For a Better Commute. For a Better Prince William County.

After Shopping Mall Gang Fight, Should We Teach Math or Manners?

Last week I read this Police Report:

Assault by Mob

February 15th at 6:38PM, officers responded to Potomac Mills Mall located at 2700 Potomac Mills Cir in Woodbridge (22192) for a large fight near the food court.

On Tuesday, I watched the Prince William Board of County Supervisors Meeting and heard Chairman Corey Stewart state this incident is unacceptable and rightfully noted this was an embarrassment to Prince William County, and called for mall management to meet with county officials to work on a solution so this doesn’t occur again.

Five days later, I saw this follow up  press release from PWCPD on Facebook:

Malicious Wounding | Assault by Mob | Gang Participation *ARRESTS– On February 18th, detectives from the Gang Unit were able to identify three suspects involved in the fight which occurred at Potomac Mills Mall located at 2700 Potomac Mills Cir in Woodbridge on February 15th. Detectives further learned that the altercation stemmed from an ongoing dispute between two rival street gangs. Following the investigation, detectives obtained detention orders against the three male juvenile suspects. All three suspects were located and arrested without incident on February 19th.

Arrested on February 19th: [Juveniles]

Two 15 year old male juveniles, both of Woodbridge and a 14 year old male juvenile of Triangle All three juvenile suspects were charged with 1 count of malicious wounding, 1 count of assault & battery, and 2 counts of gang participation
Court date: unavailable | Status: all are being held at the Juvenile Detention Center

I spend a lot of time reading about education. I’m not only concerned how my tax dollars are spent I genuinely want the best for the next generation of adults. I’m sure most of you feel the same.

So, I have to wonder when we talk about SOLs, Common Core, and the 12th High School, are we really missing the big picture? Is the violence in youth escalating or not? Should our primary concern be STEM classes or maybe something much more basic? Are parents teaching respect for others or has that become lost in the commute and the hustle to get our kids to practice, to band, to the game?

Please know I am not talking about all parents or all children. I am friends with many parents I respect and admire who are doing it all. They are teaching respect, ethics and morals at home. It is evident in their daily lives and in their community.

I watched two powerful videos this week. For the sake of those children who do not fall in the above paragraph, please watch and share your thoughts with me.

The first is a PSA, titled Children See, Children Do It’s powerful and frightening and you may think it has nothing to do with Prince William County or education, but I think it does.

The second movie is more subtle. Norwegians React to a Freezing Boy. The translation is here, although you really don’t need it. My first reaction to this movie is that in America, we would be calling the police or Social Services or someone else to solve the problem. Most of us would be afraid to act, afraid our action would be misconstrued or we might be sued or perhaps accused of inappropriate behavior.

It has been many years since my children were young. I know things change and while I think I do a good job of keeping current, it’s not the same as “being in the game”. Share your thoughts with me.

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  • Please note…I wrote this column before this shooting in Woodbridge occurred:

  • Karen Peak

    If parents were teaching the lessons of self control, respect, etc at home, teachers could keep teaching. Why not talk to the SSAC people and see what the schools are doing for intervention work and such? I know personally what is being done and it is sad that schools HAVE to do this. When you see the work being done in PWC schools you would see we are trying, we are doing a lot but the lessons HAVE to come from home too. People have NO idea what the schools are doing but no matter what is done in the schools, the lessons will not translate outside if the parents are not being the first teachers. I know what is being done and it is impressive. Please again, contact the schools, contact the SSAC committee, find out because this gives the impression the schools are doing nothing when they are doing far more than they should have to.

  • Karen Peak

    Send me a message and I can get you contacts so you can get info and find out what the schools are offering for guidance, counseling, mental health services, who we are partnered with and what they do. We have a solid behavioral program in many schools trying to teach and capture desired behaviors which science shows is likely to keep them going while working to reduce undesired behaviors. We have lessons, talks, programs, services and classes for parents of higher risk students. We hold students accountable and try to get families involved in discipline. Schools are now expected to parent thousands of students and many parents do not try anymore. Some do not care. Some even teach that violence is the way.

    • Thanks for your input Karen. It’s very helpful. I appreciate the contact info and will be glad to follow up with more information.

      This last sentence is frankly terrifying:
      Some even teach that violence is the way.

  • Captain George S. Harris USN (Ret)

    While I appreciate your concern I do have to wonder where does the responsibility of parents begin and end and where does the responsibility for schools begin and end. We seem all to eager to task schools with the socialization of our children and yet at the same time we are unwilling to provide them the resources to take on these new tasks. We already have some of the most overcrowded classrooms in the Commonwealth and teachers whose workload is overwhelming. Karen’s statement that: “People have NO idea what the schools are doing but no matter what is done in the schools, the lessons will not translate outside if the parents are not being the first teachers.” is so true. Why aren’t the parents being held responsible for the actions of their children? I suspect that unless parents are willing to take up their responsibilities in child rearing, nothing is going to change. My middle daughter who is a tenth grade American history teacher in Spotsylvania county has found that many parents are no longer willing to listen to the fact that their children are being disruptive in the classroom or that their child is failing because they are not participating in the classroom or doing homework. Instead they are all too eager to blame the teachers and the schools. In my day, which was a looonnggg time ago, if a teacher called my parents to tell them I was being a pain, I could expect more pain when I got home.

    If this is a street gang issue, what are we doing about breaking up the street gangs?

    • Thanks George. I’ve already had some interesting input into the culture of street gangs from a former probation officer. I have, as a member of Neighborhood Watch, attended numerous presentation on gangs in PWC. It is a parental responsibility, but if parents can’t or won’t do their jobs, (and there are apparently many reasons why they can’t) then we need to intercede to prevent young teens from escalating to hardened criminals.

  • Gang violence is gang violence. It has nothing to do with what is taught in schools. The only role that gang violence might play is an education program where all students are made aware of a 1.800.snitch-on-a-gang member anonymous call line or website … and the instructions: if a fight breaks out then move away quickly.

    • Bill, I am not insinuating violence is taught in school. I am, however stating that schools can be the intervention required to make a difference in a young person’s life.

      There are lots of other folks who help, like mentors, Optimist Clubs and the Boys and Girls Clubs, but most of those avenues are limited and may not be available to all.

  • Marcus A

    It’s all about fatherless-ness and the declining structure of the nuclear family. Many of these kids are acting out because they simply do not have structure in their lives and the roles that their parents would typically play, are being influenced by peers, the media, and other negative influences around them. As adults and parents in our community the best thing we can do, is to become involved in these young people’s lives as much as possible. It is extremely difficult to expect teachers or the school system in general to take on the burden of dealing with the emotional issues that these kids come to school with. I understand that it’s difficult for single parents to deal with children. Circumstances are such, that these environments are not always by choice, but nonetheless they exist and they are detrimental because in some of the most extreme cases, you have that one parent who spends a good portion of their time working, whether it’s extra hours at one job or working a second job to support their family. The question then becomes, what happens to the child?

    I have read some of the comments from some of the residents down here in Prince William County and I must say that I am a bit disappointed in many. I’m certainly not suggesting that we should accept this as the norm, but this issue is not unique for Prince William County, teenagers are exhibiting poor behavior throughout the country. When people say oh well Prince William County is getting bad and then they say I don’t know how much longer I can take this, I look at it like this, it’s not Prince William County that is getting bad, America is getting bad. We have attacked the American family for so long and devalued it and we are seeing the results of that. In the end though, we have a responsibility to be leaders not only in our homes but in our communities. We need more people stepping up and reaching out to these kids. Too often, there are people who sit back and see these kids acting out and do not believe there is much hope for them, but shouldn’t we all realize that is why they act the way they do? If we do not get them to value themselves, their future, and their potential, then why would we be surprise when their behavior exhibits a lack of direction? If you or anyone else do not think they will amount to anything, why should they? The school system can certainly help, but as others have stated already it starts at home, but then even when it’s not there, we need our communities to step in and care about these young people as opposed to rendering them hopeless.

  • Captain George S. Harris USN (Ret)

    @ Marcus A. “It’s all about fatherless-ness and the declining structure of the nuclear family.” –

    It would be nice if it could be boiled down to just this but, while I don’t have any data to back me up, I’m sure it is more more complicated than this. But perhaps it is a starting point. I don’t have any easy answers but as Hillary Clinton once wrote, “It Takes a Village” to raise a child or to do many other things.

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