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Taking The Super Right Back Out Of Superintendant

June 25, 2008

Author’s Note: This was an assignment from Buffalo Rising ( www.buffalorising.com) that may or may not see the light of day. My esteemed associate editor informed me that she ‘got more than’ she asked for. I truly enjoyed writing this piece, though, and feel that it deserves to see some publication as an explosive take on the McKinley High School issue. Please let me know what you think, Buffalo. Sincerely,

Tom Waters

 

Taking The Super Right Back Out Of Super-Intendant

-or-

A Great Gaggle Of A Beautiful Mind-F*%k

 

Over the course of the last six months, the names Jayvonna Kinccannon, Crystalanne Barton and James Williams have become household names in Buffalo. Symbols of a classic struggle, bastions of discussion around the water coller (has anyone honestly had a conversation around a water cooler?), and key players in an argument that’s gotten people stirred up enough to forget about their own conflicts for at least a little while. A student who’s been railroaded by disciplinary action. A principal who’s gone mad with power. A school superintendent who’s too busy tucking his tail between his legs to accept the blame who passes the buck until no one else will take it in the hierarchal cluster-f&*k that this PR catastrophe has turned into. It’s become a chance for everyone to weigh in on the Buffalo Public School system.

-Let’s stop a second. Take a breath. Are you ready? Here we go:

I side with the Buffalo Public Schools. Yep. And this isn’t a ‘take the opposite stance on the issue for the sake of being different’ situation. Normally, I refuse to weigh in on politics, religion or sports. When my new handlers at Buffalo Rising pitched the op-ed concept to me, I backed away waving my hands in the air comically. But then the issue sat and festered with me for a day. And one unrelenting bitch of a workday hammered it home into my bourbon-soaked brain that wait a minute, I’m actually qualified to give forth my two cents on the issue. After every living radio broadcaster, popular-opinion whoring columnist and left-leaning alternative pundit has proffered their opinion (and possibly past the point where anyone is still listening), this scribbler has some small degree of experience regarding the topic of education in downtown Buffalo.

-I worked downtown for over three years. Front and center on the tarmac of the blast radius of the colossal cluster-fuck of cyclical socioeconomic stupidity, ignorance and arrogance that the core demographic of the city youth project.

I’m siding with Crystalanne on this one. After seeing the majority of Buffalo’s, how shall we say?, less privileged or pampered youth grow up, drop out and/or work their way into the streams of their desired revenue streams, I’ll stand right behind the principal. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that, competent or not, James William is a spineless jellyfish with all the administrative prowess of a pet rock. That’s a losing battle. Yet here we have a tenured city school principal who (while she perhaps went too far and then some) is living with the 1,000 mile combat stare of dozens of generations of mostly impossible odds.

This is the death of the nuclear family. This is the lack of some strong father figures in the household. This is the weight of years of cynicism, a blind and near-incomprehensible mob mentality in urban youth and a next to invisible presence in the crucial upbringing of our city’s children. This is poverty, famine, addiction and a near-suffocating set of less than idyllic value systems being passed on to impressionable off-spring.

We don’t know all the details on the McKinley High fiasco. We probably never will. As a creative writer with a few journalistic instincts, it’s problematic at best to make sweeping statements about a situation that’s been bandied about as a study in absolutes.

Perhaps Ms. Barton over-reacted just a smidge in her disciplinary duties as a figurehead at McKinley High. But I’ve seen first-hand what the onslaught of stupidity, the total lack of grammar and enunciation, the mindset that ignorance, willfulness and petty threats can do to a person. I know because I’ve been in the belly of the beast on that one. I’ve talked with Buffalo Police for years and heard their jaded souls crying to make a small dent in the powder-keg that downtown Buffalo often is. There are some stupid, stupid children in Buffalo.

And the majority of the blame falls on the parents (or lack thereof).

You don’t agree? Fine. Someone had to say it, though. I’ve known genuinely altruistic numbered-school educators beaten down by the weight of their humble task of trying to get through to the handful of kids who showed up, didn’t cause trouble and who genuinely wanted to learn. I’ve seen dozens of children day in and day out on the weekdays skipping school just to wander aimlessly, beat up older residents, work a small con or resort to petty theft. When does the blame stop? When do we stop looking everywhere to vent our anger and start coming to the revelation that children (ideally) should be getting more of their interpersonal and educational skills from the home?

I’ve known teachers who have died inside after seasons of trying to make a difference who become so burnt out from the constant assault of pure idiocy that they shut down inside and drift through their workday, through their careers. I’ve known children who grew up too fast and turned into armed felons, repeat offenders and drug dealers who peel off stacks of fifty dollar bills tied together with a rubber band. I’ve watched every season of The Wire in mute fascination at what a poignant mirror it holds up to the Buffalonian politic in the light of day. Sure, pretend it’s not true. I’m not talking a black and white issue here. This isn’t blacks. This is black, white, gray, calico and otherwise.

Drugs, poor parenting, and a melting pot boiling over at the seams and eating away at the burner. A perceived lack of career options and a ‘why try’ mindset in the cauldron of hate and ignorance in the young mind. I side with Crystalanne more than most citizens. I’ve worked in the heart of the city. A city that’s going slowly mad that practically took me with it. A city where guns go out of the back of convenience stores and wind up in the Police blotter mere weeks afterward. A city where teachers are terrified of small-minded children a fraction of their age because they can’t understand what motivates them or because they’re suckers for a style of intimidation that their small-town values and high-priced education never prepared them for.

I’m not here to hand out solutions, but a great deal of the children in the public school system are misunderstood monsters who need to have their sense of entitlement ripped away from them along with a swift kick in the ass before they fall into a lifelong cycle of either violence, suckling at the teat of public funding or becoming the patriarches and matriarchs of another splintered nuclear family.

Show me the families that sit with their children to review their homework. Show me the parents who reward their children for good manners, good behavior, respect for their elders or a commitment to learn and a hunger to climb the educational ladder beyond basic education. They’re one in a million. I’ve met these families, but they are so few and so far between that it’s heartbreaking.

Exposure to the truth of the matter for prolonged periods can have long lasting and life-altering effects. It’s all well and good to throw concepts and ideals and pie-in-the-sky scenarios together from the cushy comfort of the suburbs or if you have no clue what you’re talking about from the hallowed, privileged desk of a newsroom or an AM radio station. Get real. I’ll say it again. Grow up and get real. The public school system is only a fraction of a larger puzzle, and family (or the lack of family) is at the heart of the issue. Public schools need work, but family planning, positive reinforcement, and an added emphasis on coaching in the home take precedence before any of these other issues can be looked at.

This can’t possibly be what my handlers were looking for at Buffalo Rising, but it’s one hell of a way to introduce myself. Hello, Buffalo. You’ve heard everyone else’s two cents in the din of frenzied voices crying out at the top of their lungs to be heard on this issue and now, begrudgingly, you have mine. Work with your children. Break the cycle. There’s only so much our educators and administrators can do with an eight hour day, a five day week and a school year that’s woefully getting whittled down year by year because the faculty would rather take a ‘mid-spring recess’ after Easter and design a few other days off than deal with the nightmare they look square in the face every week. Good luck, Buffalo. You’ll need that and then some. I’m just glad I’m not confronted with it anymore.

Tom Waters

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