Packing Heat in Classrooms

April 12, 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— or in this case DIDN’T make sense in 2013 are still not sensible today. Posts on this topic will continue through April 20 when the marches marking the anniversary of Columbine are scheduled. 

The NYTimes ran a story a few days ago about a school district in Missouri where several of their teachers are now authorized to carry concealed weapons in schools. This action was the Fairview (MO) School board’s response to Sandy Hook and was explained based on the cultural norms of the community:

By the time they are 6, many young boys and girls already have learned how to safely handle a weapon and have shot their first deer. Some live in homes where guns are not under lock and key, or on vast prairies where they shoot skeet with their families.

In the early 1970s I taught at a Junior High School in Philadelphia where gang violence was rife and many in the community owned guns that were “…not under lock  and key” and by the time they were 6 many young boys had learned how to safely handle a weapon… though the targets they were often shooting at were other gang members. I can safely say that during my two years in that junior high school at no time did anyone think arming the teachers would be a good idea.

I was not surprised to read that the Senate rejected the proposals to limit the availability of guns or to institute background checks. In the first post following Sandy Hook I predicted that nothing would pass in the Congress and school districts would end up bearing the brunt of costs and, in all probability, would be mandated to institute some kind of emergency plans. This paragraph from the same article bears out this prediction:

As federal and state legislators continue to debate gun control and school safety measures in the months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., communities around the country are wasting little time taking safety issues into their own hands. Some schools have hired armed guards. Others have implemented buzzer systems at their doors.

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: we are raising our children in an environment of fear and willingly trading their freedom for our security. When armed guards and buzzer systems stand at the door of the first public institution children are exposed to what kind of world are we conditioning them for? And if the people providing care for them carry weapons, what kind of world is THAT? I’m glad I had a chance to roam in the woods, play sandlot baseball and playground basketball, and attend a school with no guards, no buzzers, no cameras, and unlocked doors.

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LA’s 2013 Plan to Control Gun Violence STILL Makes Sense… but Seems Unlikely to Get Traction

April 11, 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. 

An article in today’s NYTimes describes a program in place in Los Angeles that is FAR superior to the “good guy with a gun” plan that the NRA proposed and seems to be favored by teachers and all but a few politicians. I’m sure many readers will suggest this can’t be scaled and would be a challenge in rural areas, but what is described here is similar to the nascent program we had in Washington County MD in the late 1990s as described in A Homeland Security Bill For Schools in the “Published Articles” section of this blog. Addressing gun violence with “tough discipline” like suspensions or expulsions only pushes the problem into the community and addressing it by putting MORE guns into schools despite the fact that there is no evidence demonstrating that an armed guard prevents gun violence is another agreeable fantasy. It’s relatively inexpensive, highly visible, and provides a way for politicians to show they “did something”. The confidential conferences in LA mental health offices will do far more to help limit gun violence than the millions we plan to spend on armed guards for schools.

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Armed Guards at the Door— Redux

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

I am on a vacation away from the internet, so I am re-publishing some posts from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate that nothing has changed since December, 2012 when I originally posted this. Then 40+% of schools had armed guards…. Now 60% do… and soon even more will!  

When I worked in Philadelphia public schools in the early 1970s gang wars raged. To limit the scuffles in schools, the City of Philadelphia assigned an armed policeman to the front door of the schools in the most troubled neighborhoods and made that door the only point of entry… except for recess… and except for the times when the shift changed at mid-day and 1500 students left and another 1500 students entered… and except for the times of the day when students would leave through a remote fire exit and prop it open so friends could join them… You get the picture: one armed guard couldn’t begin to monitor a four story building that took up a square block of real estate in Philadelphia any more that one armed guard could monitor a 500 pupil suburban school on a 50 acre campus. Given its costliness and impracticality, I cannot believe that anyone is giving the NRA’s proposal to staff each school in the country with one armed policeman any credibility whatsoever.

In this age where there appears to be a political consensus that anyone who wants to acquire a rapid-firing weapon is free to do so, there is an increased risk that a school child, an adult at a shopping mall, someone attending a movie, or someone going to church has an increased risk of being killed by a gunman. Unless we change our thinking about the access to semi-automatic weapons, we should learn to live with the increased risk. Adding more guns to the equation will only increase gun violence and risk.

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What We Teach When We Lock the Door

April 9, 2018 Leave a comment

As I am on a vacation away from the internet, I am re-publishing some posts from years past… in part to keep the webpage “alive” in my absence, but, as is true in this case, to illustrate that nothing has changed since December, 2012. 

We do not live in a risk free world… yet to limit the risk of having our children killed by a gunman in a school we appear to be ready to trade the personal freedom of many for the liberty of a few. I read this morning that several school districts in the Boston area are locking their doors during the day and installing video cameras to monitor entrances. In effect, we are willing to lock the doors of our public schools to parents so that gun aficionados can acquire and use dangerous weapons. We live in a country where we are willing to make parents wait in the cold to pick up children for dental appointments but don’t want to make a gun purchaser wait any time at all for a background check. We live in a country that wants to reinforce our children’s notion that the world is full of crazy people with guns… but they do not need to be fearful because they are locked safely indoors in a facility whose perimeter is monitored by cameras. That is what we teach when we lock the door…. Oh… and another lesson we teach? Get a gun for your walk to and from school if you REALLY want to be risk free…. because there are crazy people out there with guns and we really can’t do anything about that.

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Thomas Edsall’s “Contract with Authoritarianism” Begins in Schools

April 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s op ed column this week, “The Contract With Authoritarianism“, provides a description of our nation’s devolution from a nurturing nation that values and supports all its citizens to the country governed by self-interest. Mr. Edsall attributes this devolution to a rise in authoritarianism, spurred in large measure by voters who favor “Strict Father” model of family life over the “Nurturant Parent”model. He summarizes these two contrasting perspectives as follows:

In 1994, Newt Gingrich, brandishing his Contract with America, led a Republican revolution that swept aside Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, initiating an epoch of conservative ascendancy that lingers on. Don Sipple, a Republican campaign consultant, declared at the time that the 1994 midterms pitted a Republican Party calling for “discipline” against a Democratic Party focused on “therapy.”

Two years later, George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at Berkeley, published “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” which argued that

“Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are two different models of the family. Conservatism is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered on a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems.”

Several approaches to contemporary politics echo the insights of Sipple and Lakoff. The crucial word now, however, is authoritarianism.

The balance of the article describes the rise of authoritarian mindset inner country but neglects to mention the role public education is unwittingly playing in promoting that mindset. As one who views the family model as a “Nurturant Parent” and sees the need for “discipline” and “therapy to be placed on equal footing, I fear that we are inculcating authoritarianism in our children in the name of “safe schools” in the wake of the horrific shootings since Columbine. Instead of investing in counseling and mental health services we are “hardening” our schools by adding armed guards, surveillance cameras, and door locks that keep “potential shooters” outside. Instead of developing school-wide plans to identify and work with alienated and troubled children we are developing school-wide plans to “shelter students” from “shooters”. Our children are learning to live in an authoritarian state where strangers are all potential “shooters”, where only good guys with guns can save them, and where 24/7 monitoring is a necessary trade-off to remain safe and secure.

We need to take a collective deep breath as a nation before we spend another dollar “hardening” our schools… for as we harden the schools, we hardening the hearts of the students who attend those schools.

As Time Passes, Memory of Massacre in Florida Fades… and So Does Issue of Guns in Schools

April 7, 2018 Leave a comment

In the coming days, I will be devoting most of my posts to the issue of guns in schools for two reasons.

First, as will be noted in many of the posts, I am on an extended vacation to sites where internet access is unreliable and where I am choosing to spend my time away from mass media as much as possible.

Secondly, as the title of this post indicates, I have a sinking sense that the public’s attention is being diverted elsewhere. Part of the reason for that is emerging developments in the ongoing investigation into President Trump’s election, his roiling cabinet appointments, and his impulsive actions in international trade, immigration, and warfare. These diversions, I believe, will persist and the public will soon forget the impact that gun violence is having on the children attending our schools. Late last week, for example, an AP article reported on the action actions of the Vermont Legislature relative to gun violence. It appeared on the second page of our local newspaper near the bottom.

To their credit, the Vermont legislators took immediate action on a package of gun restrictions that includes raising the legal age for gun purchases, expanding background checks for private gun sales and banning high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire devices known as bump stocks.. But now, instead of investing in counseling and mental health services, the legislature appears to be on the brink of spending millions on “safety measures” including the hiring of retired police officers to work as armed school resource officers. The article quotes Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, Vt., who says the plan especially could benefit rural schools where police are often far away. “I think it’s vital that we take every step that we can to protect our students,” Sears said.

But the article then notes that the Agency of Education has a different take:

However Amy Fowler, deputy secretary of the state Agency of Education, said national studies have found schools with resource officers suspend and expel minority and low-income students at higher rates. She said she thinks school resource officers need more police training.

Adolescent development might be something that would be useful to them, conflict mediation, some training in restorative practices,” Fowler said.

The article goes on to note that the Vermont House “…has approved $5 million in funding as part of the capital budget to help improve school security,” a measure that requires Senate approval. As previous posts indicate, I am opposed to many of the “security measures” envisioned by this kind of legislation because it serve to reinforce fear in children and arguably leads to an environment more conducive to a police state that I would hope citizens want. “Hardening” schools is not the answer: softening the hearts of hardened student is. 

Teacher Wildcat Strikes COULD Signal Shift Away From Conservativism…. IF

April 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Washington Post op ed writer E.J. Dionne wrote a column that is heartening for those of us who believe in public education. His essay “New Teacher Activism Signals Revolt Against Conservative Ideology” posits that the teacher strikes we are witnessing is evidence that America is waking up to some basic facts about public education funding and taxation: education cannot be done on the cheap and the GOP tax policies are draining money from middle class workers and sending it to billionaires. He writes:

The red state insurrections are a reminder of something that can be lost in our back-and-forth about school reform: Money matters. You can’t run a decent school system on the cheap. If you could, successful suburban school districts wouldn’t invest so much, and teacher pay is part of this. Genuine reformers aren’t wrong to demand improvements in school quality. But they need to separate themselves unequivocally from those who simply want to trash public services.

Today’s rebellion… is also built on genuine disaffection, in this case over the impact of deep budget cutbacks in conservative states, usually to support tax cuts tilted toward corporations and the well-off.

The teachers are bringing this home by refusing to confine their energies to their own pay. They are highlighting the deterioration of the conditions students face—aging textbooks, crumbling buildings, and reductions in actual teaching time. About 20 percent of Oklahoma’s school districts have gone to four-day weeks.

I wish that I read more about the “…the deterioration of the conditions students face” and less about the relatively high wages and benefits teachers receive for the nine months they work… but I believe the mass media is stuck in a narrative that the GOP promotes whereby taxpayers are forced to pay more and more for schools because UNIONS insist that the employees they represent get more and more money. Mr. Dionne does an excellent job of explaining how real spending for public education has diminished since 2008 and how the GOP’s tax policies are hurting public services in general. Here’s hoping the teachers unions and wildcat strikers do their best to make the public aware of what is REALLY happening as a result of the GOP’s tax-spend-and-borrow policies and how their ideas are not only shifting the money to the wealthy but creating a deterioration of public services that will affect our students into their adulthood.