When I toured the local high schools, I looked for and asked about vandalism. The schools in West Knoxville clean and repaint constantly to reduce its’ presence. The scars it leaves behind are still visible on the fences surrounding the football fields and elsewhere. In the rural schools with less community resources, vandalism is the exception instead of the norm. To paraphrase one of the rural school Principals, “Our students don’t think property loss is inconsequential.” I’m sorry that I can’t remember his exact words. He mentioned that it’s not because everyone in the community knows who is doing what, even though they do. It has more to do with the fact that they know the time spent scrubbing with a power washer is time that should have been spent elsewhere. The paint that must be purchased could have purchased something better. The school, parents and community understand that resources are scarce and they don’t take what they have for granted. Sure, they have the occasional declarations of love scribbled on walls and desks, but not obscene and vulgar aggressiveness toward specific schools.
Just a few minutes of research would produce images similar to the ones above at the other West Knoxville high schools. It’s not just students vandalizing other schools in a misguided understanding of school spirit. Detached and oppositional students do it to their own schools as well as at other schools. Yes, the schools in West Knoxville have students with the same limited resources as those in more rural schools. Still, their behavior is different. Instead of respect for property, many of them are angry and alienated by the privileges that their classmates have been given. Far too many of the students of privilege have their misbehavior encouraged and excused by their families.
I do not want to hear that criminal charges have been filed against anyone involved in this incident. This is a parenting problem. I do not want to hear that anyone involved has been suspended or expelled. You do not reward bad behavior with a school vacation. I do not want to read the names of the offenders or the school they attend published anywhere. I want the students who know about this to tell an authority figure. I want the authority figure to arrange for the guilty parties to clean up the mess that they made. I do not want anyone to write a check to get out of this one. I want the teenagers responsible to physically scrub and paint away all of this mess while their parents sit and watch. It is only the beginning of what the consequences would be if it were any of my children. In the absence of the culprits cleaning up their own mess, it needs to be students instead of school staff who clean this. Require all students to do maintenance on their own schools and watch them become more conscientious about how they treat property.
This school rivalry as an excuse for vandalism has got to stop. It is wasteful, but more than that, it is inexcusable from the young people who are about to leave home and enter college. Privilege without respect and responsibility is a tragic waste of potential.