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Archive for December, 2012

I hate the fact that this country has been thrown into this discussion the way that it has. The events leading to this discussion were costly and horrific. As I have stated before we need to discuss the facts and not propaganda or demagogy. We should also examine the facts without emotion which, in light of events and the victims, seems an impossible task. Educators have now been thrust into the discussion as a result of so many schools being victimized. There is also a consideration by some to arm teachers.

In a recent discussion on BAM radio three education groups, a national teacher group, a national principal group, and a national superintendent group were asked about their position on arming teachers. The lens that we use must influence our opinions. The teachers’ group, whose members are closest to kids, was against it. The principals’ group, whose members are closest to the teachers, was against it. The superintendents’ group whose members are closest to outside forces of education supported it. These are groups and not individuals. I am sure that most educators of any title are willing to look at all of the facts and considerations before supporting anything that will profoundly affect our children. This is merely my observation.

Our military and police, in order to be armed and effective at defense, undergo extensive weapons and tactical training. It is not a single PD day at the beginning of the school year. They are continually trained and updated and not left to self-train. An ongoing battle in too many schools across this nation is to get Professional Development for teachers. Teachers want, but often cannot get the most relevant training in methods, tools and pedagogy in order to be a relevant educator. PD too often falls victim to declining budgets. It is not prioritized as it should be. Now we have a suggestion to arm teachers knowing that we need to initially and continually train teachers in weapons and tactics. How much time will it take them from their classes, and at what cost? Will we need to eliminate more teaching positions to support arming teachers?

What about police response teams answering the call to a mass shooting at a school? Most police first responders today train in sweeping schools for the purpose of eliminating armed threats. With armed teachers in the schools, response teams will need to hesitate with every encounter. This will take more time to clear a school. Time is an enemy in these situations. The other unanswered question is where are the hundreds of students when response bullets from armed teachers begin flying? Do armed teachers leave their students?

What about the mental perspective of these armed teachers? Most teachers that I know have the idea of helping and teaching in their DNA. That is what motivated them to be teachers and not soldiers or policemen. What does the responsibility of having to carry a gun to protect the learning community do to a teacher? Will these armed teachers need to undergo some sort of psychological testing to see if they can withstand the stress of this new responsibility, or do we rely on some imagined vigilante strength to carry them through?

I continue to come up with questions about arming people? Will the “Stand Your Ground “Law pop up in teacher defenses in cases where armed teachers felt that the community was threatened by an intruder wearing a hoody? The police and military have a great incidence of suicides because of the demands of their work and incidents these dedicated people are forced to deal with. Should that be a concern for schools? Will we need ongoing counseling to help cope with stress?

There are three things that all of these mass shootings have in common, Guns, a person who is not responsible for his actions, and victims. In order for the idea of defense to succeed here, it would be the goal to reduce or eliminate any of these components. The answer is not to add guns, or add shooters, or add victims. I think arming teachers may not fall in line with that vision.

An emotional response from any teacher would be “I would do anything to protect my students.” Most teachers think of their students in terms of family. This however is an emotional response and possibly not couched in reality for most educators. The idea of shooting someone in theory may be an easier task than doing it in reality. The intent may be there, but the ability might be lacking for many reasons.

I am not opposed to the Second Amendment. Gun ownership is not the problem. A gun, in the hands of a person not responsible for his/her actions, is a problem. That is complicated by the number of guns in America. We represent 5% of the world’s population, but we own 50% of all of the guns in the world. That is only one part of the problem. Maybe instead of the expense of arming and training teachers in every school in the country, we might want to use that money for a gun buy-back program. Australia spent $500 Billion dollars in buy backs with great success. Maybe each community could decrease the possibility of an illegal gun falling into the hands of a local person in need of help. Of course this is not the answer to the problem, but it is not adding to the problem either. Now we need to extend the discussion without regard to special interest groups that are focusing on their concerns and not the needs of the American people.

My only hesitation about doing a post on this subject is the scary people who are drawn to it. I encourage discussion, but I will not entertain comments claiming our president is enslaving us. I do not believe we need guns to fight our government. I will eliminate any comments from this post that are not advancing the discussion. I have never had to say that with any other post I have ever written. Some of the comments by some people give credence to the argument that not every person is mentally capable of gun ownership. By the way Columbine had an armed guard. The answer is NOT to Arm Teachers.

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This is probably the wrong time to sit down and address what has just happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. All of the details are not yet out, but the news media has made many statements and assumptions that seem to hold up myths about schools that we continue to hear each time another of this growing number of horrendous incidents explodes on the TV screen. Reporters continue to ask the question, “Were all of the security and safety measures in place and adhered to?”

Here is a fact: Video cameras, Buzzers on doors, People sitting at desks in the hallways of schools, even metal detectors are not security against an armed attacker. The people maintaining these items could very well be the first victims of the assault. These measures and methods taken by schools are to give an illusion of safety to caring parents and teachers. It is an assurance that schools are seemingly doing something to protect children. None of these measures however, protect children from an armed intruder bent on killing as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. In terms of schools, we must understand the people we refer to are children.

In my lifetime these tragic attacks have occurred at the college, high school, middle school and now at the elementary school level. Most recently, they also occurred at a movie theater  shopping mall and a political open air, town hall gathering complete with a congresswoman. After each of those incidents the idea of discussion about the problem for some reason had to be put off for a few months before we could talk about it. I did not understand it then, and I do not understand it now. We need to see this as a problem. We can’t wait until we add a pre-school, or a maternity ward to the long and growing list of places where kids are being killed. This incident is now listed as number 5 in the Top school shootings. What civilized, educated country has a list like that? How long is that list?

The Terrorists of 911 have changed how we all travel today. Measures are taken to prevent weapons being taken aboard planes. Yes we are inconvenienced and many of us complain every time we go through those long lines. We comply, because it is reasonable, and it insures our right and freedom to travel. One imbecilic terrorist made an unsuccessful attempt to use a shoe bomb and today, and every day, any American boarding a plane takes off his/her shoes. We all complain about that, but it is a reasonable sacrifice for safety. The cost of us learning this lesson of reasonableness about safety and security in the air came at a huge price to our country. It took well over 3,000 lives in NYC, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.

What is the total number of dead children that we need to get to before we can begin discussions to change what we are doing now? Obviously, what we are doing is not working. We need to have a discussion based on facts and not rhetoric. Too many of the facts about guns and their control have been distorted by too many people and a few organizations, well healed with the ability to put out misinformation and propaganda. We need critical thinking skills to sort through all of the BS. We need honesty, clarity and focus. We cannot start from a position stating that “nothing can be done”.  If we ask, how do we prevent another incident where 20 children, ages 5-10, and 8 adults being killed in an elementary school in a matter of minutes. How can an educated civilized culture accept that “nothing can be done” as an answer? If the solution doesn’t begin NOW with US, when will it begin? Is there an actual number of dead children that is a tipping point? More importantly, are my kids going to be in that number? Are yours?

I believe in the constitution, and I believe in the Second amendment. I believe that citizens have the right too own guns. I also believe that right comes with a very big responsibility. Not everyone is responsible. Not everyone is mentally stable enough to be held responsible. I believe that we can regulate guns with commonsense laws in consideration of the facts, and not the rhetoric. I believe that reasonable people can look at real facts and come to reasonable conclusions that can lead to reasonable controls. The process however must begin with discussion. That almost never happens after these horrific events. There will be blog posts like this, editorials, documentaries, and maybe a “60 Minutes” segment, but probably no real substantive, focused meaningful discussion to protect kids will ever take place in the political arena. Politicians need to put the right to life for our kids first. The discussions will move to protect the rights of people who may not capable of responsibility to hold in their hands the lives of our children. If not now, when? If not us, who?

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We are preparing our students for life. I hear so many educators use this sentence when asked, what is the purpose of education? Many years ago I believed that to be true as well. Maybe many generations back it may have been true. In consideration of all that I observe, even with some great innovation,  and a whole bunch of technology integration that is taking place in so many schools across the country, I don’t believe “preparing our students for life” is the focus or goal of education today. The real irony is that school for kids is real life, a fact often overlooked by educators.

The most obvious reason this is not the case is that we don’t have a clue what the future holds for our children. We will have them in public schools for 13 years. Try to envision what it was like looking backwards to the world as we knew it then. 1999 was quite a different world. We had scarcely a clue of what to expect to find in 2012. The only way to prepare kids for life was to make adjustments every step of the way. The education system does not favor on-the-fly adjustments. The education system needs to weigh, deliberate and consider each and every change. It must all be research-based and research takes time. Education is not ahead of the curve in incorporating technology in learning, it continues to play catch up.  A technology-driven society does not allow the luxury of catching up. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography, and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names boundaries, populations, and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot hope to keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We have research showing us different modalities of learning. We embrace differentiation in teaching. We strive for inclusion of all students to learn in a single teaching environment, while addressing individual strengths for learning. We talk about personalized learning for each student. We use individualized learning plans to maximize learning. We recognize that all kids are created differently. Even in consideration of all of that, we standardize their assessment. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We hold up the innovators as models. Innovators are our 21st Century heroes. We encourage out-of-the-box thinking while restricting our teachers to in-the-box teaching and assessing it with in-the- box tests. We want our students to be innovative, but require them to be compliant with teaching methods of the past. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

Why do we continue to limit the learning time of our students in order to do test preparation?  How can we continue to insist that kids limit themselves with the cramming of content for a test instead of using their skills to get that content anywhere and at any time? How can we continue to prepare our students for a tech-driven culture demanding critical thinking skills and the ability to problem solve by assessing their content retention? We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education that we provide today?  Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.

We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future. Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents. Our kids are not empty vessels to be filled with content in order to pass a standardized test. Each day, as technology moves faster, that fact is driven home with more emphasis.  Will we ever be able to truly claim that we are effectively preparing kids for life?

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