Archives for category: Guns in Schools

Peter Greene asks us to imagine a country that cared about the loss of innocent lives.


Has it been six years? It seems forever, and yet it seems yesterday.

There will be many retro pieces today, looking at the events at Sandy Hook, the children, the families, the killer, the damaged whack jobs who have denied its existence, and of course many reflections about the turning point where we chose as a culture not to turn.

I’ll leave all of that to others. I just want to imagine.

Imagine a country where people rose up and said decades ago, “Guns are nice and important and all, but nothing is more valuable than the lives of innocents. We’re going to have reasonable gun controls in this country before another young life is lost.” Don’t imagine it happening after Sandy Hook. Imagine it years earlier, after the death of just one or two children by gunfire. In this world, Sandy Hook is just one more small school most people never heard of.

Imagine that when people marched against abortion, they simultaneously marched against gun violence. “We are pro-life,” they yelled, “and that means that we want to see every step necessary to preserve the lives of children.” Imagine a world in which pro-life activists chained themselves to the gates of gun factories and shamed gun company executives on their way to work every day.

Imagine that these attitudes were part of a culture wide valuing of children, a culture that loved children so much that it took extraordinary steps to preserve their lives. The government provided free health care for every single child, regardless of family income. People brought their children here from other countries for our free health care and we said, “Great. Bring them. Children are so precious and valuable that we wouldn’t sleep knowing that there was a suffering child in the world that we could have helped, but didn’t.”

Imagine that this love of children extended to education. In fact, imagine that education was one of the biggest budget items for federal and state spending. “Nothing is too good for our children,” said political leaders. “We will make sure that every school has nothing but the newest and best facilities and enough qualified teachers that class sizes can be small. Every child has the personal attention of excellent teachers, and that goes double for children growing up in poor neighborhoods.” Not all the politicians believed this, of course, but in this world, the only way you could get elected was by being a good friend to public schools. And no, there aren’t any charters or vouchers in this world– why would you need them when every public school had the very best in resources, staff and facilities, with the necessary resources to meet the individual needs of each child. “Man,” groused the Pentagon in this world. “I wish we could get the kind of unwavering support public schools get. We have to fight and scrape and argue for every cent.”

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on this date six years ago sent out a clear message: The need for gun control. Guns should not be in the hands of mentally ill people, in this case, the guns were registered to the mother of the shooter, who had a permit.

There have been numerous massacres, in schools and bars and public spaces, since then, most committed with an AR-15, a Bushmaster, or a similar assault weapon intended for military use.

Other countries are far more thoughtful and specific in limiting access to guns. The purchaser must go through extensive training and background checks and must agree to keep the gun in a locked and secure cabinet. It is possible to get a gun, but very cumbersome to do so.

In 2012, there was an expectation that Congress and the states would act promptly to enact gun control legislation after Sandy Hook. Due to pressure by the NRA, Congress did not act at all.

What did happen instead was that the Sandy Hook massacre became a favorite target of Alex Jones, a rightwing pundit, who insisted that it never happened. Someone sent me a video alleging that the entire massacre was a hoax intended to promote unnecessary gun control legislation. The children who were killed, said the conspiracy theorists, were “child actors.”

The families of the children who were murdered are suing Alex Jones, and it is my sincere hope that they win.

Trump and DeVos have urged arming teachers, but no teacher or security guard will ever be as well armed as a perpetrator with assault weapons. Guns don’t belong in schools.

The only lasting tribute to the children and educators who were murdered that day is to continue to fight for gun control so that the scourge of violence is reduced, if not eliminated.

By the way, the new, rebuilt Sandy Hook elementary school had to be evacuated today due to threats of violence.

A personal note: the principal of Sandy Hook elementary school, Dawn Hochsprung, one of the first to be murdered, was a reader of this blog.

Linda Darling Hammond writes that arming teachers and expelling students will not make schools safer. It might make them dangerous.

“In response to the rash of school shootings in the United States, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is now considering allowing states to use federal funds to put guns in schools, training and arming marshals and teachers.

“The Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (under Title IV of the Every Student Succeeds Act) are intended to expand and improve student learning, not to buy guns. They are used by school districts for implementing school-based social, emotional, and mental health services and support as well as dropout prevention programs. They are used to help ensure that students from low-income families have access to technology as well as to advanced coursework, and college and career counseling. In short, these funds are intended to help to create schools where all students are seen, supported, and valued.

“Siphoning off those funds to put guns in schools won’t make students safer and it won’t improve academic achievement. In fact, in school shooting incidents, 95 percent of attackers were current students at the school and of those, 71 percent said that they felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to taking action. By contrast, in schools that focus on social-emotional learning and offer mental health supports, evidence shows that students feel and are safer, interpersonal relationships are stronger, bullying and fighting are reduced, and achievement and graduation rates are higher. Where students are supported and taught to be caring and responsible, these students can be helped, protected, and redirected to productive futures.”

There is only one effective way to protest gun violence.


Open the link to see where gun violence occurred this year.

Vote for candidates who support gun control.

Vote against candidates who take money from the NRA.

Andre Perry reviews Betsy DeVos’s unsustainable claim that her school safety commission need not consider the role of gyns in preventing gun violence.

Dors she really believe that guns are best used to protect against grizzlies?

Or is her feigned ignorance a way to protect guns?

Betsy DeVos and her school safety commission (three other Cabinet members) will consider all the possible causes of gun violence in schools, except guns.

Alia Wong writes at The Atlantic:

“What should be on the list of tasks for President Trump’s newly minted school-safety commission, charged with studying what can be done to prevent campus violence?

“Perhaps the commission, chaired by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, should look at mental-health resources and student-discipline practices. And perhaps it should consider the design of campus facilities. One thing that would seemingly be an obvious candidate for the commission’s scrutiny is guns, as guns have been the weapon of choice in every major school-violence incident this year.

“And yet it became clear on Tuesday, as DeVos testified in front of a Senate subcommittee to answer questions about the Education Department’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, that will likely not be the case. Amid mostly peaceful exchanges about charter-school expansion, the recent wave of teachers’ strikes, and Pell grants, among other topics, a handful of Democratic Senators repeatedly asked DeVos how gun policy fits into the commission’s duties. She didn’t verbalize the G Word once, and at one point—in response to persistent questioning from Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy about the role of guns in school violence—DeVos dismissed that question as outside the commission’s charge. It’s up to Congress to debate gun control, she indicated; she and the commissioners are instead focusing their research on other potential sources of violence.”

Any ideas?

How does a parent react when he sends his beloved little one to school in small town America, where everyone knows their neighbors, and gets a text message that the schools are in lockdown? How does the parent write about it when he is a novelist who writes novels for adolescents?

Rob Kent tells the story of the lockdown in Noblesville, Indiana.

“I ran all the way home.

“I got online to read the news.

“God didn’t let my baby be murdered today. Or there is no God and I got lucky. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Indiana in me, but I needed God to be real today and today She was.

“When I read the news, I saw the shooter had already been apprehended. And it was the middle school, not the elementary school that had been attacked. So my baby was probably okay… probably.

“It’s Little Ninja’s first full year of school. And he loves it. His teacher is truly one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. Hands down, Mrs. Sarah Dodson is a better person than I am. She has infinite patience and limitless love for her students. Every parent-teacher conference we’ve had, she’s expressed love for my son and for her job and if it were up to me who Noblesville, Indiana built our next statue of, it would be her. My son has some special needs that have worried me a whole lot, and Little Ninja has made so much progress under her tutelage. I tagged along on a field trip on a rainy October day to a pumpkin patch and I personally witnessed Mrs. Dodson muddy and exhausted, but still filled with enthusiasm for her students. When I think of the great teachers of the world, I will always think of Mrs. Dodson.

“Today, I saw Mrs. Dodson cry. Who would do that to so wonderful a woman? Who would make her hurt? What unjust, cruel, uncaring God would look down from Her heaven and allow that to happen?

“I won’t pretend to remember everything that happened this morning. It’s all a blur of panic, but I remember thinking, please, Lord, make that son of b**ch Marco Rubio hurt. Let Ayn Rand sycophant Paul Ryan feel this pain (and please, let hell be real so there’s a place for him to burn in after this life). Twist Mitch McConnell’s turtle guts with the evil he’s allowed to befall the people he was supposed to be watching out for. These are bad men, Lord, and enemies of the American people who sold their souls to the NRA and let innocent children be murdered so they could collect campaign contributions. They are worms crawling bare-bellied in the dirt and beneath my contempt.

“I know this. Every American who reads the news knows this.

“And you go straight to hell, Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who came to Noblesville to offer your empty thoughts and prayers when we know you accepted $2,896,732 in contributions from the NRA. You give up every cent of blood money you’ve taken and dedicate the rest of your life to making this right and maybe we Hoosiers can forgive you. Until then, go f**k yourself.

“I thought of all this today, and of the political tweets I’ve sent and the occasional FB posts I’ve made, but all that makes no difference when there’s a shooter in your community. I haven’t attended any political protests recently (I can’t get a sitter for Black Panther, let alone a protest march).

“All that political rhetoric, all that wasted energy raging about what crooked officials are doing hundreds of miles from here in Washington means exactly f**k all when it’s your child’s school that’s on lock down from a shooter and you get that call in the middle of your morning when you’re supposed to be focused on writing a lovely children’s story and imagining a better world…

“Mrs. Dodson called me as I was watching for Little Ninja’s school bus to tell me the bus wasn’t coming. If I’d stayed home today, if the bus had brought Little Ninja to me as usual, this incident might’ve just been another school shooting on the news. I would’ve still been terrified, but one step removed. Instead, I had to go to the school in person….

“I’m crying as I type this, because I never thought I’d see something like that in little old Noblesville, Indiana. Because that nasty, awful stuff only happens on TV. It doesn’t happen here where I live. That little girl knew she wasn’t safe, hadn’t ever been safe, not really, and I don’t know how she’ll ever feel safe in school again. And her mother couldn’t maintain. Of course, she couldn’t. I couldn’t either. I doubt I’ll ever forget today, but I know that little girl and her mother won’t forget it…

“Esteemed Reader, I’m wrung out. It’s been a long day and my heart has been broken. The school I send my one and only child to everyday was threatened and I can’t ever put Little Ninja on a bus again without wondering if I’m sending a lamb to the slaughter. I doubt any Hoosier parent here in my town will ever take that for granted again.

“What I do know is that we can’t live like this. Don’t kid yourself that this can’t happen where you live. That’s what I thought. America is a land of violence and violence will find you, even in the quiet town of Noblesville, Indiana. Even where you live…

“Esteemed Reader, your children aren’t safe either. Not in the United States.

“And that’s where I should leave it. I don’t know how we fix this. I’m not that smart. We can write to our senators, but I don’t have $2,896,732 to offer them unless y’all buy a whole lot more of my books, and politicians don’t give a sh*t about average people. We know this. They think they’re better than us and they’re wrong, but I’ve seen the members of my fellow populace, and I get it.”

I apologize for abbreviating Mr. Kent’s fine prose, but you are more likely to read his post if I leave out the best parts.

The bottom line is that Senator Todd Young sent “thoughts and prayers” to Noblesville. But he took $2,896,732 from the NRA so the folks in Indiana know the NRA bought him. It’s up to parents to vote him out.

Jason Seaman, a seventh grade science teacher, tackled a gunman who entered his classroom in Noblesville, Indiana, and was shot three times as he protected his students.

“A brave science teacher did not hesitate when a student walked into his classroom at Noblesville West Middle School with a pair of handguns and then opened fire.

“Jason Seaman, identified by his mother and students as the hero teacher, was shot three times Friday morning as he lunged at the gunman in a bid to protect his class.

“The shooter fired off several rounds before “Mr. Seaman started running at him, he’s a teacher, a science teacher — he tackled him to the ground,” a student, who did not wish to be identified, told Fox 59.

“He’s a hero. If he didn’t do anything he probably would have continued shooting and a lot more of us would have been injured and possibly killed, so it was just something that most people would not have done but he was really brave to do it.”

Brave indeed!

Jason Seaman joins the honor roll.

Do not normalize school shootings as an everyday occurrence caused by too many doors, video games, Ritalin, or other inconsequential things.

CNN reports that the U.S. rate of school shootings far outpaces all other major industrialized nations combined.

“There have been at least 288 school shootings in the United States since January 1, 2009.

“That’s 57 times as many shootings as the other six G7 countries combined.”

See the graph.

At some point, the politicians will have to see that the problem is not theoretical. It is not Ritalin or video games or abortion or something else.

It is too many guns, easily obtained, easily accessible. Available to any teen who is depressed or angry or has a grudge. Instead of settling scores with a fist fight, he comes to school and kills people.

Sara Stevenson is a librarian at O. Henry Middle School in Austin. She is retiring at the end of the school year.

She wrote this tribute to the two substitute teachers who died in the massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas.

Substitute Teacher Martyrs

After each school shooting, I usually have to wait a couple of days before I can read about the victims. Once they are personalized and named, the force of the tragedy strikes another blow. In this latest mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, I noticed that two of the fatalities were not just teachers, but substitute teachers.

Substitute teachers are our unsung heroes. In Austin ISD, substitute teachers make between $75 and $85 per day of service, the latter if they are Texas certified teachers. (Long-term substitute commitments receive an additional $20 after twenty consecutive days). Still, the typical rate is $12 per hour. This compares to an average of $9 per hour for beginning workers at McDonalds.

I went to high school in the 1970s, and I’m still ashamed at how we treated one of our more famous substitute teachers: Mr. Story. He was a retired teacher who wore a suit with a Goodbye Mr. Chips cap and rode his bicycle to school. Times were a’changin’, and Mr. Story was far from cool, so we ignored him, talked to our classmates, and didn’t take him seriously. We snickered when he got angry.

Classroom management is difficult, both a subtle art and practice that takes a career to master, but the regular teacher has the great advantage of setting the tone, the perimeters, and, over time, building relationships with her students. The substitute teacher often enters hostile territory, where children trade names with their peers, pretending to be each other, and often treat the guest teacher disrespectfully. And it’s not just the students. In some schools both staff and faculty treat the substitutes disparagingly, ignoring them in the lunchroom or faculty lounge.

With so many teachers being women of child-bearing age, hiring strong, effective, and committed substitute teachers is especially important during the minimum six weeks’ maternity leave, a sixth of the entire school year. Many substitute teachers are retired teachers who need the extra funds. Austin ISD is one of only twenty Texas school districts which contributes to both the Teacher Retirement System and Social Security. 40% of teachers nationwide depend solely upon their TRS pension. In Texas, retired teachers often go many years before seeing a cost-of-living increase.

Other substitutes are prospective teachers, wisely practicing and “shopping” for a school they would like to work in permanently. Still, I worry that the demanding and often frustrating, sometimes humiliating, experience of subbing will discourage them from the teacher career path, especially in Austin where the unemployment rate is now a low 2.8%.

Substitute teachers are truly the forgotten force of the education world, and these two martyrs, Cynthia Tisdale and Ann Perkins, lost their lives so that the instructional day could continue in the regular teacher’s absence.

I look at their photos in the newspaper today and read:

Anne Perkins, a substitute teacher known as “Grandma Perkins” to her students.

Cynthia Tisdale, a substitute teacher, mother of three and grandmother of eight children.

They lost their lives in the service of educating young people on the lowest rung of the teacher appreciation ladder. These women were needlessly martyred because our elected officials refuse to deal with the epidemic of gun violence in our society.