I have been teaching art for 17 years. Now teaching in an urban school district, I was struck by the fulfillment of the words, "There is a war against the poor."
I see the worlds in which my students live: bars on windows, high crime, gunfire, homelessness and few meaningful employment opportunities for two generations of adults. Between the glorification of violence in the media and the rise of corporate values and culture, I see hopelessness in too many students.
The language of war is used to describe teachers, we are "in the trenches," if we "survive" we are "veterans." Social scientists now describe the state of our children's emotional lives as living with post-traumatic stress disorder syndrome. But there is a difference between our children and veterans returning from war.
Our children, our students, are living with present traumatic stress disorder syndrome. It is not post, it is not in the past; their traumas are in the present. It is not over for them.
My students manifest PTSD in numbness to their feelings, extremely short attention spans, and repeating the language they have learned at home and in the streets, the language of abuse. They suffer from abuse and continue this vicious cycle.
Currently, it is popular to blame the teachers. But, contrary to the court case, Vergara vs. California, it is the moral compass of society and the economic priorities in this country that are at fault for failing our children.
Cafeteria lines are two blocks long for the free breakfast and lunch program; many kids skip the chance to eat reheated, plastic-wrapped entrees and tasteless fruit. Instead, they eat chips and candy to stave off hunger. Our students come to class hungry, tired and agitated.
Negative behaviors and hopelessness have calcified. Students are failing because they have PTSD, in the present. Teachers care, but the task is enormous. We, too, suffer abuse. Besides students freely cursing and yelling at and running from teachers and administrators, restrooms lack soap, paper towels and toilet paper; photocopy machines are broken, paper is doled out warily; pencils, pens, staplers and paper clips are nonexistent; heaters are broken; vermin live in the walls and plumbing; and our school library has been closed for almost three years. Starting salary is $40,000. This year, half of our teachers are voluntarily leaving.
I worry for my students. Our repeat offenders -- to use the language of the criminal justice system -- are using their smarts to outwit the adults, disrupt and fail their classes. Parents admit to teachers that they can't control their own children. They use the parenting technique of spoiling, so the kids are used to getting what they want, by manipulating adults.
Some of our students conspired with their friends to misbehave in the same period classes so they could be sent out and meet up in the front office and socialize. That's smart.
The child returns to class and repeats the cycle of abuse because he or she are suffering with present traumatic stress disorder syndrome. It is a syndrome. It is not the teachers' fault, it is not the parents' fault, and it is not the kids' fault. At least 30 percent of children in the United States are living in poverty. There is a war against the poor. This time, in this war, the children are the casualties.
Deborah Green, a resident of Berkeley, is a longtime Bay Area teacher.