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.

Remember when – before school safety drills?

Almost twenty years ago, it was. I taught in our neighborhood school, a relatively small building with a student population of, oh, maybe 300, max. In a tornado drill, we could fit the entire student body in the maintenance engineer’s basement storage room. In a fire drill, we could exit the building quickly and get back inside before the lessons were forgotten.

Then one day the fire alarm went off – in the rain, and during the lunch period. No one knew who pulled it or if something had malfunctioned. There was chaos at first as kids tried to figure out which exit was closest. Then there were moans and groans of “It’s raining! Hard! I’m getting soaked!” Principal and police liaison swept the school as quickly as they could and sent us all back inside.

And then the alarm went off again. This time, teachers grabbed their umbrellas and cell phones. We checked in with each other, brought the kids around to the same side of the building, and actually took shelter in a neighbor’s (thankfully large) garage. And then, someone started to whisper.

“Someone could have shot us all. Like in Arkansas, right?” “Or in Colorado. That place with the kids in trench coats.” Jonesboro, Arkansas: March, 1998. Littleton, Colorado: April, 1999. Suddenly the cold spring rain didn’t matter quite as much. All of us, teachers and students, were cold and wet and scared – but no one was shooting. It was okay, sorta kinda okay.

Today, many years later, schools often drill during the lunch period “just in case.” Many schools have an alternate location set up in case of rain or bitter cold. All of these are good signs, signs of progress in keep our students safe.

Today, many years later, we drill to keep kids away from a potential active shooter. We did lock down drills for years. Now we conduct ALICE drills – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.  No matter what the name, schools practice getting students out of the way when someone comes into a school with a weapon. No matter what the safety procedure, children and adults still get killed.

And this, my friends, is not good. Not good at all.

More Postcards I Didn’t Send

Dear Mr. Vice President;

Your behavior during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies was tacky, unsportsmanlike, and just plain wrong. By standing only for your own country, not even acknowledging the Korean hosts of the game, you showed the America First attitude at its worst.

Cheering for the Masses,


Dear Mr. President;

When you support abusive men, women are listening. We’re listening, and we vote.


Dear Mr. Speaker;

You responded to 17 deaths in another school shooting by telling us that “This is not the time to jump to some conclusion.” No one is jumping anywhere unless they’re jumping out of range or running for their lives.

From the Island of Conclusions (jumped there, of course),


Who Are The Next School Shooters?

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.

The Postcards I didn’t send – yet

I’m still sending postcards to my elected officials. I write them in cursive in the hopes that it’ll make the office interns have to work to read them. I did tell a certain office-holder that eliminating Net Neutrality would cut down the number of followers to his Twitter feed. But other than that, I’ve restrained myself rather well. Here are a few messages that have gone through my head, but not through the mail.

Dear Senator Johnson;

A secret society in the FBI? What’s next, a conspiracy theory about the moon landing? A committee to find Communists? One Red Scare was enough, thank you very much. We Wisconsinites are not proud that McCarthyism started with one of our own.


No Red Rose, just Daisy

Dear Congressman Gallagher;

Your letters are long, wordy, and low on substance. Many times your responses seem to carry the intention of educating your constituents. Unfortunately, your man-‘splaining essays do more to insult the intelligence of your well educated voters.

Daisy (with a Graduate Degree, I might add)

Dear Senator Baldwin;

Keep fighting the good fight. You have many supporters here in our fair state.

Daisy, campaign volunteer

Dear Speaker Ryan;

You’re good with numbers. However, you keep forgetting that each number on your spreadsheet represents a real person. A person with rent or a mortgage, a person with bills to pay, a person who pays taxes. A person, if she has the proper ID, who votes.

A voter paying attention,


Dear Mr. President;

Have you read the story “Kaddo’s Wall”? My students, unprompted, said that Kaddo reminded them of you. Oh, what am I thinking? You’re not a reader.

Teacher (and lifelong learner),


Hawaii – Paradise, Innocence Lost

Influenza has reached epidemic levels in 49 of these United States. The lucky state without the dreaded flu (for now) is Hawaii. Hawaii, however, had its own scare Saturday.

First: Cell phones across Hawaii received an emergency alert telling them in all caps:


Parents called their children. Young adults called their parents. Those who could, sought shelter. Those who had no way of getting out of harm’s way – well, all did what they could.

For 38 minutes, people prepared and panicked and told their loved ones – if we’re completely honest here, folks, people called their loved ones to say goodbye. They called to say love you, love you forever, I may not survive the day.

Then the announcement came: FALSE ALARM! Roadside signs announced NO THREAT! Word on social media spread that the cause of this outrageous scare was due to a “wrong button pushed” during a shift change. The governor came on (after a long wait – he’ll take flack for that) and assured the residents and visitors to his state that “steps have been taken to ensure that a situation of this type will never happen again.”

Mr. Governor has a tough road ahead of him. We in the continental U.S. join our island friends in asking questions, too.

  1. What took so long? In today’s techie world, 38 minutes? Did no one notice sooner?
  2. Why did social media hit the story ages before the mainstream media? Not even a crawl addressed this in cable news or on the major networks – even after the 38 minute long scare.
  3. Where was our president? Did no one inform him? Did he even care?
  4. On the other hand, maybe we should be glad he was heavily into a golf game and didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction that would send out an attack in response to a perceived threat.
  5. Think about it. One wrong button pushed? I have a hard time believing that a single click or press could result in an emergency announcement of this magnitude. Steps taken after the fact may be too little, too late.
  6. Think long run: how will this affect travelers’ willingness to visit the Aloha state?

Hawaiians and tourists, I feel for you. For once in my life, I’m grateful to be in the middle of the heartland, surrounded by the Great Lakes instead of the Pacific Ocean. I can’t say I mind the cold and the snow. I’ll deal with the below-zero wind chills; I’ll power through the snowdrifts. I’ll wrap myself in blankets and give thanks that my fair city is unlikely to be target for a missile attack, unless that missile is a football soaring over Clay Mathews’ head into an opponent’s arms.

Still, I have questions. I’m sure many thousands of others have questions, too.

Word for the Year – Action

More than a few years ago, in January of 2009, many bloggers welcomed the new year by choosing a word. The word was to provide a focus, guiding changes and progress throughout the calendar year. That year, I chose Action. 

Scrappy Affirmations (look her up, she’s awesome), asked for suggestions of goal words for her key chains. Without thinking further, I suggested Action. 

Action is a natural for this time. To begin with, it means to continue Project Postcard. I’ll print a new set of return address labels to make this action easy.

Don’t have a word yet? Haven’t thought about it? Take a look – adopt one of these or use them as a starting point to find your own.

This is not in any way a sponsored post. You can see “my” word in her collection, and if you check out her page, you’ll see a lot more. 

Looking Back (2013) and Looking Ahead (2018)

Oh, Facebook. Those “memories” can be good, bad, humorous, and even painful. Five years ago today I posted this:

2013 is not a year for Resolutions, per se. It is a year for goals.
Recover from “stroke” that wasn’t really a stroke: gain enough strength to walk to work again.
Publish our (Chuck’s & my) book.
I said two, but a third: continue to learn and grow as a teacher in the online education world.

Where to start? The “stroke” turned to be a true stroke, visible in a later MRI with updated technology. Finding this led to another procedure that discovered a nearly completely blocked artery – a major one – and placed a stent in it. That stent is still operating well, and the aneurysm on the opposite side of my brain has remained stable. All things considered, life is precious.

Chuck and I set the book aside for a while. It’s time to pull together and get back on it. Now that he is settled into a new job with a lower stress level, he can take a deep breath and put in some time at the computer writing and editing.

Five years later, I am still teaching in the online world. I’ve stretched my learning and taken on leadership roles within my department and working on curriculum with the national (corporate) people as well. The best teachers are lifelong learners; I hope I fall into that category.

2018 will be a year to increase my activity in the political and societal realms. There’s too much negative in the world to sit back and let it happen. My word for the year is “Action” and the corresponding goal is to speak up. Postcards, emails, letters to the editors – every voice counts.

Happy New Year, friends and family. Let’s make it a good one.