When a student brought a BB gun to school in a tough Chicago neighborhood, his principal expelled him. A few years later, Nancy Hanks encountered him in an elevator, she recalled in a speech last month in Washington at the 25th anniversary summit for Teach for America.
She was afraid: Had she put him in the school-to-prison pipeline?
That meeting changed Hanks’ approach to discipline, reports Emma Brown in the Washington Post.
Now an administrator in Madison, Wisconsin, she’s “played a key role in revamping district-wide discipline policies, replacing the old zero-tolerance approach with an approach built on the conviction that suspension and expulsion don’t solve problems at the root of student misbehavior.”
“You and I, intelligent, well-intentioned warriors of equity — we contribute to the pipeline,” Hanks said in her speech.
She didn’t expel the boy with the BB gun because she thought he’d use it, she said.
“I was angry because I had busted my behind for almost two years at that point to turn that school around, and establish community, and to repair the climate and to make kids feel safe. His bringing that BB gun wasn’t just a threat to safety but a threat to me and the reputation I was building for myself and for the school.”
As it turned out, her former student said he was earning good grades at Phoenix Military Academy, a public high school, and seeking help to prepare for the ACT.
“I was selfishly relieved that despite my lack of compassion and understanding, or patience or mercy, that he seemed to be thriving — and that, by the grace of God, he hadn’t wound up in the juvenile justice system,” Hanks said. “I prayed for forgiveness for that time and any other time I betrayed the privilege given to me to be a steward and protector over the children I serve.”
If you check out the comments, most people think being a steward and protector includes looking out for the kids who want to attend a safe, BB gun-free school.