Skipping and Fighting: Frequently Asked Questions

Why do city kids fight all the time, especially at graduation?
First of all, some of them don’t have much to lose.  If you have no hope of going to college (school district unaccredited, for example), and unemployment has hit your community the hardest of any, during terrible times (black unemployment has been double that of unemployment for whites), and if you already live in one of the most violent places in America, what is there to lose?  A child born into poverty has a 1.3% of rising into wealth, and a child born into wealth has a 30% chance of staying there.  Bad odds.
In prison, at least you get fed.  Plus, then you’ll have prison stories to swap with your elders.  You’ll be part of the club.
When you grow up in a violent area, you’re probably going to have some PTSD.  Sudden fright will push you to violence, and wounds from previous insults or disappointments may be raw.  You may not learn strategies for dealing with conflict other than physical methods.  And frankly, if most people around you use violence, giving a powerful speech or walking away is just going to get you beat up sooner, faster, harder, and more often.
High school graduation is a big deal in the city because a lot of people don’t graduate from anything much.  For a lot of people, it’s the only big ceremony they’ll have.  There are few college graduations, of course, but also few weddings.  The tension involved in a big life event causes family friction, as we all know, and in the city, that often leads to violence instead of just a lot of yelling and slammed doors.
It’s really scary to graduate from high school if you’re a city kid.  There is no natural progression to college.  You’ve probably spent 12 years getting lunch, discipline, education, and structure from a public institution, and the rug is suddenly pulled out at the end.
The school where I teach does everything but drive the kids to college.  We require the ACT.  We require application to college, and completion of a FAFSA.  We require scholarship applications.  We give them care packages of sheets and towels when they bring their college enrollment in.  That’s what it takes to get kids from dysfunctional neighborhoods and/or families into college, and it costs more than shaking hands with middle class kids and sending them on their way.  We don’t give city schools more money, though.  We generally give them less.
Sorry, we’re all off topic now.  Better move on to our other question that you didn’t ask.
Why do city kids miss so much school?
Some of them, sure, don’t see the value of an education.  And some of them are right.  Working hard and doing the paltry amount of work their schools require won’t do them much good.  Furthermore, right now, looking to college graduates for inspiration to continue in school is not a great idea: college graduates are leaving campuses with record amounts of debt and a daunting lack of employment opportunities.  Let’s set all that aside, though.  There are other reasons kids miss school.
There’s a significant contingent of kids who are home taking care of family members.  Students miss school to care for grandparents, parents, nieces and nephews.
In a middle class family, these duties would probably be done by medical professionals, or by a family member who doesn’t need to work.  The family might put grandma in a nursing home, and children might stay home with a parent.
The families of students I have worked with may be unwilling to use medical professionals because they are concerned about the level of care (quite reasonably, I think).  Or they may be unable to navigate a complex bureaucracy to get their needs met, from a lack of money, time, or understanding.  Also, the parents of our students are more likely to have jobs that are hourly, and do not offer paid sick days or vacation.  If not working means not getting paid, and not getting paid means not making rent, having your high school kid stay home makes a lot of sense.
I’ve worked with many students whose primary problem in school has been a simple lack of time.  The loyalty to family that is reinforced by an unstable community produces may positive results, but also some negative ones.  For my students, cutting off family ties is often part of the process of going off to college.  A shaky 18-year-old can’t bear the burdens of his family while maintaining grades and adjusting to college responsibilities.  On the other hand, cutting off family means that the student has to build trust with new people, in a new place, and that’s a challenge for any young person.

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