Savage Inequalities, Redux

Yesterday was not a good day for my students. Here’s the day a hypothetical junior might have had:

The student wakes up at 6 AM to be the first in his family to hit the bathroom. With six people sharing one stall, the student knows that if he is not the first, he will be late for school. He rushes to get out before his older sister starts banging on the door and yelling at him. Out with plenty of time, he sits down for breakfast, only to be interrupted by his grandmother asking him to help get his little siblings ready for school. He does this with a sigh of resignation, knowing that he’ll be cutting it close now to get to school on time, but at least knowing he can get breakfast there. He rushes out the door to make sure he catches the first of two buses that will take him to the subway that will take him to school. Despite wind chills in the teens, the student is wearing a hand-me-down jacket that hardly even stops the wind, let alone keep him warm.

The student gets off the train at 8:15, and is greeted on the street by a dozen or so members of the YB gang that is there every morning on the corner. He is momentarily thankful for his lousy jacket, because he knows that he won’t be the target of harassment or mugging, at least not this cold morning. The student stops at the corner store to pay a dollar to check the cell phone that his grandmother insists he carries with him, but which he can’t bring into school. He arrives at the school building at 8:30, 15 minutes before the start of first period, where he spends the next 10 minutes waiting outside to get through the schools’s metal detectors. When he starts loosing feeling in his limbs, he thinks having a nice coat might be worth the risk. He is next in line for scanning at 8:40, just enough time to grab breakfast and make it to class on time, when the girl in front of him sets off the metal detector. Turns out it was just all her hairpins, but the delay in the line forces the student to choose between getting breakfast and being on time for class. Despite the growling in his stomach, he chooses to make it to class on time.

First period English goes by quickly. He enjoys the book they’re reading, but had trouble focusing on the text rather than waiting for lunch. He’s excited for the presentation he’s giving to his classmates on the Byzantine Empire in 2nd period Global History, his favorite class, yet his classmates have difficulty listening because the room has been suffering from a fruit fly infestation all week. It’s unclear what the source is, but it’s undoubtedly related to the cutback in janitors in recent weeks, which has often led to classrooms not being cleaned. Three students walk out of class because they can’t take all the bugs. Third period, his schedule says he has science, but after having two different teachers to start the year, he’s had 15 different subs and has yet to learn any real content for the Living Environment Regents he was supposed to take in January. Fourth period math has a new teacher who has struggled in the new environment. There are good days and bad ones, but today is a bad one. A small handful of students are so disruptive, that the teacher never gets through the ten minute lesson meant to start the class.

At 12:45, he finally gets to lunch. The five other small schools in the building have already eaten, so the cafeteria is disgusting, with spilled food making half the tables unusable. The student gets in the one line that exists for 200 students. He can tell other students are restless; they’ve had bad days just like him, and are on edge with the holidays coming up and them not knowing if they can afford gifts for their loved ones, that is, if thier loved ones are around. He’s not surprised to see two fights break out in the line. Fights are usually rare in the school, especially between boys, but during this time of year, they seem to happen more. The student is shoved aside by a security guard breaking up the second fight, and realizes waiting in line for lunch just isn’t worth it. He’s had enough and can’t take it any more, so walks out the building, cutting his last two classes.

(All these things happened yesterday, though the student is a composite.)


5 thoughts on “Savage Inequalities, Redux

  1. Steve, you have captured the reality so clearly. My heart breaks, especially knowing that this isn’t just one student, or even a group of students. This represents so many.


  2. This is every one of my kids from SW DC. Sometimes I think it’s great that they go to school with kids who have everything, and get the plusses of that access and resources, but during Christmas-time when half my kids are getting 1000’s of dollars of presents and the other half are lucky they have a warm coat, it just seems unfair all the time. It’s no wonder there’s been SO many more thefts/robberies lately.


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