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Individualism and the Common Good are Not Incompatible

April 21, 2018 Leave a comment

In thinking about the policies advocated by today’s libertarian leadership of the GOP, it is difficult to see any effort being made to advocate for the common good. Indeed, many GOP members think that any philosophy whatsoever that calls for the “common good” is either naive or somehow automatically anti-capitalist. Several week ago Arthur Camins wrote an excellent blog post titled “If Not Now, When?” explaining how individualism and the common good can coexist. He opens with a definition of “the common good” and the GOP’s definition of “individualism”:

Without one another we are diminished. The more we have others around us, the stronger we can become. That is the idea of the common good.

It’s not a uniquely American idea, but it is one with which many of us identify.

Republicans in Congress have a different idea. It applies to guns, health care, retirement, and education.

Their value is a strain of individualism that stands in opposition to the common good.   Their strategies are: Promote fear and undermine public confidence in government as a vehicle to keep people safe. The goal is the further enrichment of the already privileged.

After establishing that the GOP’s definition of individualism is the opposite of “the common good”, he proceeds to offer examples of legislation proposed by the GOP that buttress his assertions, he asserts that the Democrats have been reluctant to appeal to the common good in their resistance to the direction the GOP has headed our country, mirroring arguments advanced on several occasions in this blog.

Centrist Democrats, acceding to conservative framing, have been loath to appeal to common good values, the obligation to pay taxes, or defend government as a common good institution. Too many­– in the Clinton years– accepted the premise that poverty is an individual failing and supported “Ending Welfare as we know it.” Too many–in the Obama years– accepted the Republican framing of the failure of democratically-governed public schools and supported individualistic solutions such as charter schools. Too many– before Bernie Sanders’s advocacy for Medicare for all– abdicated and supported the Affordable Care Act’s foundation in the private insurance market.

Camins then poses a question from Rabbi Hillel from hundreds of years ago:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” 

Camins concludes that the GOP today views everything through a zero-sum game lens, which means others can gain only if each person is asked to make a sacrifice– in effect to compromise their individuality. But Camins believes the issue of individualism can be reframed, and by doing so progressive wing of the Democratic party can rekindle the collaborative spirit that at one time defined our country. He concludes with this:

Progressives, need not shame individualism, but rather reframe it. That is, we become our best selves through others. We can only become our best selves when we are all safe, healthy, well-fed, and well-housed. We can only learn to be our best selves when we are educated with the benefits of diversity and equity. Hopeful, but hard.

If not now, when?

If not now, never. So, organize.

Hopefully, yesterday’s gathering was another step along the path toward restoring the common good.

 

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Trump’s Pledge on Gun Free School Zones… Revisited

April 20, 2018 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts, I am on a vacation away from the internet and so I am re-publishing some posts on “guns in school” from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate that BAD ideas prevailed in the 2016 election and are literally killing children. I hope there are many marching today…. 

“I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, and — you have to — and on military bases. My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”

— CAMPAIGN RALLY IN BURLINGTON, VERMONT, JANUARY 2016

The Trace, “…an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States” posted nine quotes yesterday that outline President-elect Trump’s stance on guns, one of which is featured above.

What is the basis for thinking that schools would be safe if guns were allowed? In 2012, Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of the Gun Owners of America had the answer following the Newtown CT shootings:

A gunman whose name we do not need to memorialize took advantage of our gun-control laws to slaughter 20 children and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

In addition to the gunman, blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislators who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut (and most other states). They are the ones who made it illegal to defend oneself with a gun in a school when that is the only effective way of resisting a gunman.

What a lethal, false security are the “gun-free zone” laws. Virtually all mass murders in the past 20 years have occurred in gun-free zones. The two people murdered several days earlier in a shopping center in Oregon were also killed in a gun-free zone.

Israel finally came to grips with this in the early 1970s and have decisively stopped these attacks after a busload of children was massacred by Muslim terrorists. When I was there in the late 1990s, if you saw a busload of students, you saw at least one young teacher with a machine gun protecting the groups of students.

The Israelis have decisively stopped these school-related attacks and proved they want to live. Do we?

During the decade of the Clinton ban on semiautomatic rifles (the so-called assault weapons) and high-capacity magazines, crime did not go down. Reinstating it would simply be another example of repeating the same failed policy and being surprised with the same failed result.

We must tell our elected officials that they are acting as the criminals’ friends as long as they continue to support legislation that protects only criminals, not decent people.

Oh, and we must also insist that these criminal-friendly elected officials not even try to blame gun owners and our “gun culture” for what a criminal did.

Had a few of us been available with guns at the Newtown school, most of the victims might still be alive.

This sentiment is echoed in President-elect Trump’s pronouncements about guns… but it is a sentiment, it is not rooted in logic. The analogy to the young teacher with a machine gun on the bus is, presumably, a “good-guy-with-a-gun” at the door… like the one at Columbine who was overpowered by two teenagers? Or is it a teacher in every classroom with a machine gun?

As one who worked in and broke up fights in a gang-plagued urban junior high school in the early 1970s, I cannot imagine allowing the high school-aged drop-out who congregated around the school every day to carry guns without being challenged by police. As a high school disciplinarian who held several tense conferences with angry parents I could not imagine sitting in those meetings with a concealed handgun to protect myself in the event an angry parent packing a gun might become upset with a decision I rendered…. and the thought of allowing gun toting spectators into a basketball game between arch rivals is chilling. As a School Superintendent who stood in front of hostile audiences because I recommended school closings, re-drawing of school boundaries, elimination of athletic programs, and the retention of controversial books in the curriculum I would not welcome an armed audience.

From my perspective, the gun right’s activists fear-based position on guns is further evidence that we are losing our bearings as a culture. Exhorting citizens to buy arms to protect themselves while exhorting other citizens to feel free to engage in hateful sexist, racist, and misogynistic speech seems like a recipe for disaster. Mr. Trump used hateful rhetoric to get elected and now wants to unify us. Giving everyone access to machine guns does not seem like a path to unity.

And here’s what I find depressing: if any of these ideas get introduced to the legislature by our newly elected NH Governor-elect Chris Sununu, I can testify against them. But if they are proposed in Congress, I will just have to watch helplessly from the sidelines as my two Senators and House representative get outvoted by their Republican and NRA-supported Democrats.

Categories: Uncategorized

Your Guns or My Kids? A Question Posed in 2015 has been answered….

April 19, 2018 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts, I am on a vacation away from the internet and so I am re-publishing some posts on “guns in school” from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate ideas that made sense in 2015 are sensible even now. Posts on this topic will continue through April 20 when the marches marking the anniversary of Columbine are scheduled. 

Truthdig writer Pamela Alma Weymouth’s blog post today poses this question:

“Your Guns or My Kids?”

Here was my response to this query:

We’ve decided on this question and we are paying the price. We are willing to trade the liberty of schoolchildren for the liberty of those who wish to acquire weapons designed to kill people. We are willing to spend billions on surveillance cameras, metal detectors, “good guys with guns”, and sophisticated entry systems to classrooms so that “sportsmen” and “collectors” can acquire AK-47s and automatic weapons. And the REAL price isn’t the tax dollars we are spending to protect our children in schools… it’s the fact that our children accept 24/7 surveillance, armed guards, and locked doors as a way of life.

Someone, somewhere should add up the dollars school districts have spent on safety since Columbine and think about how that money could have been used… particularly given the millions of dollars that have been cut from classrooms in those years.

And someone, somewhere should also emphasize how we are effectively inculcating our children to live in a totalitarian world where their every move is monitored on camera, where every email is monitored, where they are cocooned in a world protected by armed guards, and where they are likely to be arrested if they are unsupervised in a public space. This is not the world I grew up in nor is the world I envisioned for my grandchildren.

Categories: Uncategorized

In 2013 I Bemoaned the $$$ $pent on $afe $chools… and Five Years Later It’s Worse!

April 17, 2018 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts, I am on a vacation away from the internet and so I am re-publishing some posts on “guns in school” from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate ideas that made sense in 2013 are sensible even now. Posts on this topic will continue through April 20 when the marches marking the anniversary of Columbine are scheduled. 

The madness of arming teachers, preventing any gun regulations from passing, and providing “good guys with guns” continues, as three separate media reports indicate.

The NYTimes featured an article on how some school districts are using the concealed weapons laws as a means to arm teachers in schools to make their schools more safe. The article offered a rural AR district as an example:

Without money to hire security guards for the five schools he oversees, giving teachers nearly 60 hours of training and their own guns seemed like the only reasonable, economical way to protect the 2,500 public school students in this small town in the Ozark foothills.

“Realistically, when you look at a person coming to your door right there with a firearm, you’ve got to have a plan,” Mr. Hopkins said. “If you have a better one, tell me.”

This misses one fundamental question: what training are the teachers missing by learning about guns? What kind of learning materials is the district not acquiring so that the teachers can have “… slim, black 9-millimeter handguns” that are now standard issue for teachers?

The Sunday NYTimes also had an article on the underreporting of deaths of children caused by handguns, noting that one reason for the underreporting is because the NRA has blocked legislation designed to improve data collection on gun-relatd accidents. It’s also blocked legislation that prevents the installation of child safety locks on weapons. We’ve made it nearly impossible to open an aspirin bottle but can’t make it difficult to operate a gun.

Las but not least: here’s a statistic I got from Harpers Index: 

Chance a US public school had fill-time security in 1997: 1 in 17.

Today: 1 in 3

Where did that money to fund the guards in schools come from? What could that money be used for if it were not siphoned off to pay for “good guy with guns”? And what evidence is there that the schools with armed guards are safer than schools without those guards?

When it comes to funding education and providing safe environments for children our actions speak louder than words. We short-change social services inside and outside schools and provide armed guards. Enough said….

 

Categories: Uncategorized

I Ask Once More: Will The Children Lead Us Again?

April 17, 2018 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts, I am on a vacation away from the internet and so I am re-publishing some posts on “guns in school” from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate ideas that made sense in 2013 are sensible even now. Posts on this topic will continue through April 20 when the marches marking the anniversary of Columbine are scheduled. This post appeared in December 2014: 

Four years ago my wife and I volunteered to chaperone a Habitat for Humanity trip to Birmingham AL sponsored by our local HS. While we were on the trip we had an opportunity to visit the Civil Rights Museum in that city where I learned– or was reminded– that teenagers played a critical role in the Civil Rights movement. It hit me that while I was worried about whether our HS would win the league basketball championship and I was debating the merits of the Beatles vs. the Stones with my classmates my African American counterparts in Birmingham were leaving their classrooms to protest racial injustice. While I was acting in the school play and planning for events with our church’s youth fellowship my African American counterparts in Birmingham were subjecting themselves to high-powered hoses, German Shepherds, police with nightsticks, and nights in jail.

In earlier posts I’ve expressed my dismay over the way we are treating our students today out of “concern for their safety”. While we are not concerned with their safety enough to control the proliferation of guns, we ARE willing to subject them to surveillance while they are in school, to screening before they enter school, and to the collection of data on them 24/7. For all intents and purposes public school students today are being raised in a police state and the adults in our country seem to go along with it… but maybe some of the recent events in our country are bringing this reality to light and might serve as a catalyst for change.

The grand jury decisions involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner are incomprehensible to me and to many Americans… and to many youngsters attending public schools in Denver CO. Their local NBC affiliate reported on the third day of walkouts in Denver schools, listing 16 schools that participated. In this day and age of Facebook and YouTube I wonder if this kind of protest go viral? And if it does, will the police react with the same kind of force they displayed in Alabama in the 1960s? And if it does, will the adults in our country pay attention to   the concerns of the children who are beginning to realize that they are growing up in a police state? And if we DO see what we are doing to our children, do we have the faith in our government and the faith in each other to take out the cameras in schools? To question the madness of encouraging everyone to arm themselves for personal protection? To re-open the doors of our public institutions without metal detectors? And to respect law enforcement officers so they do not feel the need to outfit themselves with modern armaments?

I support the peaceful demonstrations by students and would encourage schools to seize the opportunity to teach children NOW about the need for them to trust each other and the need for us— the adults in their world— to begin dissembling the police state we have created for them.

Categories: Uncategorized

Books, Food, PCs, Guns, and Poverty – Redux

April 16, 2018 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts, I am on a vacation away from the internet and so I am re-publishing some posts on “guns in school” from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate problems that existed in 2013 are with us even now. Posts on this topic will continue through April 20 when the marches marking the anniversary of Columbine are scheduled. This was written in January 2013: 

Over the past several months I’ve published many posts describing the adversity children raised in poverty face in terms of competing in school. Their homes often lack books, their pantries often lack food, they seldom have personal computers available to them, and their parents seldom have the time or, in some cases, the wherewithal to engage in their child’s schooling. A recent NYTimes op ed piece by David Cole reports that young black males raised in poverty DO have one edge over their white counterparts: they are eight times more likely to die as a result of gun violence:

Racial disparities in gun violence far outstrip those in almost any other area of life. Black unemployment is double that for whites, as is black infant mortality. But young black men die of gun homicide at a rate eight times that of young white men. Could it be that the laxity of the nation’s gun laws is tolerated because its deadly costs are borne by the segregated black and Latino populations of North Philadelphia and Chicago’s South Side?

The unemployment, the infant mortality, and the gun violence are evidence that young black males lack Maslow’s primary needs… and lacking a warm, safe, and nurturing environment contributes more to school failure than having a good curriculum, a longer school day, or attending a “no excuses” school.

As a teacher in Philadelphia in the early 1970s I recall the effect guns had on the middle school students I taught. Some of them lost brothers and friends to gun violence. Some of them lost classmates. The guns also affected the atmosphere of the school. Teachers who heard rumors of kids who brought guns to school and felt threatened when they went to enter their cars parked on the street, especially after they turned a student in for misbehavior. They weren’t afraid that a middle school aged student would overpower them: they were afraid that a middle school aged student with a handgun might shoot them. In urban schools, that is not an irrational fear.

Cole ends his article with the following paragraph:

To tweak the National Rifle Association’s refrain, “guns don’t kill people; indifference to poverty kills people.” We can’t in good conscience keep making young black men pay the cost of our right to bear arms.

He could also write: “guns don’t kill people; indifference to the provision of mental health services kills people”… because contrary to the rants I’ve heard on conservative talk radio “liberals” seek more funding for mental health while conservatives want cuts in all social services. Sorry Wayne LaPierre:  you can’t claim that the proliferation of handguns in urban areas or the availability of rapid fire guns doesn’t contribute to needless carnage in our country. Kids don’t need easy access to guns and I NO one needs rapid fire guns unless human carnage is the goal. Maybe Newton will be the wake up call

Categories: Uncategorized

Profiting From School Safety – Redux

April 15, 2018 Leave a comment

As noted in earlier posts, I am on a vacation away from the internet and so I am re-publishing some posts on “guns in school” from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate how easy it is to predict what will happen after a “gun tragedy”. This was written on January 7, 2013… after Sandy Hook. Posts on this topic will continue through April 20 when the marches marking the anniversary of Columbine are scheduled. 

This past weekend during a family visit I was reminded that my wife’s niece works as a consultant in school safety planning. With some dismay she reported that her business looked like it might be picking up as a result of the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT.

I may be cynical, but I think I know how this horrific incident is going to play out in State legislatures.

Some folks will appear before the legislature and seek more funds for mental health. They will get a sympathetic hearing but nothing will happen to increase services in that area. Legislators will explain that budgets are tight, health insurance costs are increasing, pensions for state employees are increasing their budgets. Now is not the time to expand mental health services.

Some folks will band together to urge legislators to increase restrictions on the sale of guns and ammunition. Those groups will get a less sympathetic hearing and may face some strong opposition from those who believe the second amendment is designed to provide a means for citizens to arm themselves against the government. At best, gun control bills will be shunted off to study committees. At worst they will be killed in committee.

Legislators will want to do SOMETHING to show they are being responsive… and will argue that the fact that the Sandy Hook Elementary School HAD a comprehensive plan in place is evidence that ALL schools should have a comprehensive plan to protect students from a deranged gunman. They will allocate, say, $10,000 per school to develop such a plan and require that it be in place before school opens in 2014. They will probably require local police and fire departments to review and endorse the plan. They might also require local school boards to pass some kind of policy on “school safety”. This kind of eyewash will provide them with evidence that they’ve “done something” in response to gunman in schools.

My wife’s niece will be very busy in the coming year. The phone is already starting to ring.

And the phones DID ring off the hook… and they still are

Categories: Uncategorized