Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

American School War Zone

Anarchy and violence so bad in California school that Ukrainian refugee girl wants to go home
Screen Shot 2023-02-21 at 2.52.14 PM

Here's an incredible, and very telling, story from the San Francisco Chronicle: a Ukrainian refugee girl fleeing the war in her homeland is so disturbed by violence and anarchy in her San Francisco school that she wants to go back home -- to a war zone! More:

Everything Yana, a 13-year-old Ukrainian refugee, knew about public schools in the United States was what she had seen on television or in the movies, often idyllic settings where teenage conflict and angst ironed itself out by the end.

... It didn’t take Yana long to realize that real life in her eighth-grade classes at Marina Middle School was nothing like the scenes that played out on her screen.



Students interrupted classes, jumped on desks, cursed at teachers. At first, Yana wondered what was going on, but then “nothing happened.” Students were not disciplined or prevented from repeat behavior.

“After one week, I understood that was normal,” said Yana, whose last name The Chronicle agreed not to publish in accordance with its source policy.

Not long after, Yana said, she became the target.

Her experience echoes what many parents and teachers have said is an escalating problem in the city’s middle schools, with bullying, violence and defiant students creating an untenable learning environment. While the situation has worried many students, staff and parents, for a girl already fleeing violence and chaos, it’s been particularly difficult. 


Yana’s mother and aunt, Mariia Moroz, said the teen would come home from school and describe the chaotic scenes in her classrooms.

“She would tell us, and we were terrified,” Moroz said of the verbal abuse, hallway conflicts and classroom outbursts, adding that they told Yana to avoid eye contact and try to avoid the students acting out.

Within a month at Marina, Yana said, someone stole her cell phone in the cafeteria and then a group of students, who she believed was responsible, threatened her. Yana knew enough English to understand the gist.

“They started yelling and cursing and moving toward her,” her aunt said of the early February encounter. “A counselor came and intervened.”

The next day, Yana stopped going to school. School officials offered her a security action plan to make sure she felt safe. They also investigated the report of theft, officials said, although there was no evidence to identify who took the phone.

School officials offered her a security action plan. For pity's sake! Now the poor kid says she wants to go back to Ukraine. Hard to blame her. Read the whole story.


I'm telling you, my fellow Americans, you have no idea how we look to foreigners. Here in Budapest, where I live, the city is a lot less well off than many American cities, but it is rich in one thing you cannot find in America, despite American wealth: social order. When my friends came to visit me here last year from Alabama, they were shocked by how safe it was to walk around at night in the Hungarian capital. They kept telling me how strange it felt. When I've gone to speak to Hungarian students, as an American I am astonished by the sense of order in the classrooms.

Don't get me wrong, Hungary has lots of problems. But when you experience how low crime is here, and how safe the streets are compared to back home, you wonder how it is that we Americans got into the situation we did. And you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the core of the problem is not poverty. And the solution certainly isn't because the Orban government has a heavy police presence on the streets. You don't often see police -- because you don't need to. Magyars know how to govern themselves.

Back in 2018, I published on my blog this testimony by Mark Bollobas, my Budapest-living friend who was born and raised in Britain, to parents fleeing Hungarian communism. He decided not to try to settle in the US, where had lived and worked (Memphis) for some time, because it was too violent, and felt like it was falling apart. Nor did he decided to stay in England, because it was so overwhelmed by migration that it was no longer the culture where he felt he belonged. So he decided to return to his parents' home city as an adult. Excerpt:

So, not England. The second choice was Hungary. True, it’s not a wealthy country, and true, it suffers many of the same problems that afflict other nations. And yes, salaries here are very low. As editor-in-chief for English language news at a national TV station, and ironically the only Hungarian TV station that was on the local Memphis cable network, I made $1,200 per month, before tax. And even on that salary in Budapest I could live and do things like dine out and take advantage of all the positive things a city like this offers:  theatre, concerts, museums, sporting events, parks, nightlife, etc. Most of all, it was where I really felt at home.

Like many children of immigrants, I was raised to know that I have to work harder, and be better everywhere than those who were “local” to get ahead. And it’s all true. But I was also raised in a Hungarian household. While my parents made every effort to assimilate, I was raised in a household that took pride in being Hungarian. I didn’t support Hungary in sports or anything tribal like that, but I was proud when Hungary did well. I appreciated the poetry, the folk music, the heritage, the history, and so forth. And every time I went back to Budapest, I felt so so comfortable. No one asks “where are you from?” because although I don’t sound like I am from here (I have a British accent in Hungarian), I am from here, and people recognize that.

My decision to move back here to Hungary — I say that even though I wasn’t born here — has been reinforced by this fact: Hungary understands that holding on to its cultural identity is essential to its existence as a society we can understand.

Culture changes over time, of course, but it normally does it slowly as we creep towards a more civilized future.

England doesn’t feel more civilized — quite the opposite. It feels more feral. And the UK has just accepted its fate.

The lack of an American culture means Hungarians don’t know what’s missing, because they never had it. But there is a gaping hole in America: something is obviously broken. America is collapsing on itself.

It’s been nine years since I moved back. I can’t count the number of days I’ve thought to myself, or told others, “It’s just great to be here.” It still is.

We can all laugh at that San Francisco school, and say, what do you expect from a school in liberal California -- but are we sure that it's all that better in red states? Almost twenty years ago, when I lived in Dallas, a friend of mine told me her husband, a young liberal idealist, taught public school in the Dallas system. They had decided that when it came time for their child to start school, they were going to leave the city if they couldn't afford private school. Why? Because of the chaos and hopelessness her husband saw every day at work. These kids who came to his school were not prepared to study, and had no intention of so doing. I remember her telling me once that the week before, her husband caught one of his middle school girls giving a male classmate a blow job in class. On another day, he broke up a scrum in which boys had gathered around a prematurely bosomy girl who had flopped out one of her breasts for them all to sign with a black marker. This was life in his school -- and he knew perfectly well that there wasn't enough money or other resources in the city to compensate for the fact that these feral children came from homes and communities that were internally lawless.

Today in Moscow, Vladimir Putin gave a warmongering speech, defending his country's aggression against Ukraine. Putin is a thug, no doubt about it, and he is not only ruining Ukraine, but also his own Russia. But this particular attack on the West from the speech is, to me, hard to answer. Very few of us would prefer to live in the Russian system than under the American or British one. But Putin is not wrong about how we in the West are determined to destroy the foundations for civilization. After Washington finishes helping Ukraine re-capture its territory in this proxy war, maybe it can turn its attention to re-capturing the lost territories of American schools from the thuggish youth who have made them scarier to this Ukrainian refugee girl than schools in her war-torn homeland. I mean, honestly, how are California schoolteachers supposed to teach gender ideology to these kids, and about their own oppression, if they won't settle down and stop jumping on their desks?