About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, a 2017 NEA Global Fellow to China, and a former candidate for county-wide office. Miller has written more than 500 articles, most of which have appeared on The Educator's Room. He's the opening contributor to TER's book When the Fire Is Gone. Learn more about Jake at www.MrJakeMiller.com

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the video clip of Ben Fields, Richland County (SC) school resource officer, where he picked up a young lady (who was black) and pulled her from her chair. I’ve done so because it astounds me that this situation occurred in our schools, but what also stuns me is how easily everybody has their minds made up about a seemingly simple issue with complex undertones.

Rushing to a decision – and the complete generalizations that have followed – shouldn’t be that easy.

On one hand, black rights advocates have returned, front-and-center, and for reasons well-known. This defiant young lady in Richland schools was black, and students who are black are punished by schools at a much more alarming clip than their classmates of a different race. After a few years of gunned down black youth, a #BlackLivesMatter campaign that has staged “die-ins,” stopped traffic on Interstates, and organized strikes, as well as other groups that have had some violent counter-reactions. I’m not black, but I do know that my black friends will act differently around scepters of power – especially police. That, among other things, has made them angry. And they are right.

On the other hand, police rights advocates have shown how important and crucial they are to the community, and that mistakes will happen when there are 1.1 million law enforcement personnel in the United States, mistakes are bound to follow. That hasn’t stopped them from fighting a political and PR campaign to show that they are not stilted. The average American might be concerned about police brutality, but they also acknowledge the crucial services that they supply, and in more ways than we think. For example, my local police helped me to install a car seat for my (soon-to-be) first-born, and, on Halloween night, drove around our community giving out candy and blasting fun Halloween music. Our police officers are fighting back from being attacked. That has made them angry. And they are right.

In the middle stand our schools, and they need to play a pivotal part in the healing. They’ll do that by helping to reestablish the relationships that have been torn asunder this year and years past. But it hast to start somewhere.

My first interactions with police were in the now defunct D.A.R.E. program, but I do remember being quite afraid of interacting with my “instructors” at the onset of the class. By the end, not only had we learned something about the streets, but we had built a relationship with the officers in our town.

One good thing that’s come of these awful circumstances is that police departments across the nation are reserving the time needed to rekindle those relationships. And it should begin in our schools, when students – especially those of color – are young enough to interact with police in a positive way.

There are plenty of obstacles that stand in the way of this idea, such as teachers’ crunch time for meeting standards, testing, and their own personal prerogatives, as well as finding time for busy police officers – especially in the most stressed areas where police protection is thwarted by budgets and busied by crime, in addition to overcoming biases by students, police officers, and teachers themselves.

Additionally, we need to hear out our students who are mistreated by any system, whether it’s the criminal, educational, or familial one. Teachers, after parents, serve as the role models of our future. When we listen to concerns and try to frame them for the student, we are providing more than a curriculum lesson. We are providing a life lesson.

We can also provide a life lesson by incorporating a discussion from all of those who have rushed to judgment in this Fields case, among others.

By connecting students to the police officers who are our neighbors and our protectors, we’ll help to pave the road together. It’s going to take plenty of time and work from a collaboration of stakeholders, but it is possible.

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