Thoughts, prayers, moments of silence – and action.

The subject came up during a break in a much unneeded meeting: what’s causing this rash of school shootings? “Social media,” said one teacher. “Video games,” said another. “No, no, it’s the easy access to guns,” said one more. “It’s complicated,” I added, but no one listened. 

Didn’t I just say that? After yet another wasted session of thoughts and prayers and moments of silence? It’s complicated! It’s all of the above! Instead of rewriting, I’ll say it again. 

Who are the next school shooters or mass shooters? How can we recognize them, and how do we stop them?

It’s a complex problem, and stopping the mass shootings that are becoming all too common will require a complex solution.

Activists work to tighten gun laws. They want to outlaw guns like the AR-15, guns with only one purpose: killing. They want to require background checks, thorough background checks, any time a person buys a gun.

Mental health advocates work to help people who might consider carrying out such a shooting. Depression, anxiety, and more can be factors in producing a killer of many.

Not to be forgotten are the National Rifle Association (NRA), those who work to keep gun laws weak and widespread access to weapons strong.

It’s a complex problem. After Sandy Hook, after Columbine, after Parkland, expert and not-so-expert analysts look for red flags, events or ongoing stresses that might have built up the pressure on this individual. After the fact, folks in the know pick through a shooters’ profiles and backgrounds, identifying possible triggers, the proverbial straws that broke the camels’ backs.

It’s a social problem. Was the shooter harassed? Bullied? Excluded and isolated? Did anyone reach out to this person? Did anyone recognize the risk, help this person before the potential for disaster became real?

It’s a medical problem. Mental illness, diagnosed or not, can be a major factor in someone deciding to carry out such a horrific event, taking lives of so many others. Mental health care must be available to all who need it – and mental health coverage must be part of any health plan.

It’s a legal problem, a gun problem. That’s hard for me to say because I know so many responsible gun owners. Hunters, mainly, these friends would never dream of leaving their firearms loaded and accessible to someone – anyone – who might misuse them. That said, no one needs a semi-automatic for hunting game. The AR-15 that’s been in the hands of so many mass shooters doesn’t need to be legal.

It’s an accessibility problem. Felons, domestic abusers, people who have been identified as a danger to others must be prevented from owning guns. License to kill only exists in fiction. In reality, life is precious.

It’s a complex problem, and the solution will not be simple. I wish I had an answer.

Encore – Knowing My Limits, Again

How is it that the more things change, the more they stay the same?  This post aired in April of 2014. Obama was president, and Hillary Clinton was aiming to run in 2016. You all know the end of that story.

By 2014, I’d recovered from a stroke, had a retina reattached, uterus removed, stent placed in a major artery, and aneurysm detected in another major artery. I like to think I was wise enough not to ask the fates, “What else can go wrong?” 

Fast forward to 2018. A few days ago I was diagnosed with (another!) urinary tract infection. The following morning, I was in the ER as the infection had spread into my kidneys. I’m now resting, feeling nervous about getting behind at work, and taking strong, strong antibiotics. 

Four years ago, I set these goals. Today, I reaffirm those goals. I want to turn Wisconsin blue in the fall elections, but I won’t be any good to anyone if I’m too sick to help.

To maintain my physical and mental health, I will NOT:

  • sign online petitions. It’s too easy, and therefore often meaningless to those in power.
  • forward emails that call themselves Memes. It’s a chain letter, people, don’t kid yourselves.

To further maintain my physical and mental health, I WILL:

  • learn about the candidates and become an informed voter
  • vote and encourage my family members to vote, too
  • remind friends and coworkers to vote (even on FB)
  • donate small amounts of money to candidates I support
  • for good vibrations, wear my Team Obama t-shirt from fall 2012
  • blog!
  • keep calm, and garden on. It’s cheaper than therapy, and in the end I’ll have tomatoes.

 

Elections and Money – My Money

I’m hesitant this year. I’m no longer a card-carrying Democrat, although I play one on my blog. I just got tired of the endless phone calls and the never-ending emails, all asking for money.

I didn’t renew Emily’s List, despite my affinity for their philosophies. I was tired of the endless phone calls, the never-ending emails, and (are you with me here?) the snail mails. Emily’s List still uses the occasional flyer with enclosed envelope. In the hopes of making donations easy for the old-fashioned folks, no doubt, they still use the USPS now and then.

I haven’t donated to my favorite Senator, Tammy Baldwin, either – and I know a small donation would go a long way. The Koch Brothers and the other uber-conservative fund raisers have her in their sights – sites? Anyway, she’s a high priority target. She needs money. I haven’t donated – yet.

The State Superintendent of Schools is running for governor. I hope he wins the primary, because he could put education back on track to reverse some of the cursed backwardness that Walker has implemented.

There is one race, however. It’s a local/state race for state senator. The candidate was chair of the local Democratic party. She is a single mom of two who works for the Girl Scout council. And now, all of a sudden, I’m considering putting money behind a candidate. She could be part of the Blue Wave that I’d love to see cover my fair state.

Before I reach for my wallet, however, I need to decide exactly how far I will go. How many phone calls will I answer, and what kinds of emails I will open. And then, and only then, can I put my money where my vote is.

 

Comprehension, Understanding, and What the President Doesn’t Get

It feels like I see headlines every day that say, “Trump Doesn’t Understand (fill in the blank)!” Recent articles in that category included “Trump doesn’t understand the Post Office” and “Trump doesn’t understand community colleges,”

Teachers know that understanding is actually rather low on the scale of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Using the updated taxonomy from the bottom up, Understanding is second on the list, after Knowledge/Remembering. Essentially, remembering a fact or concept  is the most basic skill, and understanding that fact or concept is next. Moving higher on the scale and increasing in complexity are these stages: applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Regular readers will know that I’ve referred to Awareness as the lowest form of knowledge. Awareness doesn’t even register on Bloom’s Taxonomy; it’s not even equal to Remembering. Autism Awareness? Breast Cancer Awareness? Get with it, people, we should be far beyond simple awareness of major issues.

Awareness might be where Trump falls with his lack of knowledge of the US Postal Service and his lack of understanding of community colleges. He knows they exist – Awareness – but he doesn’t remember much about them, much less understand how either organization functions.

El Presidente shows his ignorance, er, lack of knowledge or understanding of basic concepts, all too often. Communications through Twitter, statements released through his press secretary, and off the cuff comments all demonstrate his incompetence.

What I can’t understand is this: how did the United States elect this ignorant fool to the highest office in the land? And why do we allow him to make the nation look foolish?

The Polls Have Closed; Now What?

Big news earlier this week in Wisconsin! Progressive voters spread the word, and statewide results show it. Despite the governor’s efforts to dumb down the electorate, Wisconsinites elected a progressive judge to the state supreme court and turned down a referendum that would have eliminated the elected State Treasurer’s office in favor of a political appointee.

Now what?

That’s a personal question, too. In the past, I’ve been actively involved in local, state, and national progressive politics. In 2016, election results broke my heart. Now the massive mid-term election is approaching, and I’m not sure how deeply I want to get involved. After watching 2016 results slide down the toilet, I seriously wonder how effective our strategies are – or at least how ineffective our strategies were – and what the party activists have in mind for change.

Phone calls! I saw Facebook posts congratulating volunteers who made calls to Get Out the Vote. Meanwhile, I avoided the phone all day, every day, for several days before the polls opened – and even all day election day. Why are we still phone banking when so many people like me are refusing to pick up?

Signs! Most of our signs around town were for local races. The school board candidates with the most signs also earned the most votes, so I’ve got to say that was good. As long as the voters displaying signs promise to vote, I’m all in with campaign signs. Sh: Don’t tell, but I still have my Obama sign from 2012. I think the rabbit ate 2008, but I have my memories and my pins. 

I still follow the local party on Facebook, and I get emails from several campaigns. Email! That’s another tactic in the category of phone banks. I don’t even read them anymore, unless the email is from a friend or at the least from someone I actually know. One tactic used in sending campaign emails is this: use a different account and sender name each time. For example, George Pro for Governor might send his own emails, and Mary Jane for George Pro, Henny Penny for George Pro, and Chicken Little for George Pro will all send emails saying, “The sky is falling unless you donate! Donate now!” making it nearly impossible to unsubscribe to a particular campaign’s email.

Seriously, what next? Until my locals change their tactics, I won’t be joining them. I fear they’ll wait too long, do too little and do it too late, and the November elections will fall flat. This election is important enough that the folks in charge need to change, and need to change now.

Major, Minor – Oh, the Humanities!

It’s one notch in the larger troubles in Wisconsin, and again, it’s complicated. I can boil it down to a Governor who doesn’t value education, K-12 or university level. We can deconstruct the issue into its basic ingredients: budget cuts, high cost of tuition, student loan debt, emphasis on STEM careers, and more.

University of Wisconsin campuses are facing hard times. In fact, the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, a small yet vibrant campus, has announced that they will be eliminating 13 majors at their school.

A major is a specialty, a concentration or focus in one curricular area. A student might major in history, for example, or world languages, English, science, art, or music. Many of these areas need to be specific. A science major might emphasize biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science – the list goes on and on. Depending on the school, a major might take up half to two thirds of a college student’s course load. When all is said and done, when that student puts on the mortarboard cap with tassel, he or she will have earned a degree, most likely a bachelor’s degree, in their major.

Back to the major issue at UW-Stevens Point. English, history, philosophy, political science, Spanish, and sociology are a few of the subjects that will no longer be available as majors at UWSP. Marketing, business, and other “practical” majors will remain.

Somehow, the Powers That Be at Stevens Point still plan to train teachers in English, history, and the rest. A secondary teacher used to need a major in their area of specialty. A math major would earn a major in math, and along the way gather enough educational courses (ed psych, ed sociology, to name a couple) to qualify to student teach for a term. I’m not sure how they plan to educate the next generation of educators without majors in the humanities.

Forbes calls it “Inhumanity.”  I fear it’s something else. Along with governor “Who needs a degree, anyway?” and his attack on the state’s public school system, it seems like he and his cohorts are bent on creating a lesser-educated public. Voters with less knowledge are, after all, less apt to think critically and ask hard questions.

The sour taste coming out of our budget-starved smaller campuses might be only the beginning in what seems to be the Dumbing Down of Wisconsinites.

Inhumanity, indeed.

Don’t give me a gun.

This is the only Glock I want in my school.

Glockenspiel, a.k.a. Bells

We watched the #MarchForOurLives walk through the downtown of my fair city. I didn’t have my camera ready, so I’ll have to improvise. Great signs included:

Teachers need to be paid, not armed

Books, not bullets

My right to bear children who will not be shot! 

Guns have more rights than my uterus does! 

We also saw two ACLU observers with bright vests and walkie talkies. I wondered if they anticipated trouble? One was near the middle of the crowd, the other closer to the end.

Many, many drivers waved and honked. We weren’t the only watchers, either; there were many like us who came to cheer and clap and support those who participated. I was proud to see such a turnout for a progressive cause in my small, conservative city.

#NeverAgain  #MarchforourLives

 

Violence is Here, too

When Sandy Hook School was attacked, 20 children slaughtered, 6 staff members murdered along with them, I wanted to huddle inside my own house. My little bubble was okay, no matter how awful the scene was in Newtown, Connecticut.

That fragile circle around my world didn’t stay whole, though. My bubble, the bubble that includes my students, was breached.

A man shot and killed three on a walking trail near my town in May of 2015 – just three years ago. A fourth person was wounded, but made it to safety. The shooter turned the gun on himself, and he died on the way to the hospital.

The next day, I learned that the 10 year old girl killed on the trail was a close friend of one of my students. Ten years old! With a close friend lost to gun violence! My bubble, like theirs, exploded.

About a year later, in a small Wisconsin town, a young man approached the high school prom and shot two students as they exited the dance. The two prom-goers survived; the shooter was shot by a police liaison officer and died on the scene.

Days later, I spent time listening to one of my students and her mother, both of whom knew the shooter well. The girl schooled online through my school, so she wasn’t in classes with the young people involved, but it’s a small town. Everyone knew him, everyone knew his mother. By extension, as a teacher, I was part of their bubble.

It’s the concentric circle theory, like dropping a pebble in water, but it’s a gunshot, not a pebble, spreading its impact. I hate the idea that someday it will be commonplace, not unique, to have a bubble burst by a shooting. I haven’t experienced a shooting, thank God, but I’ve been close enough to people who have.

Unfortunately, I feel all too far away from those who could make change and stop mass shootings from becoming everyday, all too common events. Those in Congress, in the Senate, and in the White House need to pass meaningful legislation, and pass it now.

Remember When – This Shooting Happened

When Sandy Hook School was attacked, 20 children slaughtered, 6 staff members murdered along with them, I wanted to stay home. I wanted to hold onto my own children, even though they were no longer children.

I had promised to attend a piano recital, though. One of my students was playing, and I didn’t want to let her down. What to do?

I took a deep breath and went to the recital, and I’m glad I did. By leaving the house, I could tell myself that life was normal and all was well – even if it wasn’t, might never be all well in the world. My little bubble was okay, no matter how awful the scene was in Newtown, Connecticut.

My colleague was substitute teaching in a first grade class that day. She will forever remember looking into those children’s faces and realizing that those who died were just like them.

We teachers view school shootings like that. It could have been my school. Those children were just like my students. The teachers did everything right, followed all the safety procedures. And still, they died. They died violently, in a tragedy that made no sense.

My message today is this: The Sandy Hook tragedy made no sense then, and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School’s tragedy makes no sense now. The inaction of our elected officials made no sense then, and makes no sense now.

In conclusion? There will be no conclusion until Congress takes action and bans weapons and ammunition that have only one purpose: to kill.

In December 2012, I called it Unthinkable.

An encore post that is all too timely.

This post changed titles three times already. I’ve drafted two rough starts and deleted both. There’s no making sense of the news from Newtown, CT. In its place, a flashback that hits me every time one of these unbelievable tragedies occurs.

Long ago – well, not really all that long ago. It was eight or nine years ago (now, in 2018, it’s a long time ago). I taught in an elementary school with a go-get-em principal, a woman who will remain at the top of my list for elementary principals forever. She was contacted by the local police department who wanted to train and practice the new recommended procedure to neutralize shooters or other dangerous intruders in a school, mall, or other public place

She said yes, of course. When she asked for teachers to volunteer, I joined up.

Along with most of the city’s liaison officers, several higher-up district administrators, and all the school principals in town, we teachers filed into a high school auditorium to watch an analysis of the Columbine High School tragedy. The officer in charge pointed out the main things that went wrong and then used that to tell us the rationale for the new training.

The method that was new then is now the norm for mass shooting scenes. CBS News interviewed one who helped put the philosophy into practice. “Go toward the shots,” he said repeatedly. “Neutralize the shooter or shooters.” It’s what we practiced, and it’s what they still do.

Sandy Hook Elementary School had staff who knew what to do. The principal’s last act may have been turning on her PA microphone in an attempt to inform the rest of the school that there was danger. Children told of calm teachers who pulled them to safety, hid them in corners and in closets and in cubbies, and evacuated them swiftly to the gathering place, a nearby firehouse.

Press conferences and news releases were, so far, compassionate and respectful. Grieving parents photographed from a distance, parents of surviving children showing support and empathy for those who lost theirs. But – there were no bodies, no blood, no attempts to show or suggest the carnage that remained in the school building the television cameras. For this thoughtfulness, I’m grateful. I hope members of the media continue to respect those touched by this tragedy.

But did this mass murderer show signs beforehand? We hear too many stories after the fact. Red flags, as we call them in education, fly up and grab our attention. Then files are filed and the students drop out or move out of town, out of state, out of range. The medical files remain sealed, and the only public statements come from the distant memories of people on the periphery, not close enough to have intervened.

Our public safety forces know how to get in and stop mass attacks like this. But so far, too few people know how to prevent them.

And that still scares me.