Locke High Teacher Speaks Out

by Ami Motevalli Wednesday, Jul. 18, 2001 at 3:14 AM

Safety means protecting what you value from harm. How is it possible to create any form of safety at schools, which do not value their community members enough to treat their children with respect?

When I first started teaching at Locke High School, I had to assert my class rules. I asked my students to always show me respect. One of my students, ninth grader Toi Benford raised her hand and asked "But are you going to respect us?" This is a question that must be asked of everyone involved in educating youth. Students learn best when they feel it will truly benefit them. My students at Locke come to a school, which is perpetually dirty, surrounded by layers of gates, and in constant disarray. Many classes have no assigned teacher and are filled with substitutes. Of their teachers who are contracted, about 30% are uncredentialed first or second year teachers. Campus aids (security) do not receive training and are underpaid. Administrators with few exceptions are constantly rude and hostile toward students, and their parents. Hundreds of truants are running freely throughout the campus everyday. We ask the students to behave yet we subject them regularly to detentions, suspensions and arrests by school police, and fail to provide them with an organized learning environment.

Safety means protecting what you value from harm. How is it possible to create any form of safety at schools, which do not value their community members enough to treat their children with respect? To keep youth from resorting to violence we must teach the value of human life and prove the value of all of their lives in specific. It is impossible to maintain a sense of dignity when a reactionary "zero tolerance" culture strips basic human rights. Few parents feel that their own child should be subjected to abrasive and invasive frisks, understanding that it dehumanizes them. My students at Locke High School were not only conditioned to random searches in classrooms, hallways, lunchgrounds and gates but face it regularly throughout the neighborhood. In Watts and Southeast LA there are at least five different forms of law enforcement that can search them anytime. My students and their families are regularly punished for who they are. Where is human value?

The students, who have been vocal against the brutality they face at school, including the searches, have to be recognized as extremely courageous individuals. Among many efforts at creating a safer and more effective educational facility, they along with the ACLU filed a suit against the school for unlawful searches understanding that they will face intimidation and retaliation. They asserted that the Fourth amendment to the Constitution allows the right to privacy, they posses their own bodies, not a particular institution as a school. That stand is the first step in bringing greater self-awareness and self-worth to each student who attends Locke. They are initiating the dialogue about the true cause of violence and trying to make lasting changes.

Since random searches have been proven to be ineffective in actually finding weapons, they instill a false sense of safety. Considering how invasive these searches are, especially in a learning environment it seems that they only exacerbate the problem. The searches devalue each student who has to get away from their school routine, without probable cause and assume all of the proper physical positions, which have traditionally preceded an arrest. Many educators pass through Locke and don't learn any names of students and assume that they wouldn't have anything valuable to say. While I was teaching at Locke, I felt indebted to my students, since they taught me more than my years of college ever could. They taught me that to teach I must be open to learn and to gain respect I must be willing to give it first without expectations. I now understand that having peace begins with ownership of our own existence and valuing it.

Original: Locke High Teacher Speaks Out