Posts Tagged ‘Guns in School’

“Hardening Schools”: An Example of Orwell’s “Naming Things Without Calling up Mental Pictures of Them.”

August 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Over the past several months I’ve read several stories on the need to “harden” schools. Yesterday, I read a Truthdig article by Loveday Morris, Hazem Balousha, and Ruth Eglash on the inappropriate use of the word “clash” when one side has a clear and decided advantage over another, as has been the case in several “clashes” in the Middle East. In the article, the writers cited a quote from George Orwell:

“Clash” is a reporter’s best friend when they want to describe violence without offending anyone in power—in the words of George Orwell, “to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.”

On the heels of reading yesterday’s story in the New York Times, it struck me that our use of the phrase “hardening public schools” is the reporter’s best friend when they want to describe the de facto incarceration of children without offending parents, voters, and the politicians who use that phrase. After all, would anyone support the “solution” to the school shooting problem if it was was presented as

  • enclosing schools with razor-wire fences that can only be entered through checkpoints overseen by armed guards,
  • monitoring the behavior of students with surveillance cameras,
  • providing teachers with concealed weapons, and
  • having children engage in periodic drills designed to frighten them into submission should a shooter somehow get through the impenetrable fortress that constitutes a “hardened school”

“Hardened schools” fails to conjure up a mental picture… for if it did, no one would support it.

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The Sad Reality: Students Returning to “Hardened” Schools

August 12, 2018 1 comment

Here’s the headline in today’s NYTimes headline article by Patrick Mazzei:

Back-to-School Shopping for Districts: Armed Guards, Cameras and Metal Detectors

The article describes the sad reality of public education’s reaction to school shootings:

  • We are investing millions on armed guards who monitor children and FAR too little on staff members who could provide support to teachers and parents when students become disengaged and depressed.
  • We are using precious and limited staff development time to train teachers on how to use tourniquets instead of how to identify and deal with students who are disengaged and depressed.
  • We are redoubling the lockdown drill training, increasing the frequency and “reality” of school shooting drills that increase anxiety and fear among students.
  • We are spending millions of limited dollars to acquire fences, sophisticated surveillance cameras, and metal detectors while roofs leak, many schools lack the technology infrastructure needed to prepare students for the future, and many teachers dig ever deeper in their pockets to provide students with school supplies.
  • We are seeking more funds from taxpayers for these expenditures at a time when spending for education overall has decreased in real dollars since the Great Recession… and decreased substantially in many states.
  • And in 10 states, districts will be debating the feasibility of arming classroom teachers… a debate that will use precious time at school board meetings, time that could be used to debate other means of dealing with student alienation and despair that leads to the school shootings.

I completely understand the urgent need to “do something”… but I am distressed that the “something” seldom addresses the root causes of student violence, which have little to do with “arms control” or “hardening” schools and more to do with making schools warm and welcoming to each and every student enrolled. I hope in the days ahead to read of a district who is taking steps in THAT direction!  I despair that we are creating schools that make 24/7 surveillance in fenced environments patrolled by armed guards the norm for our future citizens.

Arne Duncan Still True Believer in VAM, “Failure” of Public Schools, Standardized Testing

August 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Arne Duncan has written a new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, and he is getting lots of publicity as he tours the country selling his book and the tired ideas in it. Here’s the opening paragraph from a review of his book by Atlantic reporter Alia Wong:

Arne Duncan, the former education secretary under President Barack Obama, has always been more candid than others who’ve served in that role. He’s often used his platform to talk about what he sees as the persistent socioeconomic and racial disparities in access to quality schools. His new book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, further cements that reputation. How Schools Work’s first chapter is titled “Lies, Lies Everywhere.” The first sentence: “Education runs on lies.” If one were to create a word cloud of the book, lies would probably pop out as one of the most frequently used words. Duncan writes that even the countless fantastic schools across the country “haven’t managed to defeat the lies that undermine our system so much as they’ve been able to circumvent them.” These lies, according to Duncan, include a culture of setting low expectations for high schoolers who later discover they’re not prepared for the real world, and poorly designed accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their students’ test-score results.

This paragraph itself is full of canards about public education that only someone who never set foot in a public school could believe. I worked in an urban middle school, a blue collar suburban high school, and a rural high school that served many poor families. The teachers in these schools, even the weakest, had high expectations for their children.

As for the “accountability systems that allow teachers to fudge their test-score results”, I presume he must be referring to the grading systems that allow students to pass a course with a “C” or a “D”, grades that typically require a student to get grades that do not require mastery of ALL the information presented. And the norm-referenced tests that were the backbone of the RTTT “accountability systems” Mr. Duncan imposed on schools that were presumably designed to avoid the “fudging” did nothing to help students. They only reinforced the notion that students were poorly prepared because teachers were lazy and incompetent and did so by providing a sheen of precision.

In the interview with Ms. Wong that accompanied this overview of his book Mr. Duncan DID reveal an understanding of the root cause of “failing” schools… and it isn’t the teachers… it’s parents who are disengaged from the lives of their students, parent’s whose disengagement is often the result of working multiple jobs or, in the worst case, drug and alcohol abuse. Here’s Mr. Duncan’s take:

It’s the parents who aren’t present whose kids you have to worry about even more because those parents just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education. Those kids are the ones I actually worry about the most.

But, as written frequently in this blog, actions speak louder than words. IF Mr. Duncan believed this as the head of public education in Chicago and then the nation, why did he not take action to provide support for the children of disengaged parents, the children whose performance pulls down the test scores he values so highly and whose ultimate withdrawal from schools increases the drop out rates he blames on “the system”?

Mr. Duncan’s perspective on gun violence was also on point. But like his views on the problems presented by disengaged parents, it’s a perspective he failed to share when he led the nation’s schools:

I talk a lot about gun violence—it’s what I’m dealing with in Chicago all the time; it unfortunately shaped me as a kid; we saw it in the Sandy Hook massacre, which happened when I was education secretary. There’s no political leader who says they don’t value kids, but the truth is: we value guns more than we value the lives of our children .And that is irrefutable if you look at the rates of gun deaths in the U.S. compared to other nations that make other policy choices.

Mr. Duncan purports to be one who perceives education as a great equalizer and one who attempts to use data to help him see what works and what doesn’t work. I wish that as Secretary of Education emeritus he would take a dispassion look at the true impact of RTTT and acknowledge that it was a doubling down on NCLB, a program he viewed as “horribly constructed.” I wish he would acknowledge that the standardized tests he advocated were not constructed to perform the VAM he mandated and resulted in the discrediting of the teaching profession. I wish that he would trumpet the need for programs to support parents who “…just have too much going on in their own lives to be engaged in their children’s education” and speak out against the politicians who value guns more than we value the lives of our children. Finally, I wish he would acknowledge that the programs he advocates, the expansion of choice and charters, reward those parents who are engaged in the lives of their children, sidestep the need for a larger investment in the safety net, and divert needed funds away from public schools.

While Alabama Adds Security Guards, San Diego Embraces “Trauma Informed School” Model… And Gets Results

August 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Two articles on school safety in today’s Google feed on Public Education caught my eye: one describing the efforts to “harden” schools in Alabama; and one on the creation of partnerships to implement restorative justice in San Diego public schools. Guess which is getting the best results?

The article from’s Trisha Powell Crain reported that one out of four Alabama schools lacked a security guard, which the State legislature and, presumably, parents and teachers see as a deficiency. Indeed, the legislature saw it as such a deficiency that the they a law called “the Alabama Sentry Program”, “…which allows administrators to keep a firearm in a secured safe on campus for use during an active shooter incident.” The Governor of the State sees the hiring of SROs as preferable, but believe arming administrators as allowed by the Sentry Program “…will provide a way for administrators to keep schools safe.”

Meanwhile, the State Superintendent views the school shootings across the nation as analogous to a national emergency, and as such, as invested thousands of dollars from discretionary funds to help address the problem. How was that money spent? It was used to implement low cost statewide initiatives recommended by a task force created by the Governor: the Securing Alabama’s Facilities of Education, or SAFE, Council. Among the recommendations funded using discretionary funds were the Alabama Fusion Center, “…a command post for law enforcement statewide, to follow threats to school safety, improving the timeliness of reporting serious discipline problems to the Fusion Center, ensuring schools follow through with required training and drills for students in the event of a school shooting, and creating seven regional school safety and compliance teams to support schools statewide.

But the major recommendations of the SAFE Council could not be implemented in most districts because they lack sufficient funds. Those recommendation recommendations include funding for SROs, mental health supports for students, and improved building security measures. They have not been implemented in “…in rural areas or are in schools with large numbers of students in poverty” because they “...require legislative approval and cannot be fully implemented unless funding can be obtained.” Allowing administrators to carry guns, though, did not require legislation.

If Alabama wants to know how to address school violence on a shoe string, they might look to San Diego schools, who adopted a “trauma-informed” discipline model that draws on the expertise and services offered by community non-profits in the city to assist in addressing the trauma’s that children experience outside of school, trauma’s that manifest themselves in the misbehavior and acting out of children in the school. What is a “trauma-informed school”?

…a place where everyone from the principal to the school custodian seeks to understand and heal the difficult experiences that cause kids to act out. It’s an approach that calls for revised disciplinary practices, social-emotional instruction, school-wide training about trauma, strong parental engagement, and intensive individual support where needed, as well as partnerships with community organizations to support these efforts.

The entire approach, as reported in a Non-Profit Quarterly article by Suzann Bohan, is captured in this simple change in phraseology the advocated by Godwin Higa, the former Cherokee Point elementary principal who devised this approach realizing that children who face trauma at home often act out at school:

When a student at Cherokee Point acts out, punishment is not the first response. An administrator or teacher will likely ask, “What happened to you?”—not “What’s wrong with you?” As Higa explains, “When you ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ it’s totally negative right away, versus ‘What’s happening to you, you don’t seem right.’ As soon as we say that, the kids look at you like ‘How did you know that I’m feeling down today?’” When they’re done talking, usually the child feels better and returns to class, the disruptive behavior occurs less often and generally fades away after a few more talks, and a trusting bond is formed, he said.

In reading about the profile of school shooters, it is evident that almost all of them were disengaged and, in many cases, their actions were not a surprise to students and teachers. Could an extension of this program to include reaching out to disengaged students prevent school shootings? From my perspective that is an immaterial question, for any initiative that addresses the whole child, and initiative that makes any child feel better about themselves, is one that should be embraced by schools.

And for those who want to harden schools, do ANY efforts to harden schools make any child feel better about themselves? Do any efforts to harden schools address the needs of the whole child? If not, why are we wasting millions on SROs, entry “systems”, and school shooter training… all dollars that are reinforcing fear and isolation from the community?

Attorney General Sessions Fuels Demand for Armed Teachers by Calling Public Schools a “Dangerous Situation”

August 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Here’s the report from Politico’s daily feed describing the Secretary of Education’s Task Force on School Safety’s “listening session” in Arkansas:

(US Attorney General Jeff) Sessions also said anyone who carries a gun in school for student protection deserves respect. “We have people who say, ‘I don’t want to carry a gun in a school,'” he said. “But the person who does is going by themselves into a very dangerous situation, not knowing what’s behind that door, and we expect them and ask them to place their lives on the line forstudents. They know that when they sign up, and we should always be respectful and appreciative of their service.”

With that statement, Mr. Sessions reinforces the notion that public schools are fraught with peril and danger and  implies that any teacher who doesn’t arm themselves is effectively placing themselves in peril. This is exactly the wrong message… unless you want to promote the idea that “public schools are failing and dangerous” making the choice to go elsewhere rational and necessary.

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YIKES! Are DeVos and Sessions Tipping Their Hand on School Safety by Visiting Armed Teachers in Arkansas?

July 30, 2018 Comments off

Herewith is a report from Politico‘s education blog, which provides daily updates on Betsy DeVos’ scheduled visits:

DEVOS, SESSIONS PLAN ARKANSAS VISIT THIS WEEK: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Sessions are headed to Arkansas this week to discuss school safety, according to local news reports. The superintendent of Lake Hamilton School District in Garland County told The Hot Springs Sentinel-Record that the planned visit on Wednesday is part of the Trump administration’s school safety commission. The rural school district has long employed armed security officers and some staff began carrying concealed weapons at school after Arkansas lawmakers recently legalized the practice, according to The Arkansas Times.

Is this the way Ms. DeVos’ school safety commission is headed? I hope not!

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Standardized Test Metrics and “Shooter Drills” Support Ethos of “Pure Capitalism”… and that Ethos Diminishes Kindness

June 29, 2018 Comments off

Medium blogger Umar Hague provides consistently thought-provoking posts about the source of our nation’s ill-being… and his post earlier this mont titled “The Origins of America’s Unique and Special Cruelty” was no exception. The picture at the top of the post, seen below, shows a group of school students hiding under bullet proof blankets during an active shooter drill.

In a paragraph near the beginning of the post, Mr. Haque poses this question:

What motivates the kind of spectacular, unique, unimiaginable, and gruesome cruelty that we see in America, which exists nowhere else in the world?

See that pic above? It’s kids huddling under bulletproof blankets, doing “active shooter drills”. That’s what I mean by “unique and spectacular cruelty”. No kid should — ever — have to be traumatized and victimized like that, and indeed, even kids in Pakistan and Iran aren’t.

My answer goes something like this. Americans, you must remember, grew up in the shadow of endless war. With two “sides” who championed atomic individualism, lionized competition and brutality, and despised weakness and fragility. And thus, America forgot — or maybe never evolved — the notion of a public interest. Each man for himself, everyone against everyone himself. So all there is left in America is extreme capitalism now. Few championed a more balanced, saner, healthier way of life, about a common good, about virtue, about a higher purpose. And in that way, America has become something like, ironically enough, a mirror image of its great enemy, the Soviet Union. It is a totalist society, run by and for one end — only a slightly different one: money.

And shooter drills are designed to instill fear and paranoia, two elements that support what Mr. Haque calls “Predatoy Capitalism”:

…because most of America is now managed by and predatory capital — even its healthcare, media, and education — there is little room, space, opportunity, chance to discuss and suggest and educate people about higher ideals, values, and purposes. For example, on the BBC, I can watch endless documentaries by academics on everything from Renaissance art to French literature — but in America, I’m stuck with Ancient Aliens, poverty porn, police-state reality shows. What is that going to teach me, show me, induce in me — except ignorance, paranoia, resentment, and spite?

The result is a kind of impoverishment we don’t often discuss. A lack, or deficit, of civilizing mechanisms. You see, in other countries, things like media, healthcare, and education, do more than just “provide a service”. Because they’re public goods, are also things that bind people together, connect them with history, bring out their better selves — not just their inner predator. Through them, by treating each other with care and respect as we share them, we learn what it is to be gentle, civilized. They educate us, in that way, about what is to be kind.

All spiritual paths talk about the need for us to love our neighbors as ourselves and treat each other the way we want to be treated. The Buddhist teachings take things a step further: they emphasize the need for people to avoid ingesting toxins, which not only include food but also media… for the Buddha realized that when individuals consume toxic news and engage in toxic conversation they are poisoning not only their own well-being, they are poisoning the well-being of the community. These are not the lessons we are teaching in our school… nor are the lessons that are currently available to the general public who perceive everything through the lens of predatory capitalism.

Which brings us to the ultimate reinforcement of the notion of predatory capitalism: standardized tests. Tests used to sort and select students and sort and select schools reinforce the concept that the only the fittest survive and the only way to get ahead is to position yourself so that you can get into the best schools possible and “beat out the competition” on some kind of metric like tests that presumably measure “intelligence”, or “aptitude”… and soon things like “emotional intelligence” and “grit”. Perform well on these assessments and you and/or your school will advance in the world… Perform badly, and you can stay at home and watch “Ancient Aliens, poverty porn, police-state reality shows.”