Tuesday, 24 June 2014

We need to talk about weapons

Today has been an upsetting one for education and south Auckland.
This morning two pre-teens at a private school got in a fight that left one of them in intensive care with stab wounds from a pair of scissors. The afternoon, two teenagers at a large south Auckland campus were also treated for stab wounds in an incident police say is unrelated to this morning's violence.
I come from a culture where knife crime is endemic. Social workers used to come into classes I taught to talk to 14 year olds about the consequences of carrying knives. In my home town, nearly all of my male peers have been at least threatened with a blade, some on multiple occasions. The penalties for carrying knives in public without good reason are severe. In the classroom, knives for practical use were unheard of, and any dissection required hawk-like vigilance.
Weapons amnesty, Glasgow.

So when I came to New Zealand to find sharp knives delivered with science practical orders, scissors left out in classrooms, and kids allowed to bring their own little retractable blades for cutting paper, I didn't know where to put myself. It seemed a recipe for disaster and led to some amusing-in-retrospect showdowns between myself and bemused kids. Over time I've come to appreciate the higher trust we have in our children and the behaviour with which our young people repay that trust.
Today's incidents have therefore left me rather shaken, my cosy antipodean worldview turned, in more ways than one, upside down. We teachers strive to make our schools safe havens for our young people, in some cases the only safe haven they have. Schools in NZ lack the security fencing, weapons-amnesty bins and police officers that I've seen in some schools in London and elsewhere, because we trust that our schools are free from weapons and provide an environment where young people feel safe enough not to need one.

Ad campaigns you never want to see.
There is a huge discussion that needs to happen now in schools and communities about whether this idyll is real or if there's been something fundamental that we've missed. We need to think and talk and discuss with our communities and whanau why these young people decided to settle their arguments with weapons rather than words. We need to ask where this need to arm themselves came from, why their anger has become such that it needs a sharp edge. It needs to be a discussion that is sensitive to the needs of the cultures of those communities, whilst not becoming another lazy "That's just south Auckland for you" hard pass. We can't afford to pass it off as isolated coincidence, and we can't afford to turn our noses up because of the postcode these schools find themselves in.

Am I overreacting? Possibly, but I'd rather schools and communities took today as a chance to have some real talk and thought about how they can support their young men and women, than end up with our own version of the London fortress schools.

No comments:

Post a Comment