9/11 and the New American Terror


Remembering the Wounds

This week marks the 16th anniversary of 9/11, a day that changed the American psyche forever. The images of the mangled remains of the Twin Towers are seared into our memories like scars, but what other wounds do we still carry?

We’ve all  been rattled from time to time by thoughts that someone we know can’t be trusted or is out to get us. Most often, we are over-reacting, so we talk ourselves through the process of coming to our senses. But it is extremely jarring when we find our suspicions to be true, with reality even worse than we dared imagine. September 11, 2001 was the day when most Americans first realized the terrifying, disorienting extent of the hatred toward us by many others.

In the days and months that followed the attack, our centuries-old American rallying cry of “United We Stand! emerged with new fervor. We collectively stiffened our backs, stood tall, and determined that terrorists could not break our human spirit, values, or patriotism. Our despair was conquered by our courage.

Today, we seem to have forgotten that the rest of that famous phrase is “Divided We Fall.” Our country has deep chasms down political, racial, and religious lines, with rage and violence as the newly accepted forms of ideological expression. On even the worst days  after 9/11, could any of us envision a country so shattered from the inside? 

Does America Have PTSD?

When I was teaching middle school many years ago, one of my favorite sixth graders witnessed a brutal murder. His parents connected him to a counselor, but the trauma and pain often erupted in  anger displayed at school–hurling himself at other students, toppling desks, storming out of class. This otherwise delightful boy did the best he could to cope with memories of the unthinkable.

Perhaps, like my student, America is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and doesn’t know how to deal with it. We now recognize that the world truly is not safe, and there are people who hate enough to kill. But we can’t process this the way a sixth-grader does, with fists and tantrums. The very freedoms that distinguish our country and protect the right to express differing vantage points must urge us to act with civility, and regard for human life, not with force, assault, and bloodshed.

Remembering 9/11 is painful, and the images and emotions of that day are still haunting sixteen years later. But the new terror we face today is losing the heart and soul of America. Of late, many of our values seem to be under attack, with some already crumbling. We have never been perfect, but even so, democracy, freedom, and personal liberty are worth celebrating and worth fighting for. Differences of opinion–no matter how different–must never blind us to the humanity and value in others, or drive us to violence as we seek to be heard or to make changes in systems.

My student conquered his PTSD, and eventually moved on from the thoughts that tormented and threatened to ruin him. I hope that America will, too. If we don’t, one day all the might be left is a memorial somewhere that reads simply, “Divided We Fall.” I hope that will never happen to our country. Let’s all do our part to change systems of injustice in positive ways, and to teach our children to do so, as well.

Melody headshot high res

Melody Rossi is the Founder and Executive Director of Cloud & Fire, a faith-based nonprofit that empowers disadvantaged youth to thrive.
She invites your comments at melody@clouandfire.org


What is the REAL high school graduation rate in Van Nuys?


Finding accurate numbers for high school graduation and dropout rates is nearly impossible–especially in low-income areas served by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Case in point: Van Nuys High School.

Let’s look at the numbers.

The LAUSD report card for Van Nuys High states that 81% of students graduated within four years (class of 2015-2016). But who is counted as a “student” in that number?

Van Nuys High has three magnet schools on its campus: a Medical Magnet, a Performing Arts Magnet, and a Math/Science Technical Magnet. Magnet schools are themed schools that attract students throughout the district. Applicants must pass an Algebra assessment, which eliminates low-performing students. The magnets attract the best, the brightest, and often, those with parents who are the most informed.  The system leaves out the students who are struggling,  low performing, or whose parents can’t navigate the complicated application process. Many Latino households in Van Nuys are led by adults who never graduated high school, and are unlikely to be understand how to advocate for their children.

LAUSD intentionally averages graduation rates and test scores of “local” students and magnet students in order to arrive at more favorable school report card results. Schools like Van Nuys in high poverty neighborhoods almost always have magnet schools on campus to attract highly proficient students who will balance out the low performing ones. With this in mind, it is interesting that Van Nuys needs three magnet schools on its campus in order to arrive at its 81% graduation rate.

Other school rating systems reveal a different story for Van Nuys. For instance, the Great Schools website shows that the graduation rate for Hispanic students (which comprise 63% of the population) at Van Nuys is only 43%. Test results among Hispanic students show 34% proficiency in Science, 57% in English, and 24% in Math.

LAUSD does not make it a practice to reveal graduation rates and test scores for just its local students who are not enrolled in magnet programs–not at Van Nuys or at any other low-performing school. I understand. The numbers might force them to make an admission of guilt.  While magnet schools were created to bring equity into poor communities and desegregation into affluent, homogeneous ones, my fear is that instead, this practice has only hidden what is really occurring among the district’s most vulnerable students.

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century philosopher  stated, “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”  I implore LAUSD to face the facts of what is happening at its lowest performing schools, and tell us all the truth.

–Melody Rossi, Founder and Executive Director of Cloud & Fire

Our Mission:  Empowering youth to thrive. 

Cloud & Fire provides an alternative high school completion program for youth ages 16 to 25 who do not feel safe in their schools or who have dropped out of school.