A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Arm Who?

When I wrote yesterday, “Let’s try to keep our wits about us and resist loony proposals to arm our teachers and other similar ideas, ideas growing out of the stupidity that the solution to gun violence is more guns,” I didn’t realize that the President was about to have a listening session on gun violence in our schools at which he would propose the arming 20% of the teaching staff. 20% to carry concealed weapons. While I labeled the idea loony, it seems some 40% of Americans think the President’s idea a good one. I woke up this morning thinking about who the 20% in my district might be.

To begin, the overwhelming majority of the teachers I know would not only not volunteer to be a part of some clandestine paramilitary force within their schools, they would demand that their union seek contractual language making it explicitly clear that teachers cannot be assigned such duties, even if they volunteer. They didn’t become teachers to tote a gun in class.

There would be some volunteers. Experience tells me, they would come from those who despite the fact that crime in the United States is at an all-time low, do not believe the statistics, seeing instead a society in which we are always exposed to incipient attack. They are the ones for whom student discipline can never be tight enough. They are the teachers who are driven by the fear that their classes are always on the verge of rebellion should they relax their guard for a second. Should some misbehavior occur in their class, their insecurity causes them to escalate the situation rather than deal
with it more unobtrusively. They are the gun owners among us, owners who are not hunters or target shooters but people who fear strangers, suspecting them of wanting to do them harm. Short-fused, up-tight, they are precisely the sort of people you wouldn’t want to count on in a tense situation, especially with guns in their hands. The risk to the school population posed by arming them is far greater than the still statistically rare event of mass murder.

Arming teachers will always be a loony idea. That the latest loon to propose it is the President of the United States is cause for the deepest concern.

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The student voices demanding action be taken to thwart the epidemic of gun violence in our nation’s schools is heartening. Their demands, grown out of the trauma of surviving an attack that killed seventeen of their own, give us a glimmer of hope that our political leaders may finally embrace their allegiance to the United States rather than the National Rifle Association. Perhaps more importantly and long-lasting, they may be the generation of Americans to come to terms with our societal fascination with guns.

I hope teachers throughout the nation are taking time to talk to students about this youth movement, offering words of encouragement and maybe a little know-how. I hope too that local teacher unions understand their self-interest in aligning themselves with students to mount the political pressure that will bring about sensible firearms policy. In my youth, the work of students and faculty contributed powerfully to the end of the senseless Viet Nam War.

We need to understand, however, that the change we seek will not happen in the short run. We can expect at most some cosmetic changes to the existing background law from the current congress and administration. But, if we are prepared to work over the long term to defeat the gun lobby, the outpouring of horror at events in Florida and the lack of an appropriate response from our President and the NRA puppets in the Congress may enable us to make some serious change in the fall. Conditions may just be right for a national movement to punish all our leaders who toe the NRA line in exchange for their money. Given our history, it’s hard to be hopeful, but I am for the first time in awhile.

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Yet More Gun Violence

Eighteen incidents of gun violence in our nation’s schools in less than two months of this year. EIGHTEEN! The President and Republicans in Congress tell us that this is not the time to talk about the epidemic of child slaughter. Our seeming indifference to this lunacy prompted a black humor artist on Twitter to suggest that we start calling school “uterus” so that Republicans will be concerned with the carnage going on inside them.

In the latest incident, a young man recognized by his peers as likely to shoot the school up, found himself in a society that rather than provide him with the psychiatric care he so obviously needed instead facilitated the actualization of his homicidal fantasies by making weapons of mass destruction easily accessible to him . Millions of dollars have been spent hardening entrances to our schools, when the real danger almost always is within. We have metal detectors in many schools to screen students for weapons but provide few professionals to screen for serious mental disturbance. A screening of any American high school for clinical depression alone would wake the country up to the mental health needs of many of our students.

Our political leaders offer prayers and condolences to what are becoming routine events. It should be obvious to all that God is not answering these prayers. If we are to get control of this epidemic, it is we who will have to find the courage to stand up to the lunatic fringe of gun worshippers and the NRA. Perhaps it’s time to send a message to our elected leaders that we will not vote for anyone who takes NRA blood money. Is it not finally the time to take common sense steps to keep firearms out of the hands of people who can predictably be expected to abuse their constitutional right?

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Bits and Pieces

Handmaidens of High Tech

Leaders of teacher organizations are often heard to say, “Ask teachers to organize a firing squad, and they form a circle.” I couldn’t help but notice the tweets from some of the administrators in my home school district. Almost every one has pictures of kids staring
at computer screens. Nowhere is a teacher to be seen. The message is clear to anyone who cares to think about it. Teachers are at best tangential to the education of children. How almost effortlessly the tech companies are getting teachers to become the means of their own destruction. How subtly they are defining education in their own business interest.


Yesterday, I spoke to a group of retirees from my home district, urging them to oppose the constitutional convention that is up for a vote in New York this November. It was heartening to see their understanding of the threats to public education and public employees from such a convention. As I spoke, many were taking notes, obviously getting ready for what they knew would be my final point – that they can have an important impact on the defeat of the referendum if each member sets a goal to motivate family and friends to vote NO in November.

Kids and Guns

Long term the way to dial down the passion for gun ownership in this country is the educate generations of children to the fact that their safety and the safety of their families is imperiled by the indiscriminate way in which the United States permits gun ownership. The gun lobby has been winning the propaganda war for decades in the absence of any serious and sustained countervailing argument. Public schools played a significant role in teaching children the dangers of smoking. The can and must do the same job on gun violence.

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Freedom From Fear of Gun Violence

We don’t talk about AR-15 rifles as a weapon of mass destruction, but can anyone think about Sunday’s event in Orland and say that this military style weapon is not. It has become the weapon of choice of the crazy and zealot. Unless and until we choose to understand that the writers of our Constitution could not ever have imagined a single American armed with more fire power in an AR-15 than dozens of Minutemen with their muskets. Surely, the Founding Fathers were they to find themselves among us would recognize that the right to bear arms that they authored must be balanced against the advent of weapons so potent that they must be withheld from all but those defending our country. Surely, their voices would be raised against the Second Amendment zealotry responsible for a literal epidemic of gun violence in our nation. But, I suspect we will find gun sales up in the weeks ahead. When do we begin to talk seriously about the freedom from fear of gun violence?

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