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The NRA and the POTUS Want to “Harden Our Schools”… and Harden the Hearts of Parents, Teachers, and Children

February 23, 2018 Comments off

I am working very hard to follow a mantra I have posted on my desk which reads:

“As I read the news I vow to cultivate compassion for all those I read about…

and to take care of my own anger, grief, despair and fear”

That mantra is exceedingly difficult to read when I read about the President of the United States echoing a message from the NRA chief who called for us to “harden our schools”… by which he means more police presence in schools, more surveillance, more sophisticated “entry systems”, more protection in the form of armed teachers and other personnel. I do see that my strong opposition to making it possible for anyone to purchase military grade weapons is mirrored in Mr. LaPierre’s opposition to any compromises that might erode the second amendment rights… and I can see that Mr. Trump’s desire to appeal to his “base” is mirrored in my desire to activate like minded individuals who read this blog to send their legislators emails in support of more gun control. I am clearly one of the members of the “liberal elite” who, from Mr. LaPierre’s perspective, “don’t care about the safety of children”… but I want to know how an increase in the number of guns in schools will make them more safe? Where will he draw the line on the steps children and teachers need to take to ensure their safety? He doesn’t want to forbid guns in or near schools… He wants anyone at any age to be able to buy any weapon they want and use it wherever and whenever they want. He wants anyone at any age to buy ammunition that can penetrate body armor. How will the exercise of any of these “rights” make the word a safer place for children?

Sorry for the rant… but I need to know the answer to these kinds of questions to take care of my own anger, grief and despair. In the meantime, I DO have compassion for Mr. Trump and Mr. LaPierre… for holding their view of the world must make day-to-day living very difficult.

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New Hampshire’s Latest Actions on Guns in School… SOME Hopeful Signs!

February 23, 2018 Comments off

Today’s Valley News featured a front page article on action taken by the NH State House to kill a bill that would have allowed college students to carry pistols and revolvers on campus. Proponents of the bill argue that only the state can regulate guns and further argue that armed students would prevent gun violence from occurring on campuses that do not have armed guards:

“Not all campuses have security,” said Rep. John Burt, R-Goffstown. “College kids — or adults, because they’re adults at this age — deserve the right and have the right to protect themselves against school shootings.”

Opponents, who prevailed by nearly 2-1, argued that more guns on campus would create more chaos.

Opponents argued that the youngest college students are adolescents who may be experimenting with alcohol and drugs, and that allowing them to carry guns would be unwise. They also said in the event of an active shooter, it might be unclear who was the shooter and who was the defender, which could have fatal consequences for innocent bystanders “If there is an active shooter incident on a college campus, let’s say there’s 1,000 students and 100 of them have firearms, it would be a disaster,” said Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston. “Law enforcement coming into a place like a school with half a dozen or a dozen people with guns drawn is not a good scenario.”

In the meantime, and perhaps more importantly, the Senate approved sending an amendment introduced by our local Senator, Martha Hennessy, that would give local school boards the power to prohibit guns in designated safe school zones. As the Valley News article reported Ms. Hennesy’s motion to introduce the amendment was not appreciated by the Senate President, but WAS ultimately sent to the education committee by voice vote. The exchange was reported as follows:

“I believe that not one child is New Hampshire should be afraid to go to school and that not one parent should fear for their child’s safety when they’re dropped off,” Hennessey, a Hanover Democrat, said on the Senate floor.

Her argument was met with a gavel from Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, who chided Hennessey for straying from procedure. The sound was so loud that Hennessey jumped back mid-speech.

“Senator, we’re not having a debate onthe amendment,” Morse said…

“The amendment referenced today suggests a major policy change in our state. Like all legislation put forth in the Senate, this measure deserves to be properly vetted though the legislative process including a public hearing and thoughtful, deliberate consideration of its effects to ensure that it does what we intend for it to do while avoiding unintended consequences,” Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley said in a statement later in the day. “All of us agree that our children and teachers deserve to feel safe and protected at our public schools, and we will take the appropriate steps to ensure that we are doing what is best for our state and our children.”

Hennessey reluctantly supported the move, which she hopes will lead to a public hearing and further debate.

“I am disappointed we are not addressing this issue faster and sooner, because in the meantime, children are dying,” she said.

In the meantime, Governor Chris Sununu was appearing on our State NPR station touting his “solution” to the problem of guns in school: an $18,000,000 initiative to upgrade security in schools.

“That’s about 300 schools (that) will get money for security doors, surveillance systems, emergency plans, training for teachers,” he said.

New Hampshire, like virtually every other state in the union, has woefully underfunded infrastructure for at least a decade… and while school districts will greatly appreciate ANY funding for infrastructure, it is hard to believe that district would choose to spend $18,000,000 on security doors, surveillance systems, emergency plans, training for teachers rather than spending it on upgrading their technology, fixing leaky roofs, or addressing deferred maintenance projects involving HVAC, parking lots, windows, or a host of other maintenance issues that local boards might prioritize above security doors, surveillance systems, emergency plans, training for teachers. I can think of many laws that would not cost $18,000,000 that would make schools more safe, beginning with the law Senator Hennessy proposes and ending with the kind of gun control legislation Connecticut passed after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Here’s hoping that NH legislators will hear from teachers, students, school board members, and administrators when the hearings are convened on Martha Hennessy’s amendment… and here’s hoping that democracy functions on that issue the way it did on the bill that would have allowed pistols and revolvers on campuses.

Wichita’s Wonder School Looks Wonderful… Despite the Founder’s Surname and Assumptions that Competition is the Answer

February 22, 2018 Comments off

The headline in a Wichita Times article earlier this month immediately repelled me. It read “Koch Family to Open New Kind of Private School at Wichita University“. But in an effort to be open minded, and, quite frankly expecting my repulsion to be reinforced by an article describing an ill conceived “anti-government school” that would lead to a denigrating post, I read the article. And when I read that one of the partners and co-founders of the new school, called “Wonder” was Zach Lahn, a former fundraiser and state director for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed conservative political advocacy group, I was certain the whole project was going to be badly conceived. But as I read deeper into the article I was stunned to find that the school envisioned by the son and daughter-in-law of one of the Koch brothers and a former fundraiser and state director for Americans for Prosperity actually looked wonderful! The article described the school’s program as follows:

▪ Students will be grouped into multi-age studios, rather than traditional grade levels, and advance only after they achieve certain academic and social milestones – a mastery-based approach touted by Kahn Academy founder Sal Kahn.

The first level, Wonder One, will be a Montessori-model preschool, Lahn said. Wonder Two will be for children roughly in second through fifth grades. Wonder Three and Wonder Four, part of the school’s long-range plan, will be geared toward middle- and high-schoolers.

▪ The school’s floorplan reflects a trend toward flexible seating, rather than traditional desks, with glass walls and wide-open spaces designed to encourage collaboration and creativity.

The school’s outdoor space, which will feature berms, tunnels and various climbing structures, was designed by Katy Bowman, author of “Move Your DNA,” who argues that movement should be a part of people’s everyday lives.

▪ There won’t be any teachers at Wonder, but rather “guides” and “coaches,” Lahn said. The school plans to allow students more say in what, how and at what pace they learn.

“We think that children are not challenged to the fullest extent that they could be right now,” Lahn said. “We want to challenge them to take on new tasks and greater ownership over what they’re doing.”

▪ There won’t be traditional grades or report cards either. Students will spend four to six weeks working on theme-based, hands-on projects, presenting them at the culmination to family and community members, who will offer feedback and ratings.

“There will be conversations happening every day in the studio: ‘Is this your best work?’ And they’re constantly being challenged to produce more iterations and better iterations,” Koch said.

▪ And no homework – at least not in the early years, Koch said. Older students who want to start a business or pursue a specific career goal might work on those projects outside of school.

“We think there’s so much value in spending time with your family, having free time, playing,” Koch said. “We really want to preserve that for the kids.”

In reviewing and reflecting on these elements, I was struck by how much they align with the libertarian– AND progressive— notions of self-direction and individuality… and how contrary those notions are with the current “factory model” of schooling. I was also struck by how the “Wonder” structure was developmentally appropriate as compared to the “factory model” that groups children by age cohorts and measures their progress based on comparisons to children who are the same ages.

While I liked everything about the Wonder design, I DID find it unsettling because it was only possible because of the resources the Koch’s could bring to bear… resources that can underwrite a small start-up but would defy scaling up without a marked increase in funding levels for public schools. And in the final paragraphs, after reading that the Koch family did not want their schools to be perceived as having any kind of political mission, I was distressed to read this statement from Shirley Lefever, dean of the College of Education at WSU, who said she was “…excited to partner with the school, which will serve as a kind of living laboratory for teaching students”:

“I think they have an incredible vision, and we just feel very privileged to be a part of that conversation,” Lefever said… “We’re always looking for ways that we can continue to learn and continue to try to understand how to improve educational outcomes for students.”

Koch said she envisions sharing ideas and encouraging other startup schools.

“We want other people doing this. We want competition,” she said. “We want somebody else to open another one of these, because we feel like that would make us better.

“We’re a small school, but we feel like we could have a big impact.”

A note to Ms. Koch: the notion that competition is the only way to make schools better is reinforcing a political notion that schools are a commodity and not a public good… Schools can get better faster through collaboration… and underfunded schools can get accelerate their improvement even more rapidly if they receive the funding they need. But that cannot be seen as a viable solution in Kansas where the legislature has decided that schools don’t need more money.

The Conservative-Libertarian Federalist’s Analysis is ALMOST Correct… Offers Some Possible Avenues to Undo “Reform”

February 22, 2018 Comments off

The Google feed that provides me with articles on public education from the entire political spectrum offered up an op ed piece by Federalist writer Stella Morabito with the click-bait title “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids“. After reading the article, I came away convinced that libertarian-conservatives and progressives share many of the same perspectives about the ways public schools function in an adverse way for many students… but clearly do not share a common perspective on how to address the defects.

As I read through the list of thirteen ways public schools create a negative environment for most children, I found myself nodding in assent in most cases, particularly in large urban schools where test-driven “reform” has taken root:

  • The size and model of mass schooling IS alienating
  • Public schools are abnormal settings that feel like prisons
  • Public schools are breeding grounds for hierarchical cliques
  • Giant public schools are breeding grounds for aggression
  • Public schools are increasingly politicized
  • Schools are becoming more repressive
  • Public Schooling stunts personality development
  • Kids with special needs are especially judged as different

In most cases I could have written (and maybe HAVE written) similar observations, albeit coming from a completely different perspective. The school-to-prison pipeline, which is not referenced at all in Ms. Morabito’s article, is the result of schools becoming more repressive. The next four “ways schools incubate mental instability” are arguably accurate, but for completely different reasons than Ms. Morabito offers:

  • School bureaucracy tends to reinforce social pecking orderThe social pecking order is reinforced more by the way school attendance zones are established than by “the school bureaucracy”. Moreover, the “school bureaucracy” doesn’t SET “the social pecking order”, it mirrors “the social pecking order” that parents want to see in place. 
  • Reduced content knowledge promotes conformity: Ms. Morabito attributes the “reduced content” to “identity politics, fads, and political activism” instead of the true culprit, which is the slavish adherence to standardized tests as the means for measuring whether schools are “successful”. This has narrowed the curriculum so that the topics Ms. Morabito values— like “history, geography, and classics”– are pushed out. 
  • Public schools disregard students’ family and non-school lives: This is true but NOT for the reasons Ms. Morabito contends. While she sees that “Parents and families are increasingly treated as nuisances to the collectivist agenda of training children to conform to politically correct attitudes and emotions”, I see the problem as schools disregarding the needs of single-parent families and/or families where both parents work. And where Ms. Morabito laments the hours children spend in school, I would focus on the hours many children spend before schooling begins sitting in front of screens.  

 

Then there are two completely groundless assertions:

  • Public schooling is increasingly hostile to Christianity: Ms. Morabito writes: “Growing and intense aggression against any form of Christian prayer in the schools has a further alienating effect. It teaches any child who is emotionally hurting that he can’t even seek solace in a private and silent conversation with God without knowing he’d be ridiculed if his peers knew. The hostility towards religion also leads us on a path to utter lawlessness, since the rule of law evaporates when left to the devices of elites.”  While Ms. Morabito professes to desire that we do a better job of instructing children about the Constitution, she chooses to ignore that part of the Constitution that provides freedom from religion in government… the basis for precluding prayer in school. While many teachers, administrators, and “bureaucrats” may wish to allow prayer in school, those who work for the government are required to follow the laws of the land as interpreted by the courts. 
  • Enforced conformity promotes peer victimization: This somewhat confusing statement makes the point that the anti-bullying initiatives in schools are falling short of the mark, which may be the case in some school districts. But Ms. Morabito’s analysis of anti-bullying is off the mark. She groundlessly asserts that “…A bully is free to target with the taunt “bigot” any child who comes from a traditional Christian home, and the curricula will back them up”, but fails to suggest that additional counseling and direct instruction on the teaching of tolerance might be helpful in addressing the bullying behavior that is arguably a part of human nature that needs to be controlled if we want to live under a rule of law as opposed to a rule of vigilantism. 

As I read about the libertarian thinking on education, I am struck by how often I find myself agreeing with some of their principles, many of which are grounded in common sense and research. But too often their anti-establishmentarian ideas ascribe intent and power to bureaucracies that do not exist. Ms. Morabito’s belief that the “school bureaucracy” sets the pecking order in schools is a case in point. For better or worse, there is no monolithic “school bureaucracy” that exists in our country. Our public education system is radically decentralized and immune to edicts from the Supreme Court. If that were not the case we would have fully integrated and equitably funded public schools and adhering to a “Common Core” curriculum that would would have been in place for decades. Instead our schools operate democratically under the control of local boards elected at the levels established by each state. It’s a cumbersome system that is exceedingly difficult to change… but it better than any alternative… especially an alternative that is based on religion.

 

What T.H.E. Journal Analysis Says… and DOESN’T Say

February 21, 2018 Comments off

I was intrigued by the headline of an article in THE Journal that read “Cost to Connect Rural America: $19 Billion or Less“. Dian Shaffhauser’s article draws on the findings of a study completed by public sector consultancy CTC Technology & Energy found that

If appropriate funding were found and those construction efforts were coordinated among state and regional authorities, the proposal asserted, a savings of up to 50 percent would be possible.

The report stated that the deployment costs could be reduced by using an open application process that would allow both commercial and non-commercial providers to bid. It also suggested that broadband infrastructure be opened to “interconnection,” allowing existing infrastructure “to be used rather than building out additional, duplicative infrastructure.”

My hunch: this kind of coordinated effort could best be accomplished by the federal government, especially if broadband were viewed as a utility… that is if the FCC reversed itself and restored the rules of the game that existed two years ago. My further hunch: that isn’t going to happen any time soon… and as a result those who live in “rural backwaters”— like me— will remain unable to connect to broadband for the foreseeable future… and the digital divide will persist and widen…

 

A Predictable Response to Carnage in Florida: More Good Guys with Guns; No More Money for Mental Health

February 21, 2018 Comments off

The Florida House, faced with a gallery full of students grieving over the loss of their classmates and looking for some kind of sign that the elected officials in the state were prepared to do something substantive about the control of guns, failed to ban the AR-15 used to slaughter the children in Parkland HS and the party-goers in the Orlando nightclub a few months ago. As Diane Ravitch reported in her blog, they used a procedural vote to sidestep a debate on the issue sending a message to the students that the debate on guns was less important than adherence to some arcane legislative process. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, endorsed a proposal to put law enforcement officers in every school in the state. It was unclear whether the mandate included the funds needed for these positions, which would be new in roughly half of the schools in the state…. I think I know the answer, but either way the children lose out. If the state can offer more $$$ for armed guards why can’t they offer more $$$ for counseling services or to underwrite the costs of public schools? And if they DODN’T provide the money, what will the local school districts have to cut to make room for “good guys with guns”?

Meanwhile Betsy DeVos appeared on a conservative talk radio show to support the notion of arming more teachers and the East Brunswick School Board decided to provide more armed guards in their school and Gov. Philip D. Murphy announced that the New Jersey State Police would start regular, but unannounced, officer visits to the 107 schools in districts where it has jurisdiction.

The NRA continues to prevail in the hearts and minds of legislators at all levels… and the children continue to adapt to the police state mentality. It needs to stop.

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An Op Ed on the NRA, Guns, and Legislation Needed in NH for our Local Newspaper

February 21, 2018 Comments off

Our local newspaper has had many letters and op ed pieces on guns in school… and I’ve written many (maybe TOO many) posts on this topic of late… but the carnage in public schools that results from guns and our State Governor’s and Legislature’s recent actions on gun control have driven me to writing multiple posts, letters to legislators, and this op ed piece:

Last Wednesday a 19-year old dropout came to the Florida school he once attended and opened fire on his former classmates. The AP report of the mass murder noted that the shooter was equipped with a gas mask and smoke grenades, set off a fire alarm to draw students out of classrooms shortly before the day ended at one of Florida’s largest schools, and opened fire on them with a high-powered rifle. Students who knew the shooter described how his volatile and strange behavior caused him to lose friends and become more and more isolated. As the news cycle went on, we learned that this troubled high school dropout legally acquired a military-style rifle designed to take out large numbers of enemy troops on a battle field, the very weapon used in several recent mass murders. And finally and predictably, we read of saddened legislators offering thoughts and prayers and heard our President encouraging us to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health”. By the end of the week, after everyone weighed in on what should happen next, the New York Times reported that: “Republicans called for prayers, but argued that no single fix to the nation’s gun laws would deter a shooting like the one on Wednesday.” I beg to differ… and encourage legislators to look closely at history to see that the passage of laws on gun control DID make a difference not so long ago.

During the 1970s, there were only two mass shootings at public schools. During that decade common sense prevailed in terms of weapons in school and the acquisition of guns, common sense that was written into laws in the late 1960s. During that era there was bi-partisan political support and NRA support for gun control, which led to the passage of the federal gun control act (GCA) of 1968. At the hearing on that bill, NRA Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth supported the bill’s ban on mail-order sales, stating, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” In the late 1960s several states also passed laws limiting the use of firearms, including California’s passage of the Mulford Act which forbid the carrying of loaded weapons in public.  In response to the passage of this law, then California Governor Ronald Reagan stated that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and asserted that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.”

Why have politicians changed their thinking since then? Three factors contributed: the NRA became more aggressive in lobbying for gun owner rights; as the NRA gained political power through their lobbying they gained control of the narrative on gun control; and, as a nation we have tacitly accepted the NRA’s assertion that citizens need guns to protect themselves from each other and “the government”.

The NRA mission has changed dramatically since the 1960s and early 1970s when it focused on sportsman, hunters, and target shooting. After the organization’s leaders supported the federal GCA in 1968, a group of NRA members banded together to elect individuals who would seek to repeal the bill and expand gun owner’s rights. By 1977 that group had taken control of the NRA and determined to make the organization into a formidable lobbying force. That activist group’s political views dominate the legislative agenda of the NRA today, drowning out the views of more moderate members in the organization and framing the national debate on guns.

In the recent past, the NRA “slippery slope” argument—that ANY restrictions on guns will inexorably lead to the confiscation of ALL guns—has seldom been challenged and often trumpeted by politicians. The NRA’s mantra that “guns don’t kill people” and its variants like “mental health is the issue” have dominated the public discourse on gun ownership. And finally, the public accepts NRA’s contention that the issues that lead to mass murders are so complex they defy any kind of legislative remedy. Thus, we hear the GOP declaring that “…no single fix to the nation’s gun laws would deter a shooting like the one on Wednesday” while we don’t hear anyone asking the most obvious gun control question of all: “Why does ANY citizen in our country need to own a gun designed to kill large numbers of human beings?” As a result of the way the NRA frames the debate, we have not engaged in any meaningful debate on how we might limit the purchase of guns or confiscate guns from individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others. We’ve determined that those on the no-fly list, those who are mentally unbalanced and threaten to kill people, and those who are under temporary restraining orders should maintain their Second Amendment Rights at all costs. Unfortunately, those costs include the loss life of students and teachers in schools, of those attending night clubs in Florida, of those attending street festivals in Nevada, of those attending movies in Colorado, of those attending church on Sunday in Texas, and those who are killed in domestic disputes and suicides where guns are involved.

Despite these mass killings over the past decade, we have been unwilling to limit the rights of anyone to acquire any kind of gun and carry it anywhere because we have accepted the NRA’s most devastating assertion of all: that citizens need to have guns to protect themselves from each other and “the government”. In the 1960s, the gun control act (GCA) of 1968 was passed in response to the Kennedy assassination. California’s Mulford Act, introduced in 1967, was passed in response to the Black Panther Party’s decision to conduct armed patrols of Oakland neighborhoods because of their objection to treatment by the local police force. By contrast, in today’s world neither the shooting of innocent civilians by individuals with high-powered weapons nor the presence of armed militias in Charlottesville “to provide order at the protest” compelled any legislative action except to call for more citizens to carry concealed weapons and to encourage more “armed volunteers” to patrol school grounds and public spaces. In effect, we have adopted the view that vigilante justice needs to replace the rule of law.

And now that we have accepted the NRA’s positions on gun ownership, we find ourselves in a world where anyone can acquire a gun of any kind and anyone can bring that gun into a school, into a public meeting, or into any area where large numbers are gathered. We find ourselves in a world where school districts are expected to respond to the widespread availability of guns by increasing their spending on surveillance equipment, on sophisticated door locks, and on the hiring of SROs to assist in monitoring schools. We find ourselves in a world where schools are expected to spend $1.1 billion on physical security in 2018. And… we find ourselves in a world where school shootings are on the increase: 297 school students were killed in 137 school shootings between 1980 and 2013 and 438 students killed in 273 school shooting incidents in the three year period following the Sandy Hook incident at the end of 2012. And we find ourselves in a world that cannot believe there was a decade when only two school shootings occurred and laws forbid the possession of loaded weapons.

So what can be done, apart from offering “thoughts and prayers”? David Berliner, Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University, offered an idea in Diane Ravtich’s blog: a strike by teachers on April 20 if states fail to enact sane legislation on weapons in schools. Why teachers? Because, as Ms. Ravitch notes, “…teachers are now first responders, trained to protect their students if a shooter gets in the building. Some have given their lives for their students. Enough is enough.”

In New Hampshire we could start restoring sanity to our gun legislation by passing a law that allows local school boards to enact policies that restrict weapons in schools. As reported in several Valley News articles, our State’s AG Office has ruled that only the legislature, not school districts, can enact firearms bans, except for students and staff. If the legislature is unwilling to enforce the federal laws regarding weapons free schools, they should at least give locally elected school boards the authority to ban weapons. If local control is the hallmark of New Hampshire government, giving local boards this authority makes perfect sense. Secondly, the New Hampshire legislature could repeal the bill Governor Chris Sununu signed into law a year ago that did away with the requirement that gun owners have a permit to carry a concealed handgun and gave local police chiefs the ability to deny such a permit. Finally, the legislature might look to the bills passed in Connecticut following the Sandy Hook shootings there. As a result of their legislation the number of gun deaths dropped in that state, an outcome I hope most legislators would seek.

I am tired of living in a world where my grandchildren have to live in fear when they go to school because we want to make certain anyone can buy any kind of weapon and carry it with them at any time and any place. I’m tired of living in a world where schools are expected to spend millions of dollars on surveillance equipment and armed guards so that any citizen can buy a gun designed to kill humans. I’m tired of living in a world where profiling troubled teenagers and adults on social media is seen as a better solution to shootings than developing any kind of background checks on gun purchasers. And most of all, I’m tired of living a world where the legislators encourage citizens to arm themselves for their own protection. Instead of supporting the “every-person-for-themselves” worldview of the NRA, I hope that in the future our legislators will promote a collaborative worldview: a world where local school boards, selectboards, police forces, and social service agencies are encouraged to team up to help troubled youth and adults connect with their community… a world where hope replaces fear.

 

 

 

 

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