Honey Nut Cheerios, chocolate milk and Harper High

What kind of a difference can a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and chocolate milk make in the life of a troubled young kid?

A lot, it turns out.HarperHighSchool

I’m about a month behind the rest of the country in listening to the twopart series from “This American Life” about Chicago’s Harper High School. I wasn’t thinking that it would be a fit for a Feminist Kitchen post — I was all set to blog this morning about the silliness of bacon-flavored condoms that came out this week (seriously, who buys that stuff?) — but after hearing the second-to-last act about a school official who took the time to talk to a student who was about to be punished for acting out in class and found out that it was hunger that was causing him to “misbehave,” I found my hook.

It turns out, the student had had some troubles at home and hadn’t eaten, so when his teacher was giving out cookies as a reward for showing up to class on time and he took two to tame the gnawing hunger in his belly, he was too embarrassed to admit why. The school official, one of many selfless, caring individuals we meet during the series who are going beyond the call of duty to help get the school back on track, pulled out a box of cereal he keeps in his office and asks the cafeteria workers for milk.

They were out of regular milk, so chocolate had to do.

The student quietly ate a bowl of cereal, “politely washed the bowl and spoon,” according to reporter Ben Calhoun, and went back to class.

The real kicker comes in the segment that follows, when host Ira Glass responds to a tweet that was sent out after the previous week’s show that accused them of simply choosing to profile the most violent school in the country.

What follows is heart-breaking.

Principal after principal introduces himself or herself and recalls how many students have been wounded or killed in acts of violence in their schools in recent years.

The final segment of the two-part series ends with this line from the superintendent of the Miami-Dade County public schools:

Over the past four and a half years, I have buried or attending viewings of 44 children who have died violent deaths right here in our community.

By this point, I’m sitting on the couch just sobbing. There were tear-jerking moments throughout the two episodes, but the thought of all these kids across the country living in a very real fear of violence hit me hard. These kids only 10 years older than my own shouldn’t be worrying about stuff like this. They should be thinking about getting their drivers’ licenses, going to football games and on first dates and passing chemistry class and maybe even going to college.

For almost 20 years, Glass and his team of reporters have been captivating listeners with their stories, from the high-brow to the low, the serious to the frivolous, of many American lives. Every year, they seem to outdo themselves with deeper, more touching, more complex stories, and I’m so thankful they spent the time to tell just a few of the stories from Harper High to help us better understand exactly what life is like for millions of American teens.

All the Texas Monthly fans who sent comments and tweets in the magazine’s defense of its “Who Killed the Dixie Chicks?” cover will have to forgive me for yet another post on violence.

Maybe you can see why I’m not in the mood for treating the subject so lightly.

3 responses to “Honey Nut Cheerios, chocolate milk and Harper High

  1. It’s easy to say “we live in a violent society,” and leave it at that because it’s certainly the truth, but should we?

    I’m not in favor of any censorship at all, save self-censorship, which is why I’m so frustrated in trying to offer a solution — I firmly believe a large share of the blame for our society being so violent is our warped entertainment media. Everything from TV shows to movies to video games to music and even the so-called “news media” promotes violence as entertainment. Sure, they’re chastened for a short while every time a new atrocity occurs, but then they trot out their pretty mouthpieces to avert the blame. The standard message they deliver is “We’re only filling the demand that’s out there.” The unspoken message is it’s our fault in the first place.

    Well you know what? They’re right. It *is* our fault – every time we attend or rent a violent movie or TV show or allow our kids to play (or we play) a violent video game, we are a part of the problem. Only by creating the same type of social stigma against violence that we’re just starting to put in place against discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation will we have any hope of changing our society. And the hard truth is this: First, it will take diligent effort for GENERATIONS to make a change, and second, we will encounter opposition every step of the way from the entertainment media. Proof? Look at cigarettes. We’ve known since the 1960s what dangers cigarette smoking pose, and we’ve undertaken numerous efforts to curb smoking, yet the progress we make is constantly under pressure. Lots of cool celebs still smoke. Lots of publicity romanticizing smoking still popping up everywhere. Lots of people still smoking. But we seem to be making a significant change, if the CDC’s numbers are right.

    For sure it’s a much bigger problem that won’t be completely fixed by just curbing our appetite for violent entertainment, but that’s a place to start.

  2. Our school system started feeding ALL kids breakfast in their classrooms this year. At first, I thought it was unnecessary to take some social freedoms away from the kids in the morning. But this article confirms that kids do suffer the consequences of not eating. Removing the stigma of being a school breakfast eater, waiting in line in the mornings instead of hanging out with friends, is a positive move. Not everyone takes advantage of the program, but it levels the playing field. Even I have taken advantage of eating for free ( if it’s not sugary and processed). Thanks for reminding me that we are providing a positive start to a kid’s day.

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