Courtni Webb, one of your 17 year old high school students, is now facing the possibility of being expelled from your school after writing a poem about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the poem Courtni wrote she understood why someone like Adam Lanza might do what he did. She wasn’t agreeing with it, but in her poem said she understood the oppression in society that could cause such a tragedy.
For her intelligence and insight you did not award her a scholarship, but you alienated her further, exactly what she was writing about in her poem. Working against young people like this, rather than with them, will do more harm than good. But you know this already, as that will be the reason your school was founded in the first place. Your Life Learning Academy, that Courtni attends, is a last chance educational facility that takes on children that have struggled at their previous schools, who have been in trouble with the police, been involved with gangs etc. So no doubt Courtni has a reputation that precedes her. She will not be an angel, and that may have influenced your decision to suspend her on this occasion. I don’t have the luxury of knowing the inside story of what was going on here.
is it a case that Courtni is more intelligent than you give her credit for? If so this is a sad situation, as we hope teachers have high expectations of their students, and have a duty of care to support them when they show signs of intelligence, (even when challenging to society’s norms), not to demonize them, as has happened here. From what I can see, a young person who has struggled in life, has turned to poetry to creatively express her feelings, (which at her age will be as confused as they are clear), and rather than those of you with a duty of care for her to see that talent and nurture her skills, you have thrown it back in her face and have alienated her further.
Have we learned nothing?
Where can young people go for refuge from a world that doesn’t understand them, if not into the safety of the creative world, in a school that is their last chance? If a 17 year has the clarity of mind to write a poem about their feelings, no matter how challenging to adult polite society those feelings may be, they should be applauded, not treated as a bad person, (which is obviously why they might be angry in the first place).
Where are the ears to hear what these young people have got to say?
All over the United States (if not the world) there are people, experts and lay people, trying to make sense of the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School, trying to understand the actions of Adam Lanza. They will be criminal psychologists, police officers, sociologists, anthropologists, school teachers, news reporters, columnists, politicians, bloggers, cultural commentators, mental health practitioners, and a whole host of other stakeholders that have an interest in seeing a peaceful world. Why do you not allow a young person their say also? More specifically, why not allow Courtni Webb her say? What makes her not worthy of an opinion, but all the others are allowed a say? What is going on here?
The other type of person I did not include in that list of opinion givers are artists. I’m sure artists have been having their say on the issue, but for them it maybe too soon to make a creative response. This is where Courtni should have been applauded even more. She has had the courage to make a creative response, to make her feelings known. She saw her art, poetry, as a safe place to explore the feelings she is having. Courtni is an much of an expert as any listed above. She is exactly the demographic we should be listening to, not silencing.
Where can young people go for refuge, if not in the safety of their own note books, and the trust of the adults around them?
Do not make it that the only place of refuge a young person has to go, is their own grave, by their own hand.
We need to keep our young people safe, not treat them as outcasts, cut adrift. But as I said, I know you know all of this already, as that will be the reason your school was founded in the first place.
What other options do young people have to be taken seriously, and for their voices to be heard? We (as adults) need to learn something here. Be careful how we treat the hearts of young people.
Dr Shawn Sobers
PhD – Community Education
News story sources –
This was also sent direct to Life Learning Academy as a letter via email.