came with my privileges: a two-parent home, a roof over my house, an employed father, a primarily white working class school with many resources, and multiple options with where I could go in my future. Yes, I was bulging my eyes every time we stopped and I was getting impatient, but I was also thought about the tremendous love such a systemic bus routine provided for these young people. Safety first. The rules worked to make sure these kids were safe. I respect that.
This, though, is in opposition of what I know youth experience within the schools where I spend most of my time. I wonder where the safety officers are to walk these children home. I see officers in schools, but their roles tend to be one of surveillance in the hallways, not to keep the kids safe. Where is the protection for these kids?
I do not know what it does to a child psychologically to always be under Sauron's watchful eye or President Snow's master plan to protect is rose gardens. I cannot imagine what it is like to be a child held in total chaos in a system that has failed them ever since they were born: schools, government, laws, neighborhoods, employment, etc. These eyes police children, rather than protect.
The divisions in this nation are real.The images from the television look like a scene from The Hunger Games and I am intrigued by the reality that Americans will cheer for Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and Rue in both cinematic and textual form, but typically turn their eyes on such children when they live down the street or on the other side of town. These districts are real, too, but they are ignored by those privileged in the Capitol. Why not safety for all kids in the fashion I witnessed on my drive home?
I've never been one for righteousness, but at this moment I am finding myself searching for a path of doing what's right.
This morning, I am thinking of Martin Luther King, as I often do. I'm looking for internal spirit to counter this violence.