Part of the Bay Area News Group

A moment of near-silence

By Katy Murphy
Thursday, December 17th, 2009 at 4:43 pm in crime, high schools, students.

Antonio NunezStudents from all four high schools on East Oakland’s Castlemont campus — Leadership Preparatory, East Oakland School of the Arts, Castlemont Business and Technology School, LPS-College Park — crowded outside the new auditorium this afternoon to honor their classmate Antonio Nunez and all of the other Oakland students who have died violently this year.

By my count, at least seven OUSD students have been fatally shot in 2009 – more, if you include the 15-year-old who had stopped coming to school (in Oakland, anyway) or the 21-year-old adult school student who died over Labor Day weekend.

The student-leaders who organized the event told me that tragedy strikes so often in their lives it’s become almost normal.  “Right here in Oakland, you only last a little while,” said Rogerio Leon, a soft-spoken 17-year-old.

Maybe that’s why the short memorial wasn’t as somber as I had expected. Most of the students were quiet during the moment of silence, but when Rogerio asked everyone to call out the names of people they had lost, some kids started laughing and joking around. A student behind me cried out, “Biggie Smalls!”

Still, Rolando Vazquez, 17, said he felt the Castlemont schools should host these joint events more often, that doing so might bring a sense of calm and provide a release.

Alicia Loera, 14, said she hoped students who were grieving would know they weren’t alone. “We just want to tell people that we’re going through the same things,” she said.

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  • http://www.movingforwardeducation.com Lacy Asbill

    Katy, this moment of laughter is an interesting one to think about. We all know that this kind of “fronting” is only a mask for deep and unexplored pain. And yet, how can students really “go there” with their grief and fear when we fail to create a culture of emotional safety in schools? How can we ask our young people to open up to the pain they experience when there isn’t a consistent and intentional support structure to facilitate their emotional understanding and healing?

    Academic and emotional growth inform one another. The most successful students are not just the “smartest”–they are the ones who have strong self-esteem, self-belief, and confidence. I know that OUSD leadership is very savvy to this interdependency of academic and emotional services, and just hope that in a time of heavy cuts, emotional services are not sacrificed. If anything, your story alerts us to the fact that we need MORE support going out to our students and school communities in order to build the kinds of schools that truly serve our youth and their development.

  • oaklandteacher

    I am a teacher on the Castlemont campus and was both thankful that this event was organized but also disheartened during the moment of silence when students continued talking. In some students defense, the speaker system was NOT AT ALL loud enough for everyone to hear.
    Lacy, I agree that we need more support going out to our students. Our counselors at Castlemont do a FANTASTIC job supporting our student population and I am forever grateful for their guidance and counseling. There have been too many young deaths in Oakland….it shouldn’t be “normal”

  • Nextset

    I wish the schools would teach evolution earlier and work it into more subjects.

    Think of this as evolution in action. Death by flying lead and mortality tables in general are concepts readily available for all to study. Rather than “moments of silence” and mourning perhaps it would be more productive for the kiddies to read a lot and repeat aloud “this is not going to happen to me, I am going to stay out of these risk factors”.

    Bad things typically happen to people who do not do as much as they can to avoid problems. Yes you can get struck by lightning. No it’s not likely.

    I deal with people who get into dire trouble because of their mouth as well as their actions. I have worked on a case where the deceased teen actually told an elderly man “shoot me” while vandalizing the (stranger) man’s car. BANG. Dead with a single shot – while riding away on bike. What do you suppose the man said when someone asked him why he shot the teen?

    The bad things we complain of with these dead kids are avoidable if not preventable. The kids need to learn and work harder and controling their actions. No matter how poor you are you don’t have to be out on the street and 1am at age 16. And so on.

    No more mourning, more studying of risk factors and mortality tables. And teach them that if they get themselves killed they have done something wrong. Oakland kids must do better if they expect to live to adulthood.

    And then you can talk about the STD situation.

  • Quercki

    Blaming the victims? Why not blame the murderers?

    I’d be ashamed to be you.

  • Nextset

    Quercki: It’s not blaming the victims to teach children not to play in the street and get run over by trucks.

    I want my students to wear better in this Brave New World. That means giving them the tools to weigh situations and evaluate how much risk they are taking when they do all the things they do.

    I see adolescents who are playing with mortal danger and they just don’t get it. They also haven’t been schooled in all the things that have a forseeable chance of happening to them specifically, good and bad. They are made to be babes in the woods. Not scouts.

    We need to teach scouting. And maybe teach not to wash the Vicodin down with Vodka also.

  • alm

    It’s important to acknowledge the pain of what is happening. its horrible beyond words that our youth feel that they won’t last a long time in this world.

    you say: if a kid gets killed they must have done something wrong. that is so NOT the case overall. in fact, unfortunately, many, many teens who are killed are the innocent ones, bystanding.

    what we need to teach our children is that they are loved beyond measure — and then back that up throughout the system – support for families, support for GOOD SOLID schooling (more school financing, more teachers, more administrtive staff, supplies, decent environment – clean, nicely painted, pleasant, small class sizes, extra help etc…). taking risks is something teenagers have done for eons and is a very important part of developmental growth as a good person. right now, risk taking is dangerous. we need to PROVIDE risk taking environments that are not dangerous but are challenging and difficult. lecturing kids about what they should and shouldn’t do w/o out the back up support and continual pressence of safety and adult love is a false hope and promise.

    sorry, you are blaming the children when it’s the adults who are, have and continue to completely fail them. why doesn’t this happen in epidemic proportions in the oakland hills? because those families and people have the means, are in the priviledged spot in our society, have had that priviledge historically, it is a closed loop (i know b/c i experiece it), and have a culture of insisting that certain norms are maintained, even in a difficult economic climate. those families support arts, pe, spanish and music in their schools, they make sure that there are supplies and that the school looks nice etc… because THEY CAN). and adults and schools ‘hold’ the kids close and give constant support, constant encouragement, tons of opportunity, even those who are poor of means. we learned that from OUR families of origin. when there is a continual disruption in family support and makeup, and when working parents hold 2 jobs or 3 to keep their families intact financially, they simply can’t provide the emotional, psychological and physical support and structure for kids to assimilate a sense of survival and safety into their very beings. they are in fact, i pose, actually protecting themselves from what is percieved as a biological threat to have guns, and join other youths in groups (otherwise called’gangs’) this is so human, so primal, so biologically driven that we must look at that behavior and understand what is CAUSING it in our society. it is so wide spread. it MUST be a survival instinct of some kind.
    so society must step in and play a part.
    just lecturing kids to stay out of trouble, alone, while perhaps might be one piece of the pie, is not enough to prevent this kind of death by violence.

  • Nextset

    AML: Your post sounds like distinctively female thinking.

    I’m saying that because educrats are female dominated and seem to think that way. Educrats are so wrapped up in their femminine nurturing ways they don’t “get it” the way the men do.

    People are responsible for what happens to them and theirs. Nobody owes you a thing. You have no business expecting others (non immediate family as a child) to take care of you. You are required to carry your own weight. I know this is new to a lot of people – they weren’t taught as children.

    And that’s why so many people have all their problems.

    So, no, we really don’t have to “acknowledge the pain”. Get over it kiddies, and get back to work.

    You probably don’t agree with any of this because you are determined to continue on the path that gets people into all this trouble. And it’s job security to continue the problems.

    The children aren’t so much the problem as the adults who trained them to continuously screw up and wallow in it. I say we end that process at least within the 4 walls of the school.

    To the extent our schoolchildren are having behavioral problems and bad experiences they need to change. Our schools don’t want them to change and “graduate” them weak, incompetent and vulnerable. I want a public school system that graduates students no matter how low born and low class to be nobody’s victims, and able to do well in this Brave New World. That starts with not having self pity and “victim” stamped on their foreheads.

    Much of the public school students need to change from the bad way of thinking and acting their families and their “culture” got them into. It’s no different than our conversion of the 1900s immigrants to Americans and Delancey Street Foundation’s conversion of jailbirds and junkies to functioning humans. It involves change and not always pleasant change. No different than a boot camp for military recruits. This is what the public schools need to be doing with the lower class kids which are their reason for being. This is what they used to so until the 1960′s threw out the baby with the bath water and decent people started fleeing public schooling.

    We have had gangs, ghettos and poverty feeding the public schools for the first 60 years of the 20th Century and never had rotten performances like this. The difference is that this philosophy of coddling never existed then for anyone. Pacification is not Education.

  • Caroline

    Needless to say, the entire philosophy summed up here by Nextset is counter to my thinking — some might find it offensive, though I think it’s just silly.

    “… educrats are female dominated and seem to think that way. Educrats are so wrapped up in their femminine nurturing ways they don’t “get it” the way the men do…”

    But Nextset, I do want to point out that when you speak derisively and contemptuously of educators, it feeds into and promotes the anti-education, anti-intellectual culture that pervades our country, and that includes the “street” culture of the ghetto. If you wanted to promote the importance of education in a small way, you would speak of educators with respect. It’s inconsistent to call for more rigorous education while simultaneously conveying an ongoing attitude of sneering at educators as a profession. Just saying.

  • Caroline

    And this, of course, is false and ridiculous:

    “We have had gangs, ghettos and poverty feeding the public schools for the first 60 years of the 20th Century and never had rotten performances like this…”

    In the first 60 years of the 20th century it was THE NORM for low-income kids of all races, but especially African-Americans, to drop out of school well before graduation — often many, many years before they would have graduated from high school. (As I’ve said, my own grandma, white and from Appalachian West Virginia, dropped out after 8th grade to go to work in a glove factory, in obedience to her parents’ expectations.)

  • Nextset

    Caroline: Of course people drop out of high school, then and now. They are supposed to. High school graduation is only for those who do the work and have the required skills to pass graduation requirements. Only a certain portion of the student population ever will (unless the grad requirements are watered down to nothing).

    The previous generations’ high schools produced graduates who were worth the title. And those graduates were not pressured to act dumb or be dumb.

    Our high school graduates cannot be presumed to be good for very much. The standards have been watered down.

    I believe we are graduating way too many students as a percentage of the total. The graduation requirements should be restored to the point that you must read and write at say, 10th grade level (we typically use 8th grade or lower). That should greatly cut down who graduates and that is just fine.

    The high school diploma should not be a door prize for sticking around.

    And as far as sneering at Educrats – They have the respect that befits the products they produce. And no more than that. So my respect relates to the schools in question. I do respect Heald Business College. I do respect the US Service Academies, and lots of Educational Institutions. I respect educators – when they run a school I take seriously.

  • Nextset

    Caroline, I thought of this thread today while dealing with 2 mid-20s high school dropouts. Nice guys, hard workers (honest and usually employed). Both living with single mothers who work – they are now on unemployment with their 1st extension. They both have significant dental carries. One had blackened teeth. We talked about it a bit. They really had no idea what this means for their health overall, they had no idea there were dental clinics associated with dental schools or charities that might be able to help.

    But even if you gave them $1000 I don’t think they’d go near a Dentist. When they are offered water they are careful to say “No Ice”. This does not bode well for their life expectancy or their quality of life.

    It’s not the money, they both have autos, registered and apparently insured. I mentioned that the last filling I had took only 10 minutes and showed a bill of less than $100 (seemed low to me) and was some kind of plastic/resin process not the metals used when I was young. One of them said he was last at a dentist at 16. Their bio-parents were trash. Their school failed them. If they had money for their toys they could have seen a dentist. If they were taught the importance.

    I see so much of this age group unable to manage the basics of adult life, disease/health, career, staying out of trouble with the law, (basic) finances. Neither of these two had bank accounts (anymore) and cash their unemployment checks at WalMart. These are left side of the bell curve people. A bright 14 year old could manage better on their own. One has a small child with the woman he lives with.

    These two should have been out of academic schools and into vocational schools by 15 and been taught how to live. This would have allowed them to become semi-skilled labor rather than the day laborers they have become. What they have become was forseeable and what is going to happen to them in the next 5 or 10 years or more is forseeable too.

    I complain a lot about the urban public school – I think they completely mistreat the left side of the curve and cast these people into helplessness. Many of these students are compliant and co-operative if not very bright. More can be done without spending a whole lot of money to make them more resiliant and self reliant – so at least they don’t sicken (and thus be unable to work at whatever it is they do) as adults in their prime.

    They’ll see how much employment and female companionship they get when they have no teeth. And the single mothers – that’s a subject for another post.

    Brave New World.

  • Caroline

    I actually agree with you on much of that, Nextset. It’s well documented that there’s a “live for today” mentality that definitely means you buy the toy and don’t give a thought to the dental care — though actually I know it isn’t that easy to get the low-cost dental care — or you have the baby without a thought about what that choice means to your future.

    (Regarding the low-cost dental care, I have a friend who’s well versed in navigating the social services network who’s currently in a position that involves trying to get some kind of mobile dental van to come to a low-income school. It’s not like they’re just there and waiting for your call! It’s still not at all clear that she’ll be able to find what this school needs. And those tough dental neglect cases are really hard to work on, my dentist cousin attests.)

    Anyway, in our area I think we’re more likely to see nonwhite people in that social class. But in much of the country — and not far from us — that describes poor whites as much as anyone. The Appalachian towns where my father grew up — Grafton, W.Va., and Cumberland, Md. — are the kind of places that are ravaged by meth and Oxycontin, and poor whites are the underclass there.

    Our schools have not accommodated to the needs of that demographic, and have moved away from doing so as vocational ed fell by the wayside. However, it’s the right-wing think tanks and the Bush Admin that drove so hard to establish the notion that all students should go to college and it’s the fault of the educators if that doesn’t happen. They are just wrong — not only wrong, but evil. Unfortunately, the “neo-liberals” and the Obama administration, led by resume-faking fraud Arne Duncan, are buying into it too.

  • Alice Spearman

    Caroline,
    Give me a call at the office 510-879-8200, I’ll help them navigate the system.

  • Caroline

    Thank you, Alice. It’s a San Francisco school. But out of curiosity, is there such a social service in Oakland? She’s now in contact with the University of the Pacific’s low-income outreach program, but it doesn’t have an actual van.

  • Eileen Duncan

    My heart goes out to the Nunez family and I will keep them in my thoughts. Antonio was my student in the 5th grade – every day his smile and kindness were gifts to me and his classmates. The abrupt ending to Antonio’s life is a tragedy. May he rest in peace.

  • Mario Hernandez

    Thank you Ms. Duncan.