A Teachable Moment

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

The Unsafe School Myth

Readers will have notices how the discussion of a response to the school shooting in Florida has gradually changed from a focus on guns to hardening schools and providing gun power in some form to school buildings. Students, teachers and parents are being encouraged to believe that going into a school building poses a significant risk, one that demands quasi-military defenses that will have long range implications for school environment and culture. I have argued that school remains the safest place for children to be, the risk of serious injury at home still being far greater than falling victim to a crazed individual with an assault rifle. While I know it’s risky to challenge thoughtlessness with facts, certainly educators have an obligation to try to do so.

Eric Levits, writing in New York Magazine, offers what to me is the best writing on the subject of school safety that I have read. His work should receive the broadest possible circulation, as he offers chapter and verse in support of the fact that contrary the avalanche of stupid talk generated by the Florida tragedy, school remains a very safe place to be. The act of traveling to school puts one at far greater risk of injury and death than succumbing to mass murder. Unless reason can prevail, we appear to be on the verge of vast, unnecessary expenditures, expenditures that will certainly displace badly needed educational resources.

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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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School is a Safe Place

I suppose it’s to be expected that in the well-intentioned anti-gun rhetoric growing out of the recent school gun violence in Florida there will be some serious exaggeration. Just last evening, Lawrence O’Donnell found himself talking about gun violence having become a working condition of today’s teachers. Now really! Checking my Twitter account after that broadcast, I found AFT President Randi Weingarten thanking O’Donnell for his remarks and referring to our nation’s schools as killing fields. I don’t mean to minimize the Parkland tragedy in the slightest. I do think, however, that serious adults have a responsibility to be more careful with their rhetoric than the traumatized children in that attacked Florida high school. We need to remind parents and students alike that despite the incidence of gun violence in our schools, a child is probably safer in a public school than in any other place, including his home.

By all means, let’s seize the moment to demand action against the scourge of gun violence in our country. In doing so, we need to be careful not to leave our nation’s students with the impression that they are likely to experience an armed attack in their public school. Let’s try to remember that the overwhelming number of kids in our schools do not. 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.

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HOPEFUL?

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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Toting Guns to Feel Alive

Have you noticed how Tuesday’s school shooting in Kentucky has disappeared from our ever shortening news cycle? We are becoming increasingly inured to these events, politically anesthetized, as we continue to lose more Americans to gun violence than were killed in the Viet Nam War. We’ve reached the point where most incidents of gun violence don’t even get press attention, so routine have they become. Have you heard from any of our political leaders on the Kentucky shooting? Heard any suggestions of how we might get out from under the constitutional right to slaughter one another? The only thing I heard was some Kentucky Colonel mellifluously intoning the NRA’s mantra that the solution to our problem is arming the adults in our schools.

Quite coincidentally, I met two friends, each of whom with expressions of disbelief, told me of a mutual friend who retired and moved to Florida, a concealed carry state. While we worked with him here on Long Island, he was a very decent fellow, a school administrator who was appreciated by faculty and students alike. Imagining him toting a six-shooter around under his coat and spending hours practicing his shot is almost impossible for me to imagine this man whom I have known for thirty years doing. Yet, I’m told, finding himself in a gun friendly environment, he has taken to gun ownership with an unimaginable passion.

How does that happen? I’ve been wondering. I’ve been wondering too about our increasing fascination with guns and how in some bizarre way these senseless deaths we experience almost daily from gun violence cause us to buy more guns rather than taking steps to address our problem of a country literally saturated with guns. Is there something about gun-toting in anticipation of danger that makes people feel more alive – living on the edge?

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