As a Non-Commissioned Officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the first lessons that I learned in combat is that security is constant. You are either being secured or you are working to secure someone else.
While this mentality forms the underpinning of the military's role in foreign diplomacy, this mindset should be utterly useless in a healthy democratic society. Outside of warfare, a persistent security paradigm of either "securing" or "being secured" will always lead to victim and aggressor relationships. In my experience, the only place outside of the military where this mindset guides everyday life can found in the American prison system. Yet the security paradigm has not only infected our national discourse, but it has also become the lens de jour for how we view our nation's most valuable resource -- our youth.
It did not take long after the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy for the National Rifle Association (NRA) to try to put guns in every classroom in the country. Or shortly after that, urban municipalities -- like my hometown of Chicago -- to double down on gun laws that are routinely ignored by those that do not care for the law. So while both pro-gun and anti-violence supporters have spent millions of dollars to either arm or disarm people, the resources that have been dedicated to equip at-risk youth with opportunities, skills, and academic support are woefully ignored year after year. Or worse yet, those potentially positive influences only manifest themselves as a mere afterthought in relation to the sexy political battles of pro- and anti-gun lobbies.
The security paradigm has permeated every aspect of our lives, including the way that we understand children who have been labeled "at-risk." This infection is most dangerous in our nation's educational system.
Teachers in many of our country's most challenging schools are evaluated on their ability to "control" their students as much as they are evaluated on their ability to inspire children to learn. The outcome of this has been a "Disturbing and Increased Use of Suspensions" in recent years.
Additionally, whether it is the presence of metal detectors at the entrance of our schools or overzealous and under-trained "safety" staff working to create the illusion of safety, the fact remains: security has become the new pedagogy where our nation's most at-risk children are being prepared for the American penal system as opposed to opportunities of higher education. Yet with all the focus on security in our schools, I have yet to meet someone who feels 100% safe walking into any building guarded by metal detectors and armed personnel.
As a final outcome, I am unsure why any child who runs the daily gauntlet of America's educational-security-paradigm should be expected to succeed as a contributing member to our economy when those specific security considerations do not exist in the majority of our nation's work and education settings.
Currently, there is a unique initiative in Chicago that is challenging the current trends of a school systems dominated by the security paradigm.
Leave No Veteran Behind(LNVB) is a nonprofit organization led by Post-9/11 service members who are leveraging the power of communal resilience strategies to empower youth, parents, and faculty members with learning environments that achieve the goal of "safety" as opposed to "security."
Despite America's constant security awareness and the binary approach we use to keep members our citizens away from imminent danger, this group of Veterans understands a more nuanced, holistic, and socially dynamic approach to creating and maintaining safe communities.
Leave No Veteran Behind's Educational Assurance Program© (EAP) has three distinct components intended to create safe environments, including:
1. Providing concerned Veterans and local community members, in and around school areas, before and after dismissal, to provide safe passage to ensure that students get back and forth to school safely. The ultimate goal of this strategy is to positively engage youth threatened by violence and create neighborhood "safe zones" that normalize community behaviors on the street.
2. Working internally within schools to create common values, to provide students with leadership roles around peer-safety strategies, to train safety teams on how to address safety issues constructively, and to improve school emergency planning considerations.
3. Developing personal safety plans with youth, parents, and school faculty to empower youth to mitigate the worst outcomes associated with their home and learning environments through evidenced -based mentorship.
Leave No Veteran Behind has implemented this strategy for four consecutive years within the Chicago Public School system and their outcomes speak for themselves, including: (1) a significant decrease in student disciplinary actions, (2) a significant decrease in crime before and after school hours, and (3) a significant increase in student's self-assessments recorded by the University of Chicago's Consortium on School Research's "5 Essentials Report" with respect to "feeling safe going to and from school" and feeling "there are adults in the community that I can trust."
The former service members who lead this program are also products of the same types of schools that they are trying to transform. Their work provides valuable employment opportunities for our nation's Veterans -- who are distinctly qualified to achieve this mission -- while working to maintain the integrity of the educational process without creating a "security paradigm" that disempowers students, educators, and parents.
In the end, school systems across the country should look to the work of Leave No Veteran Behind to transform our nation's "security paradigm" into a "safety paradigm" that is capable of creating mutually supportive learning environments to increase academic achievement while instilling a high level of resiliency in local communities in the face of unified threats.