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Banning black trenchcoats is no answer to violence in schools

Mon, 26 Apr 1999 23:28:58

The reactions (that I know about) at the public schools in my district to the events at Columbine have been:

  • At the high school, the student council declared Wednesday blue-and-silver day -- every child was to wear either a blue or a silver shirt. One student wore his black trenchcoat instead. His name was called out over the loud speaker; he was summoned down to the Principal's Office, where his trenchcoat was confiscated. Then, the announcement was made that there are to be no black trenchcoats worn at the high school and that students should follow the student council's instructions. The student I spoke with said she thought the student who wore the black trenchcoat got detention. The order came down from some teachers -- mostly the Language Arts teachers and some Geography teachers (that's where our students study current events, in geography class), apparently -- that students should try to not exclude anybody.
  • A police car was stationed outside the middle school office. Here, too, students were to wear blue or silver shirts in solidarity with Columbine. Ironic because our middle school kids don't HAVE blue shirts. Solid blue shirts and solid red shirts are banned at our middle school, because blue is a gang color. (I'm told a student was expelled from summer school because she wore a blue sweatshirt.) The middle school events board has been left blank for several days now. Parents of middle school students I've spoken with theorize that Columbine provided the principal an excuse to make sure that students and parents NOT know when/where meetings are being held. This week, the middle school is scheduled to hold an assembly to reward the "well-behaved" kids. If the school follows its standard procedure, the list of the good kids will be posted on the office door for all to see, the good kids will be marched out of their classes in front of the "bad" kids and the school will pay $450 per showing for two shifts of "good" kids to watch either lame nature specials or insipid films about gang violence. Parents won't have the opportunity to have their children opt out. The administrator has invited a reporter to attend this quarter's reward assembly because a parent filed a complaint, hushed up by the district office, that these assemblies unfairly discriminate against boys and minorities.
  • A letter from the district office dated April 21 was sent home with students. It listed the "Programs for Students" the district offers. These include conflict resolution (we are not even given a phone number to call; when I asked for the number at Site Council several months ago, neither school administrator gave it to me), the counselors at the middle school and high school (they are totally overworked; any time we call to speak with them, we are told they deal exclusively with academic issues), and of course a police liaison. Same old, same old. Satisfaction survey says: more than 92.3% of middle school teachers say they have no time to help individual students and 71.4% of middle school support staff there say there are problems with racial and ethnic discord.
  • House lights and car lights were left on all weekend all over the community, apparently in response to an Internet-based initiative forwarded around by PTA-types.


  • Requiring students to wear blue or silver or not to wear black trenchcoats or leave lights on or turn lights off accomplishes nothing except to alienate anyone intelligent enough to reject arbitrary rules.
  • Clothes do not kill people, unless they unduly stop circulation. Banning black trenchcoats is not the solution. Humiliating students who WEAR black trenchcoats has already been tried, and, I believe, has been proven ineffective.
    Books and philosophies and video games and rock music don't kill people. They enunciate thoughts that disillusioned students are otherwise forbidden to express.
  • People and guns and explosives and other weapons and germs kill people. Stupidity kills people. Bullying kills people psychologically and then they turn around and kill others physically and psychologically.
  • Overemphasizing what people look like, what they wear, how they differ from us externally, whether or not they can afford a car or a fancy bicycle, is a tool of bullies. And yet, these are the tools the public schools in our district choose every time.

Here's a hint as to how to begin to address issues of student violence without spending bunches of time or money:

At the (private) school my daughter currently attends, the reaction to the events at Columbine was to have a meeting with the students at which everyone said what they wanted to say about the situation at Columbine and in the world. Their reaction to the situation in Kosovo was to begin an in-depth study of the geopolitical causes of the conflict, starting before WWI.

The solution is not to claim that "Our programs are perfect; it can't happen here." The solution is not to call in the Army, Navy, National Guard, police or armed security guards. The solution is not to ban certain books, certain colors, certain symbols, certain words. The solution is not to detain, suspend or expel students who are different. The solution is not to arm the teachers with weapons, but to arm them with strategies. The solution is to listen.

Wishing you reasoned discourse that leads to peaceful solutions to our dilemmas,

Emily Berk

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