Sunday, February 18, 2018

Gun Control Will Not Stop School Shootings. Better Schools Will.

Last week's school shooting in Florida, leaving 17 dead and many wounded, was, a horrible, horrible tragedy. Again.

The incident has saddened an entire nation. Again.

And it has rocked teachers and schools all over the country to our core. Again.

Of course, it did not have to happen. These shootings can be avoided as easily as anything.

But I will not be participating in any school walk out which tries to force politicians to enact gun control. I don't think you should either.

The answer to this violence is not another push at gun control, as the former president, and numerous others, have suggested.

The answer is to rebuild schools that ensure the emotional safety of all students.

We once had that in this nation. We no longer do.

I am not claiming schools and teachers don't do these things now.  Quite the contrary. They -despite the many attempts to destroy the local public school- do. My claim is a bit less  simple:

An emotional healthy school community, filled with emotionally healthy students, used to be prioritized in US schools. They are now not. And this, not gun access, is the root cause for school shootings.

Things that were once held sacrosanct in schools -the things that were once prioritized-  are no longer priorities for one reason and one reason alone: The Education Reform Movement.

It placed testing and other achievement results for groups of students ahead of the overall health of the individual student and of the school community. We saw the results of that last week.

There. I said it.

We currently have schools with test prep programs where extra curricular activities used to be. We have children who cry during test times where laughter used to be and we have one counselor for every 2000 students where 6 or 7 used to be. All of this was done beginning in the late 1990s to support "higher achieving" schools. By the early oughts, the mantra was that no child should be left behind.

But by 2010, when it became clear we were leaving many children behind, we switched gears and raced to the top. We put even more pressure on teachers and on schools to reach these new metrics and we prioritized even less what our priority used to be.

We spent oodles of money (money that used to be spent on programs that made our schools healthy places of learning) on new curriculum to support new standards.

And we brought the teacher wars into the American vocabulary.

We spent money on Frameworks that told us what good teaching was, as though none of us in America had ever known. In New York, we spent tens of millions on 5 different frameworks. We researched and selected. We commented and amended.  When the new evaluation laws didn't work, we changed them. Then changed them again (and again).

During all of this, as we paid more attention to "data" and "metrics", we paid less, and eventually stopped, paying attention to the student and to the school community.

We sent teachers on year long quests for two letters -H.E.- in order to justify their jobs to themselves, to friends and family and to society.  School dances and after school clubs contribute far less to achieving these two letters. So teachers held less dances and advised fewer clubs.

Before I go any further, stop reading this and watch this video, produced after the Sandy Hook Shooting. If you have seen it. Please watch it again.

Are you back? Did you watch it?

Did you really watch it ;)?

If you did, then you probably noticed the school shooter lurking in the background of what was otherwise a cute teenager story. Now many teachers are trained to see certain things contained in the video. Typically, these would be things like:

  • Experiences of torment (in this case it was bullying at the lockers)
  • Demonstration that he is more comfortable in his own isolation (in the library)
  • Exhibits of the warning signs of social media posts and, in this instance, publicly obsessing over guns (again, the library and on Instagram)

And where was the teacher as the school shooter in this video was developing? Where was that teacher when the person was in the library researching guns, or shunning a "hello" from a fellow classmate, or being bullied in the hallways?

If you're a teacher, then you know the answer. He/she was was at a teacher team meeting looking at testing data and deciding what the next academic intervention/action plan would be. He/she was at a PD to understand how to implement the new (new (new)) Common Core. Or how to understand the new (new (new (new))) teacher evaluation as it pertained to their teaching practices.

Where was the support staff while the student from the video was in the library? Were they in a meeting looking to see which 20 or 25 students they could get to pass the next test or earn that next high school credit?

Was everybody completing a parental contact log?

Maybe they were all at a Danielson PD?

They weren't showing a movie in class because their students had worked hard on a project and needed time to relieve some stress by watching a movie. That is no longer allowed but it did allow teacher a chance to check in on their students as people.

They weren't playing a game that teaches socializing behavior and abstract thinking skills because, unless every single experience from the game is measurable on a test, those games are no longer allowed. There's another small opportunity to identify which student wasn't smiling when others were.

They weren't monitoring or tracking this student's behavior. They were all too busy for that, you see.

They sure as heck weren't at a training to figure how we celebrate national No One Eats Lunch Alone Day - a one day activity designed to ensure that we all say no to isolation in schools.

And why? Because that's not measurable.

They sure as heck weren't at a planning meeting to figure out how Rachel's Challenge -a unifying and beautiful anti bully campaign started by the father of Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine shooting- can be brought into their school community.

They sure as double heck weren't spending their time thinking of ways to make sure every student is well known by at least one adult. Nor were they they weren't thinking of ways to pay careful attention to students who exhibit emotionally poor conduct or emotionally disturbed behavior..

The districts no longer require these type of programs.  They cannot show they improve any metric.

As besides, tgeacher accountability required other commitments to be made.

They weren't doing any of the things that school staff used to do for a reason. And that reason isn't because of gun control.

It's because they were too busy dealing with the repercussions, and the achievements, of the Education Reform Movement - a movement that, on its best day, focuses only on academics and on its worst day turns away from the child in favor of paying attention to the metrics generated by groups of children.

Tell mel how many timers have you heard this before:

We now care more about the data generated by organizational structures like a school than we do about the children in them.

What happens when you stop paying attention to an individual and start paying attention to groups of students? What happens when you stop paying attention to actual human growth and start paying attention only the growth generated by assessment data and other metrics?

The answer is simple.

Don't forget, we're the same profession that went to war with the political establishment in 2010 because we, real educators,  knew that "Race To the Top" was hurting our students. I would like to suggest here that school shootings are evidence that we were right. Because of the politicians' race to the top, we as a society are lurking ever so closely to the bottom.

And yes, of course, the other institutions need to do their part as well. When child protection services clears an emotionally disturbed child, when the local police department does the same, when the FBI admit that they themselves failed to do their part, then we clearly have plenty of people outside of schools to blame.

But this isn't time for us to walk out of our schools and demand more gun laws. This is no time to allow ourselves as teachers to be exploited so that some politicians can achieve a political goal which the they themselves have failed to achieve for decades.

This is also no time to divide our own profession.  Many -many- law abiding gun owners are also our colleagues in the classroom. Law abiding gun owners care about emotionally safe schools and safe students too. They have also seen the failures of law enforcement organizations.

They have also seen the damage that the absence of programs -many of which were cut due to the demands placed on all of us by the Education Reform Movement- has created.

They inhabit the same brick and mortar buildings that were once thriving school communities too. They are in this fight too.

Now is not the time to stand up for students by demanding some political agenda. To do so would be go against our ethics and deny us the very thing -wise, modest political impartiality- that allows us to maintain a special role within our society.

Now -now- is the time to stand up for students by demanding the return of programs and teaching styles and priorities which  allowed us to to pay careful attention to students but were taken from our schools by people who claimed to knew better.

This isn't complicated. There were no school shootings decades ago because there were no education "reform" initiatives decades ago.

So when February 20th, or March 14th, or April 20th or May 1st comes around, don't abandon your pedestal by walking out of your school.  Spend that time to demand from our local politicians more money for programs which make sure no student is alone, or bullied or has fallen off of our radar because of something else that we have to do. Spend that time to insist we stop preparing groups of students for tests and start preparing individuals for their own realistic futures. Spend that time on efforts which unite our entire profession to take back our schools and turn them into the thriving communities they used to be.


  1. Thank you for putting together a very well thought out piece. As a 20 year teacher who happens to be a gun owner, it is great to hear a voice of reason.

    1. Thanks for this comment! We need more of those voices of reason.

  2. I'm a gun owner and you're nuts. I'm turning mine in tomorrow.

    1. I am! Nuts, that is. I would love to know why you will be turning in your gun. I'm just fascinated at the thought. Do you feel uncomfortable being a gun owner in America after this? I have never owned or fired a gun so I'm just fascinated at the thought of a gun owner being spurred to turn in his/her gun, especially since no one has asked current gun owners to do so. PLEASE explain!!

  3. Great post. There is no political meat left on the bones of teachers so no politician will bite. There's still plenty of political meat on guns so 2 opposing sides will continue to play to their bases and nothing productive will come from this tragedy as with tragedies past. No one in power is actually interested in fixing the problem. Mass shootings give the democrats a battle cry and the republicans get to warn their side of the government wanting to disarm its citizens. More spinning of wheels and getting no where. Bringing humanity back to the American school systems can potentially save lives. Too bad no one in power will accept that fact and make necessary changes. Thank you for writing this piece. It's the truth no one wants to hear.

  4. Great post. Real resources here. But. . I’m a little stunned that you’re not supporting a walk out. It’s almost the only thing I can imagine working. The differences that I’ve seen in the last 20 years that has led to this point is the relaxing of gun laws (especially assault riffles), the popularity of first person shooter video games, and the way American masculinity has been effected by two endless wars. I think data driven Ed reform has definitely added to this cocktail of alienation. But, I feel like your argument doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. You had me in the middle part, but, the end felt like a Hail Mary attempt to stop activists from walking out. Honestly, it feels like something is left unsaid here about why you don’t want us to take this stand. Are you afraid we are being used as pawns, or something?

    1. Thanks for commenting!
      I do want to be mors clear at some point. But for now, I COMPLETELY SUPPORT students walking out to advocate for gun control. I will stand with them to the very best of my ethical limits. Voltaire's quote "I may disagree with what you say but I will defdnd to the death your right to say it" comds into my mind.It's their moment.
      And my opinion ... that if a walk out works and we have more strict gun laws, there will still be school shootings .. eon't be shoved in anyone's face. I do thonk is an outgrowth of that cocktail of alientation you eloquently describe here. It's just my opinion. But if my students opinions are different, I'll be right nezt to them waving thw flag and teachuig them the chants (as long as it's before 8 or after 3) and ill be there for one reason ... because a mass wall out is a mlment of huge empowerment.