Protester carrying a sign at the March for Our Lives demonstration. Supporters marched to Seattle Center demanding action on gun control. Seattle, WA, March 24, 2018.

OPINION | Using SPS Budget, We Must Support Students

by Mark Epstein and Michael Dixon

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” —Wangari Maathai

2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and environmental activist Wangari Maathai’s women-led, grassroots-based Green Belt Movement has planted over 50 million trees throughout Kenya and East Africa since 1980. Her words are prescient for the moment. Humanity is at a crossroads on the planet, and springtime is coming soon in Seattle, foreshadowing the end of another school year. How can we use this moment to help shift people’s thinking to handle the future challenges?

This school year started in fall in Seattle with an outpouring of student concern, anguish, and demands around gun violence after a student shooting in the Ingraham High School hallways. We need to assess if our educational policies and resources are creating the safe environment our students called out for. After the student call for action, the City Council did provide $4 million for counselors, but much more is needed. When Seattle Public Schools demanded that schools cut their budgets last month, how many positions for counseling support were eliminated? How many cuts were made in the arts and in core subjects? There has been little change to school security amid continuing moves to put police back in the schools.

The urgency of a new approach to security is clear in the continuing gun violence in schools around the country. The conception of school security needs a reconfiguration. To succeed, it must be a team effort, with well-paid security specialists integrated with the counseling staff and family support, with accountability to the community and student body. Students must be an organized part of the security process. High school students could also be trained to help influence the younger ones.

Nationally, efforts to teach curriculum that asks people to be able to think about the role of race in our history and current institutions are being challenged and curtailed. Not learning why we must say Black and Indigenous lives matter will lead to people persisting in believing the myths that hold that their primary identity is in conflict with other groups of people, and that oppression is acceptable and inevitable. Algorithms will multiply the ways this worldview leads to hurt, atrophy of the human spirit, and hopelessness. What can catalyze the understanding that students already have in the palms of their hands that will lead them to know and act like there is a universality of experience? 

One thing is certain: When people are living under systems of oppression, there will be resistance, both spontaneous and short-term, and over sustained periods. The spark cannot really be predicted. In 1942, with the Nazi killing machine well underway in both Germany and Poland and over 40,000 concentration camps established, college students and professors undertook a brave effort with the White Rose resistance movement to expose and oppose the murder. Using leaflets and graffiti, they attempted to awaken the German population to resist. Their leaders’ beheading surely drove resistance further underground, yet every concentration camp and every ghetto has their story of noncompliance with Nazi oppression.

Young people’s dreams and hands created the basis for free lunch and breakfast programs starting in the neighborhoods of Chicago, Seattle, and Oakland. This month, the Washington State Legislature considered and then voted not to guarantee the right to nutrition to all students. Young people walking to school at Rainier Beach and marching in protest seven years ago established students’ right to transportation and free Orca cards; that right has now been extended to all youth in Seattle. But before change can be fought for, it must be envisioned. 

The rise in consciousness that is needed can take an example from something that happens daily in Lake Washington. As the bald eagle circles the coots, the coots suddenly tighten the flock, gathering in the weakest members toward the center. The eagle screeches, tries breathtaking maneuvers, and comes back again and again. Yet each time it approaches, the coot flock unifies in a torrent of wing-flapping, until the eagle tires and returns to its perch. 

There must be a concerted approach by those who work with young people to ascertain their greatest concerns and to assist them in finding the paths to unity. It means seeking, finding, and forging a common humanity, building in protection for those in greatest need. It is a spiritual discussion, but not one bound to religion. AI researcher Louis B. Rosenberg said, “The reason that fish form schools, birds form flocks, and bees form swarms is that they are smarter together than they would be apart. They don’t take a vote; they don’t take a poll: they form a system. They are all interactive and make a decision together in real time.” Shifting with the winds, listening to and trusting changing leadership — youth must be supported in this quest. Let us plan and budget accordingly.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Mark Epstein taught social studies, ELL, and elementary school for 35 years in the Rainier Valley and is currently a substitute teacher for Rainier Beach High School.

Michael Dixon recently retired from over 25 years as a security specialist for Seattle Public Schools. Dixon is a former Garfield High School student, where he helped found the Black Student Union, and a former member of the Seattle Black Panther Party — which was founded by his two older brothers.

📸 Featured image by Mauro Pedro da Silva/

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