Home > Uncategorized > The Administrator Behind the Metal Detector Accepts The Necessity of His Role

The Administrator Behind the Metal Detector Accepts The Necessity of His Role

“The Man Behind the Metal Detector”, a NYTimes op ed article by Boston public school administrator Adam Stumacher, describes Mr. Stumacher’s conflicts about his role as the school’s gatekeeper and inspector of book-bags and knapsacks. These paragraphs describe his unsettling thoughts as he performs his daily task, comparing his students’ experiences to those he had growing up in rural New Hampshire:

The reality for my students is different. They have been followed through stores, had people roll up their car windows or cross the street when they approach. So perhaps they are unsurprised by the metal detectors.

I try to tell myself none of this is within my control. I think of our school’s work to design courses around diverse texts, hire teachers who reflect our students’ cultures and connect kids with opportunities like internships — how we welcome all students with the promise that we will not rest until they achieve their potential.

But I see how their body language shifts when they walk through metal detectors, some wrapping their arms around themselves and others throwing their heads back in defiance. I see how they fixate on their phone screens or scarves, anything to avoid meeting my gaze. In that moment, there is no denying I am part of the machine.

As one who taught in urban public schools and worked as an administrator in a blue collar suburban district just outside of a city, I am not surprised that Mr. Stumacher is conflicted about his role. Indeed, I imagine anyone who, like me, grew up in a small college town where most of my associations were with churched classmates whose parents expected them to go to college, is often conflicted when they are forced into the role of “enforcer”. Most teachers are drawn to professions in public education because they believe they can make a difference in the lives of children through connections, not because they want to impose their will. So Mr. Stumacher’s conflicts about serving as a de facto policeman are not surprising. What would have been more interesting is to read about the process the administrative team went through to make the decision to put the metal detectors in school to start with, a decision that they had to realize would change the entire dynamic of entry to school each and every day and change Mr. Shumacher’s role. The article offers this as an explanation:

There are metal detectors at the entrance of nearly every public high school in Boston — I imagine it’s the same in most major cities. Last year, when I started working at this school as part of a new administration, we were determined not to use them. We made it until October, when a student brought a knife to school. He was a gentle kid, a ninth grader, and he said he’d brought the knife only because some guys in his neighborhood were harassing him on the way to school and he needed to protect himself. But our first job is to keep the school safe, and so we asked the district for metal detectors, which arrived before 7 the next morning. I had never seen anything arrive so promptly from the district. Textbook orders take months.

This brought to mind my first year as an administrator in 1975 when I heard through the student grapevine that a student had a knife rolled up in a towel in his gym bag. Like the student in Mr. Shumacher’s essay, he was “a gentle kid” who didn’t stemlike the kind of student who would be prone to violence. Nevertheless, I called the student to the office where I confronted him. When he denied the allegation, I asked if I could accompany him to his locker to retrieve his gym bag so he could show me it’s contents. When I asked him to unroll his towel, he looked at me guiltily, and slowly unrolled the towel where there was a large knife. Like the student in Mr. Shumacher’s essay, he said he’d brought the knife only because some guys in his neighborhood were harassing him on the way to school and he needed to protect himself. We called his parents in for a conference, suspended him from school for three days for possession of a weapon (the notion of In School Suspension had not been introduced at that time), and alerted the police and local community leaders of the sense of threat the student felt. The idea of metal detectors was not on our radar in 1975 because in that era one could freely walk through airports, freely enter the US House and Senate Building, and freely enter any public space without having to walk through a metal detector or screening device monitored by a uniformed guard.

My questions to those who see metal detectors as the only option is this: we built “the machine” that Mr. Shumacher is a part of. Why can’t we take it apart and build it a different way? Why can’t we begin with the premise that our money is better spent building cohesive neighborhoods than  building and staffing metal protectors? Why aren’t we operating out of a caring attitude instead of a fearful one?

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: