As I get off the DC Metro, I am bombarded with exciting stimuli and loud traffic noises. There is an “Eat Chicken” market across from the metro, and graffiti on the walls surrounding the block of the train station. Immediately, it becomes apparent that we are not in Foggy Bottom. Although the area doesn’t seem too dangerous, there is still a noticeable difference both in wealth and race. There are closed shops and lower income homes, although some exceptions are evident, such as a large organic supermarket and a construction site, building an architecturally advanced building, potentially a sign for future gentrification. Also, as I said before, the differences were not just economic, but racial. As a white male at primarily white university, its easy to say, I could blend in pretty well, but as I got off at the metro station at Georgia Avenue-Petworth, I was suddenly an “other”. The two other people from Prime Movers Media whom I travelled with and I were the only white people in the area, and judging by the stares from some passer-bys, we stood out.
The school was larger than I expected, but then again, I was told to expect the worse. As I walked toward the building, I pictured the school being like those from the dramatized TV series, “The Wire,” and so when I saw the tall brick building with a large parking garage and a football field, I was moderately surprised. I was soon to learn that the problem wasn’t with the building, but rather with what was inside of it.
Inside I was told to pass through a metal detector. I was surprised. My High School certainly didn’t have a metal detector. I remember walking in next to a student, who sported sagging jeans, a black hoodie and some Nike shoes. As he passed through the metal detectors, he looked turned off. The process of passing through a metal detector to make sure there were no weapons in the school – a pretty frightening idea if you think about it – was not even a part of his thought process. It was as if he was saying, “you don’t trust me or my friends, but that’s cool… whatever.” Unintentionally, these detectors act as a constant reminder to students that they are considered armed and dangerous. Personally, if I was reminded this every day, on the way to English class, I might start to believe it.
In the class, I met Mr. Spikes, a bright man whose heart is in the right place. He cares about the kids, and wants to reach out to them, but he also knows the restricted parameters that control his ambitions. If he goes in there with a lecture or any difficult class work, they will simply ignore him.
On this first visit, I did not actually get to meet any kids, but one memory does stand out in my mind. While talking with the teacher, a student walked into the classroom. She was a young girl, probably a junior in high school, and she had her hair up in a way I’ve never seen before. She spoke quickly, and almost inaudibly over the chewing of her gum. She was supposed to be in the class that met the period before, but she was not there because she was seeing a “counselor”. The teacher asked for the note, but the girl responded with a quick “she didn’t give me one.” The teacher then left with the girl to go meet with the counselor to find the truth.
From an outside perspective, I thought this seemed like a pretty normal interaction, but this was just because I didn’t understand two things that were culturally different in this school than my high school. First of all, this student was more comfortable with lying to her teacher than I ever would have been in high school, and second of all, the teacher was more comfortable blatantly distrusting the girl. In the end, I found out that the counselor wasn’t there, and hadn’t been during the last period. The girl was lying to the teacher, and the teacher was right in this case due to an immediate distrust. My question is how many “good” students are treated like they are liars on a typical day.
The narrative is becoming more and more clear: I imagine walking into my old high school. What if I was immediately labeled a “criminal” as I pass detectors, and called a “liar” in the classroom. I might not be here at GW, if this was my upbringing.
- Evan Koslof
- Evan Koslof