Posts Tagged ‘Guns in School’

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.



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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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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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. 

Data Show Schools are Safer Than Ever. Are We Overreacting to Shootings? Are Kids Rebelling to Invasion of Privacy?

March 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s edition of Politico’s Morning Edition featured this story on school safety:

CRIME ON THE DECLINE IN NATION’S SCHOOLS: New federal data out this morning shows crime in public schools has actually dropped, even as concerns over school safety have spiked following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The data from the National Center for Education Statistics is the most up-to-date snapshot of crime in the nation’s schools since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead and sparked a national debate about school safety.

The report touches on a slew of issues – including security measures on campuses, training for teachers and discipline policies – likely to be central to discussions by the Trump administration’s school safety commission, which began meeting this week (more on that below). We have the full story, but here are the highlights:

Just 3 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported being the victim of a crime at school during the 2015-16 school year, the most recent period for which data is available – a big drop from the 10 percent of students who said they were the victim of a crime two decades before.

Public schools have dramatically beefed up security measures: Almost 60 percent of schools had campus security during the 2015-16 school year – up from 42 percent a decade before. The percentage of schools using security cameras, meanwhile, jumped from 19 percent in 1999-2000 to 81 percent in 2015-16. The percentage of public schools that controlled access to school buildings rose from 75 percent to 94 percent during the same period.

Nearly all public schools had a plan in place for potential school shootings. Ninety-two percent had such plans, up from 79 percent in 2003.

Almost half of all schools trained teachers on recognizing early warning signs of student violent behavior, even though most schools – about 76 percent – provided training for classroom teachers on recognizing physical, social and verbal bullying behaviors. Just 30 percent provided training on recognizing signs of students using or abusing drugs or alcohol.

The percentage of schools reporting crimes to police reached its lowest point since at least 1999 during the 2015-16 school year, with 47 percent of schools reporting one or more crimes to the police. During the same school year, 37 percent of public schools took at least one serious disciplinary action – including out-of-school suspensions lasting 5 days or more, student removals with no services for the remainder of the school year and transfers to specialized schools.

 1999 is a sensible baseline year, for that is the year two disaffected students entered Columbine High School with high powered automatic guns and shot several of their classmates. And since then virtually every school in America (94%) has limited access to their buildings, devised plans to implement should a school shooting occur  (92%), and almost no students (3%) were crime victims. 60% of the schools now have security guards of some form, and 79% have cameras, a four-fold increase since 1999.

All of this data on school safety leads to two questions:

  1. What additional action can schools take to become hard targets?  If only 40% do NOT have security guards, only 6% leave their buildings un-secured, and only 21% lack surveillance cameras, what more does the public want or expect? Should there be more guards? Should the guards be armed? Should there be more cameras installed? Should the schools have razor wire fences?
  2. Is it possible that the students are implicitly protesting their loss of privacy? Given the close supervision in a contained environment, maybe the students are seeking spaciousness… freedom from being on camera while they in a locked fishbowl patrolled by security guards.

Before we spend another dollar creating “hard targets” we should examine the cold, contained environment we’ve created for the children in our country.

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Gun Suicides 14 Times More Prevalent Than School Shootings… Are We Targeting the Wrong Solutions?

March 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Medium essayist BJ Campbell’s recent post on gun deaths flags the “Left’s” and the media’s obsession with school shootings and as the reason most Americans are missing the point on gun control. The major cause of gun deaths isn’t school shootings, gang violence, or homicide: it’s suicide. and Mr. Campbell contends that our obsession with the school shootings and homicides is leading us down the wrong path if we want to limit deaths. He writes:

Why do the media outlets fail to identify the bulk of the “gun deaths” problem? It’s possible that they’re simply dumb, or careless, but I doubt it. It’s possible that pointing it out wouldn’t be profitable, because it wouldn’t drive clicks from their target market. Or it’s also possible that sympathy for men simply does not fit within the prevailing Blue Church narrative. Pointing out the truth about the data would create too much cognitive dissonance, so it is selectively and intentionally ignored. Instead, we are presented with a view as if men slaying children indiscriminately is commonplace, instead of the predominant truth — mostly it’s men slaying themselves.

Using the chart below, Mr. Campbell makes the case that in order to If we are going to ameliorate gun deaths we need to address suicide and not school shootings or homicide… and not even suicide among teenagers or young adults but suicides among middle aged adult males! 

He then lists the solutions now being offered and demonstrates that each is pointless given the need for suicide prevention.

· Waiting Periods: Statistics do not show that people buy guns to commit suicide, as far as I can find. They’re either going to use one they already have, or choose a different method.

· Banning certain classes of firearms, such as semi-automatic rifles or handguns: You only need the most basic functioning firearm possible to kill yourself.

· Tax bullets: You only need one bullet to kill yourself.

· Blanket gun confiscation: Won’t work, and they (the “Left” and the media) admit it won’t work, except all those times when they don’t.

· Mandatory gun confiscation of depressed people: Terrible, terrible idea, because it would only cause fewer people to go to the doctor for their depression symptoms, making the problem worse instead of better.

This is counter to the narrative used by those who want to focus on the fear factor generated by mass shootings… but it does illustrate a silent problem that Mr. Campbell believes CAN be addressed if it is given the proper and appropriate attention:

Slightly less than 1,000 women die from domestic violence per year in this country, and that’s a big, real problem. You can save six times this many men, simply by talking to them, and asking them nicely to sequester their firearms temporarily. The number of people you could save by doing this is double the number of people who die in gang and drug crime combined. It’s sixty times more than die in mass shootings.

This is easy.

It requires no new laws, no culture war battles, no erosion of rights.

It DOES require a dispassionate examination of data— facts— and a willingness and ability to ignore headline grabbing news stories in favor of silent, small, and persistent personal problems that plague middle aged men. Mr. Campbell DOES provide some food for thought.