This is America Today: Bullet Proof Backpacks, Retailers’ Active Shooter Drills… and Fear

August 12, 2019 Leave a comment

I read with dismay that the sales of armored backpacks is peaking and that businesses like Walmart– like public schools and churches– are contemplating active shooter drills. This is our country today, where fear outsells hope and open carry laws and “second amendment rights” are more important than the safety of children, consumers, churchgoers, and citizens gathering in public venues.

Are we headed for a time where we will eventually do everything on-line? As schools scare children with realistic active shooter drills, businesses are invaded by open-carry advocates with AK-47s outfitted in body armor, church activities are invaded by gunmen, public events are disrupted by shootings, more and more Americans become convinced that their lives are in peril whenever they set foot outside their homes. And the 2nd amendment advocates are OK with all of this because in their view everyone will be safe when everyone carries a gun and everyone protects their home, presumably with some kind of rapid fire weapon. Those of us who are presumably foolish enough to believe that being armed is unnecessary will be viewed with disdain should we be shot and killed just as a school that fails to offer active shooter drills would be criticized for failing to provide the training needed should they experience one of the regrettably routine school shootings.

And here’s what I find especially troubling: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was roundly criticized for a tweet he issued pointing out the cold hard fact that statistically speaking gun deaths are relatively rare. He wrote:

In the past 48 hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…

500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun

Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.

Mr. deGrasse Tyson did not comment on the rationale for his tweet… but I believe he was trying to stem the groundless fears that compel us to overreact to widely reported sensational news stories. For example, if we used the DATA Mr. deGrasse Tyson gathered to set priorities for how schools might address problems that confront students over the course of their lives, we would spend far more on counseling services and health education, and less on security personnel and surveillance gadgetry. We would be examining the sales of handguns as well as the sales of military grade weapons. We would be spending more to ensure that fewer errors are made in the provision of health care. And last, but not least, children would not be living in fear every time they set foot inside of school. Their parents would not be purchasing bulletproof backpacks. And Walmart would not be worried about conducting active shooter drills.

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Professionalism, High Cost Killing Team Sports for Kids

August 11, 2019 Leave a comment

It is distressing to read this article from ESPN about the lower participation rates for kids participation in team sports… but not surprising given that each child pays over $1800 per sport per year… a daunting fee for all but the affluent. When this factor is combined with the deteriorating athletic field in cities and communities it becomes clear that more public funding is needed to address this issue.

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As STATES Tackle Desegregation, Sausalito Marin City (CA) Schools Illustrate How Aggressive AGs Can Effect Change

August 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes reports that the Sausalito Marin City School District’s decision to open a charter school two decades ago resulted in separate but equal schools, violating the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Dana Goldstein and Anemoma Harticollis open their article about the State’s edict to desegregate schools with this:

A California school district outside of San Francisco agreed to desegregate its schools on Friday, after a two-year state investigation found that the district had “knowingly and intentionally maintained and exacerbated” racial segregation and even established an intentionally segregated school.

The intentionally segregated school with an imbalance of white students in the district, a charter school created 20 years ago by parents “…who said they were frustrated by poor test scores in the district“, IS more integrated than most schools across the country. It’s student body is 41 percent white, 11 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino and 10 percent Asian. The other school in the district, though, has an enrollment that is 7 percent white, 3 percent Asian, 49 percent African-American and 30 percent Latino. But where the district fell far short of the mark was in the way it funded and staffed the two schools:

It reneged on a promise to create a gifted program and cut music, art, physical education and counseling services, according to court papers (in the district-run school, Bayside-M.L.K). By 2015, the Bayside-M.L.K. principal, assistant principal and about half of the teaching staff had left, the court papers say.

The district-run school did not have a qualified math teacher, while the charter school did. The district school had only a part-time counselor, while the charter school had a full-time one.

And the district was harsher in disciplining black and Hispanic students compared with white students than any other public school district in the state, the attorney general said.

It is imponderable what the State’s findings would have been had the DISTRICT school been as well resourced as the CHARTER school… but if Brown v. Board of Education’s conclusions were applied even a separate and equal school would be illegal.

The real takeaway from the article, and the most distressing to read, is that for all intents and purposes the Federal government is no longer doing anything to address desegregation, which means it will now fall to STATES to address the issue of inequality. As Ms. Goldstein and Harticollis note, this is a reversal of roles:

State attorneys general typically defend school systems against desegregation claims, not pursue them. In the decades after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the vast majority of desegregation agreements resulted from federal, not state, action — but in recent years, federal courts have done little to integrate schools.

In the long run this will mean that children of color in states with aggressive (i.e. liberal) AGs will eventually be offered the same opportunities as their white counterparts. But… it also means that children of color in most states will remain in second tier underfunded schools while their white counterparts attend well funded districts. In short, Brown v. Board of Education is no longer the law of the entire nation.

What if We Followed the TRUE Advice of “Carpe Diem”

August 9, 2019 Leave a comment

Each week I receive a feed from JSTOR, which calls itself “an online publication that contextualizes current events with scholarship“. Invariably there is at least one article that is eye-opening, and this week’s article of special interest was “How ‘Carpe Diem’ Got Lost in Translation” by Chi Luu.

The term “carpe diem” came to national attention as a result of its repeated use in the Robin Williams movie Dead Poet’s Society” 30 years ago and its seemingly endless appearance in graduation speeches, political campaigns, and on greeting cards ever since. Mr. Luu explains our understanding of this phrase as follows:

The phrase is “carpe diem,” taken from Roman poet Horace’s Odes, written over 2,000 years ago. As everyone and their grandmother knows by now, “carpe diem” means “seize the day.” “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary,” encourages Robin Williams in the role of textbook-ripping English teacher John Keating… The phrase, and its accompanying philosophy, has gone on to inspire countless people in how they live their lives.

But, Mr. Luu notes, Robin Williams’ translation is not accurate!

…Latin scholar Maria S. Marsilio points out, “carpe diem” is a horticultural metaphor that, particularly seen in the context of the poem, is more accurately translated as “plucking the day,” evoking the plucking and gathering of ripening fruits or flowers, enjoying a moment that is rooted in the sensory experience of nature.

He then goes on to explain just how different “plucking” the day is from “seizing” the day:

Gathering flowers as a metaphor for timely enjoyment is a far gentler, more sensual image than the rather forceful and even violent concept of seizing the moment. It is not that as a culture we can’t understand what it means to harvest something when it’s ready—we do have related metaphors like “making hay while the sun shines,” after all. But there is something in the more Hollywood phrasing “seize the day” that has clearly resonated with people in the last thirty years. We understand the phrase to be, rather than encouraging a deep enjoyment of the present moment, compelling us to snatch at time and consume it before it’s gone, or before we’re gone.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder how our world might have been different if the Dead Poets Society had based the scene in the movie where Robin Williams whispers the phrase to his students on the TRUE meaning of the phrase. What if Robin Williams had taken the students in his movie out to a field of wildflowers after the sun fell and a full moon rose told them to smell the flowers… to observe their luminescence in the moonlight… to feel them brush against their legs as they walk silently through the field… and THEN whispered “carpe diem”? What if Robin Williams had told the students that this moment, the present moment, was the only moment and was a wonderful moment. What if he told them the past cannot be changed and the future cannot be controlled… but in the present moment we are alive and we should be grateful for that?

“Seize the Day” fits American ideals much more than “Pluck the Flowers”… but maybe if we plucked flowers in a nearby field instead of extracting oil out of the ground so we could drive to a big box store to buy the latest video games our attitude about what is REALLY important in life would change. We might worry less about the mistakes we made in the past, less about the plans we have for the future, and more about what we are experiencing in the here and now.

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ICE Raids Leave Mississippi Children Homeless

August 8, 2019 Leave a comment

This USA Today article describes the impact of the ICE raids on the public schools in one Mississippi County. At the end of the article the Superintendent asks how children who are afraid that their parents will be taken away can possibly concentrate on their school work. With thousands of undocumented parents in our nation this is a question many teachers, administrators, and school board members will be asking in the weeks ahead.

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In “Call Me By My True Names”, Thich Nhat Hanh Points Out a Troubling Reality that Princeton Professor Drives Home

August 7, 2019 Leave a comment

I just watched the YouTube video embedded below featuring Eddie Glaude, a Princeton Professor who talked with MSNBC about the recent killings in El Paso and Dayton. Watch it… and then read Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem, Call Me By My True Names, that is pasted below the video clip. My concluding thoughts follow the poem.

Call Me By My True Names

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow— even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am also the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open,the door of compassion.

In response to the relentless accumulation of deaths due to mass shootings, politicians are drawn to quick solutions, solutions based on linear Western thought. If we limit guns we will limit deaths. If we identify potential killers and deny them the chance to acquire weapons we will limit deaths. If we stopped the sale of video games that graphically engage players in shooting enemies we will limit deaths. These solutions connect dots…. but as Mr. Glaude and Thich Nhat Hanh point out, there is an interdependence in play that requires each of us to examine ourselves and identify the role we are playing in increasing the violence and hatred in our world.

Can schools teach self-awareness and interdependence? It is a question I am wrestling with… and one I hope others who support public education will examine as well.

Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words and Words Become Action…

August 6, 2019 Leave a comment

As noted in some earlier posts, I have been a meditation practitioner for several years, a formal practice I came to late in life but one that I did unwittingly for decades before as a runner. One of the points of meditation is to watch your thoughts and how those thoughts create narratives that, in turn, create your view of reality. This aphorism, which first appeared in Texas newspaper in 1977 quoting the President of Bi-Lo groceries:

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

I am fairly confident the Texas grocery store CEO would be surprised to learn that his aphorism’s roots are in the teachings of the Buddha. According to the Quote Investigator website, the first appearance of an analogous aphorism appears in the Dhammapada, the best-known book in the Pali Buddhist canon that was published in the third Century BCE. Here’s a quote from a translation of that by Thomas Byrom:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

I’ve seen versions of this aphorism in guidance offices across the country, variously attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Thatcher’s father, and Lao Tzu. The source of the quote is immaterial. The content, though, reflects the thinking of many educators, parents, and community members I know who believe students should master the ability to witness their own thinking so that they can ultimately understand why they think what they think and why they believe what they believe.

It strikes me that instead of practicing drills to deal with an active shooter schools might use their time to teach children how to witness their own thinking and to see the link between their thoughts and their actions. Our nation is debating access to guns and whether the President is a racist or not. Our time would be better spent examining our own thoughts to see how they are contributing to the divisiveness that is tearing our Democracy apart.

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