When little kids face big decisions

Interviews and blog comments about the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Josue Lopez-Gil in East Oakland — and its frightening aftermath for those who witnessed his death and others — once again made me step back and compare this reality to my own childhood in the Chicago suburbs.

What kinds of decisions did I make when I was 10, 11 and 12? Let’s see … whether try out for the basketball team, whether to leave my tiny Catholic school and go to the big public one, who to sit next to on the bus or in the cafeteria, whether to get a perm…

Those years were not idyllic, by any means. But the decisions I confronted at that immature stage of life — except for, say, whether to look before crossing the street — were of relatively little physical consequence. If I snuck out of the house with my friends late at night, nothing would happen to us (well, until our parents found out).

Compare that to an 10-year-old kid who’s getting beaten up after school, or who’s being recruited by a street gang. A restless 13-year-old who leaves his small, crowded house in the flatlands of East Oakland after dark. Not only are the pressures greater, but the stakes are just so much higher — for the child and for the family. There’s far less room for error.

You can find a story on the subject here.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • harlemmoon

    Katy you did a great job with today’s story.
    The piece reflected a strong sense of reality, which is often totally lost – or not fully understood – by many who pontificate in utter ignorance (arrogance?).
    Additionally, the piece underscored that fact that gangs, violence and fear are COMMUNITY issues – not matters to be sorted out solely by schools.
    Perhaps the article will provoke a more concerted effort to address these problems collectively, proactively and wisely.

  • Former Oakland Teacher

    I had one student – 8 years old – who had his foot broken because a bunch of middle school kids asked him if he was Mexican. When he answered yes, one of them broke his foot with a baseball bat.

    I had another kid who was six years old who had to decide between buying formula for his baby sister and feeding himself because his mom left him in charge.

    It’s heartbreaking.

  • Nextset

    It’s heartbreaking when adults put children in positions where they can’t be children. Children are not supposed to be making adult decisions (and living with the consequences) prematurely. When you have bad families, unlucky families, or no families you get little adults – at-risk kids who as often as not just don’t turn out right.

    And some of these so called “parents” do this to the kids quite openly. They use the kids, and not just to get a PG&E account.

    What are the public school teachers to do about this? Report and Refer I suppose. Does anyone have any info about OUSD support services such as Social Workers/Nurses, etc??

    When I encounter a little adult – my point to them is “take care of number one”. You can’t fix other people, especially if you haven’t taken care of yourself. Too many of the little adults worry excessively about the losers in their life. Co-dependence is not a virtue. Boundries must be established, maintained and respected with others.

    Is socialization taught in the secondary schools? Should the teachers try to counteract twisted learning the little adults come to school with? Should the teachers even try to intervene when they see twisted mating rituals being acted out in 9th grade…

    For example: When I was a sub, sometime in the dark ages, I was in a classroom during a study hall when I heard a loud slap. Boy had slapped girl. I looked at them and unbidden the girl got up and came to my desk at the front of the class and said to me “he didn’t mean it”. I said to her, “you’re sick”. And referred her, not him, to the office with a note. eventually a runner was sent with a note to collect the boy. I learned later the school called the white girl’s parents and notified them that she was “involved” with the hispanic boy, which apparently they didn’t know. (This is an interesting issue with the gang membership, etc) Based on what happened to the demographics in that school I suppose they pulled her out of the school.

    So we all have stories.

    There was a blog thread on gangs where I posted a contrary view to the anti-gang police dog and pony show, which I think is pretty worthless the way it’s presented. While I know nothing about the late student above on this thread, the flying lead is typical gang action. What is a teacher to do?

    My vote is that no gang associate (and that includes relatives of gang members) should set foot in a normal school. They should go to continuation schools or do home study where they will be less likely to infect/interact with the normal kids.

  • Like I see iT

    I work for a high performing charter school in the city, (for the sake of remaining anonymous, its in the top 10% of Oakland’s best performers).

    Our school is rigorous and demanding for both the students and teachers. The dicipline is very strong, and workload heavy.

    Now I am just going to call it like I see it-
    Latinos( which are nearly 80% of our school) will pull their kids out from our school and send them to a violent and low performing school simply becuase the kids hate the uniforms, or the HW loads! Now I know this is Oakland, and the tolerant driven minds will jab at this, but I have been here for 4 years and lost count (using hands and toes) to how many simply left this school becuase ” a mija no le gusta el uniforme” my daughetr doesnt like the uniform. We have had kids leave when they get a detention becuase of the ever famous excuse, ” no es mi hija es el maestro” (its not my daughter its the teacher who has something against her, or the most prominent of all, ” no fue el , fueron sus amigos,” (it was not him-it was his friends.

    The fact is that 12 year olds are out this late with parents at home. What did they do to stop his behavior? We should hold parents accountable. School choice is powerful, but it also creates a mess as well.

    While The district is arguing that the charters are getting the best kids- we los the students hand over fist to the district becuase in all honesty, OUSD has lower standrads than us. Kids will tell you, charters are too strict and OUSD is so fun!

    If there is one thing I have learned since working in public education for the past nine years is that the level of parental apathy ruins kids lives more than any virus , swine flu or district could ever do.

    sad thing is that students will be lost, as well as our money as we pay to support the welfare rolls .

  • Former Oakland Teacher

    Like I see it –

    I’ve had the exact same experience, but I’m surprised to hear that you think it is just Latinos? I have heard these arguments from parents of American-born kids (and American-born parents) far more than from Latinos.

  • Nextset

    Like I see It: I would hope that your Charter makes it brutally clear to any thinking of enrolling what the living conditions are in your school so they don’t waste your time and theirs enrolling and disenrolling when they don’t like the discipline. Ditto the uniform. Uniforms are vital when dealing with the lower class in education – ask the Catholics…and I’ve been there.

    As far as the Hispanics go, many of the other ethnics don’t understand that there are several distinct Hispanic cultures who often can’t stand each other. You will not have the problems you mentioned with the Cubans, for example. Puerto Ricans and Mexican Indians are different and don’t care for each other’s politics.

    I have said it before – you can’t run around trying to play crusader rabbit and save everybody especially when they don’t want to be “saved” and are happy with their value system. Let them (and their children) go! Focus the attention on those who want your help regardless of race.

    And as I write that I remember that I’d like to “save” some black folks… Solidarity you know.. Well it hasn’t worked out that way. Others just appear and make off with the goods.

    Brave New World.

  • Reads alot


    Like I see It –

    you say that most of the kids in your school are Latinos and then you turn around and say that “Latinos will pull their kids from our school.” Do you not see this contradiction? Your school is filled with Latinos yet you say Latinos pull their kids out?

    Maybe it’s not a Latino thing, maybe it’s just an apathy thing that can be found among some (most?) members of poor communities. Take your school and plop it down in a predominately white poor community and I will be the rent that you will find the same behavior among some of the parents (except they will probably curse you out in the process of pulling their kids from your school). My friend teaches in the Central Valley and breaks it down this way among the poor parents she deals with: Latina moms sit at parent-teacher conferences and say “si maestra, si maestra” over and over. Rarely follows through with any instructions for working with the kids at home. White working class mom snuffs out her cigarrete before coming in, squats down on the little chair and asks, “so how is my brat doing?”, becomes combative at the drop of a hat, and rarely follows through with any instructions for working with the kids at home

    Read Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau.

  • Nextset

    Reads alot: It’s fun when you train the kids to surpass their parents. I enjoy watching that light that comes on when the kid finally “gets it” that they are going to have to start making their own decisions about themselves and let Mommy in on the secret later when she can handle it better. I would tell kids that they have the chance to be more than Mommy & Bio-Dad are but they have to choose how it’s going to be, their way or the new way.

    And the first thing I make clear on career day is that if you want to be a Lawyer (or whatever) you are going to have to leave your loser friends (and family) behind and put your career needs ahead of anything and anyone that’s in the way – whether you all love each other or not. The language I use may be more combative than they will have to use but the end result is the same. You will no longer be available to them temporarily or permanently the way you were before once you make the decision and take that path to something more than them. You will get new friends and you will get new family (marry up). Some day they may reconcile and find some way to fit in to your new life – that’s their problem not yours.

    The students are shocked – shocked!! No one has said anything to them like this before. I tell them, that’s because nobody else wants you to leave.

    One grandfather of mine (long dead) was a PhD in Lab Sciences, very rare for blacks in his day. Another grandfather was an Iceman (long dead also – we took his pistol away in his 80s). So there are a lot of stories in the extended family about who made it into the professions, who didn’t, and why. Generations of my relatives left everything and moved across the country to places they’d never seen before for a job, a school admission, for the military. Sometimes alone sometimes with a wife sometimes with a family. Snow, desert, city, rural, and have you seen the roads in 1939?

    Compared to what people went through in the great depression through the 1950s – not to mention the race thing.. these kids all have it easy. I don’t care if their family are swinging from jungle vines. The kids do have good chances in this country – just ask the immigrants from Nigeria, Eithopia, VietNam etc.

    The first thing to do is to wipe that “poor me” nonsense from all their minds. And teach what you have to teach with no regard to family supportiveness. If the kid can’t cut it in one class find a class or program they can handle. The ones who want more – you push as far as possible, then hand them off to the next teacher.