Posts Tagged ‘national conversation’

A funny thing happened on the day that schools all over the US were supposed to be attacked again, and the world was scheduled to end.


Never mind the fact that on Friday, Dec. 21, many districts nationwide closed and a lot of schools locally and elsewhere saw significantly high rates of absenteeism. Some parents refused to send their kids to school; other kids, being kids, milked it and began vacation a day early.

As a teacher, I’ve been through this before. In the beginning, it was the horror of Columbine. The following week, one could cut the tension in the schools with a knife. And on the first anniversary, I remember the hype being even worse. The stress levels were off the charts. More than a dozen years later, I’m also now a parent with school age children.

Following the latest horrific school tragedy, a well-meaning teacher in Florida coined the phrase “our 9/11 for schoolteachers”- google it if you like-as he looked ahead to returning to the classroom following the shooting. And true to the pattern established after Columbine, each passing day in the schools saw the tension levels ratcheted up. By Friday many schools even had an armed presence in the hallways. Outside my own classroom a kid accidentally dropped his books –a couple of my students flinched automatically and then shot glances at one another. But I don’t think anyone laughed.

When a student “joked” that he heard we were all going to die Friday, the marker got capped, that day’s lesson went out the window and a new one began. I turned one of their desks around, pulled out the chair, and sat down. We clarified the lockdown procedure; I explained my expectations; they listened. Then the questions came.

Thus we began the “national conversation”. And it was not about gun control.

It was about fear control.

I did not psychoanalyze or attempt to explain the inexplicable. I listened to the concerns, but gently steered the conversation back to the elephant in the school hallways- the unadulterated undercurrent of anxiety and fear pulsing through the building.

I told them that if a couple designated school safety officers with concealed carry permits might make people feel better, maybe a paradigm shift should be part of the discussion. But let’s consider first how we got here.

I told them that in preparing my own lessons, and thinking and writing about them at my blog, I constantly am exploring what it truly means to be an American. The actions of the perpetrator do not define us. After catastrophes, as a people Americans are consistent in exhibiting an outflowing of love, compassion, concern and “the demonstration of wish and good intentions”- a term once used by a friend, a Holocaust survivor, to describe the reaction of the American soldiers who found him in his pitiful state. This national inclination to want to help others who are suffering makes me proud, but there is another reaction that needs to be brought up.

Everyone wants to help. To me, though, there is something a bit discomforting about a nationally known TV doctor attempting to comfort a grieving child in Newtown. Whether or not the star sanctioned it, it was transformed into a photo op. I found it unsettling when another daytime television megastar softly pitched questions to a sobbing child about his dead brother. A promotional soundbite let me know that “coming up, the All New Dr. “X” show will be on the ground in Newtown.”

It was incessant, and we ate it all up. It made us sick, yet we came back for more. We posted links on Facebook. Our kids were bombarded with this, and it would just a matter of time before the “did you hear” rumors circulated. Every school chief information officer in this nation had the door pounded in that week, I will guarantee. Parents demand action and criticize policy. The “how safe are your schools” surveys begin. And it all trickles down.

It seems today that our fears are fueled exponentially by our desire for information and the media’s accommodation of our needs. Fear and death sells, and rules the day. For some reason we seem to be drawn to it.

So we steered the discussion back. As a teacher, I do not accept the notion of “our 9/11 for school teachers”, just as a parent I chose not to be subjected to the incessant media broadcasts of terror and anxiety in the days following the attack. We can’t control others, but we can control how we react. But if, as a nation, we decide we want to send our kids to reverse prisons every day, then we have made our choice.

The day after our conversation, on Friday, December 21st, one of the students who did venture back into school  commented that she felt better, felt safer. Maybe it was the two officers patrolling the halls.

But maybe our classroom conversation had something to do with it as well.

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I had hoped to have a few days to reflect on my own  loss mentioned in the previous post but as an educator, this has to be brought up. Now.

If you are a follower, much of the teaching history matters website is to explore the idea of what it truly means to be an American. What is it that truly defines us as a people? What is it that we truly value? What do we want to pass on to our children?

Following the latest horrific tragedy, we are hearing a lot of buzz about having a “national conversation.” And I don’t see where it’s doing kids much good.

Kids seem to become more anxious with each passing hour, though the tragedy occurred last week.  Now they are in front of you in the classroom. Your job is to explain the world to them. They look to you for answers and solutions, reassurance and comfort.

Try walking in a teacher’s shoes this week.

Here is some hard earned advice gleaned over working through past school related tragedies, which I offer up to the three teachers who follow this blog.

  1.  Don’t try to make sense or explain the inexplicable, or offer “solutions”.
  2. Don’t psychoanalyze or pontificate.
  3. If a kid is with seven teachers a day, consider “teachable moment  impact fatigue” (I think I just coined a new phrase) as well. You still have a lesson planned. Pause, reflect, be human, but carry on. There are more days ahead.
  4. On a personal note, consider unplugging the TV for a few days. Trust me, you won’t miss anything. Log off of Facebook, maybe even turn off the smartphone.

Say no to death and fear.

Breathe. Set the real tone. Just be.

Peace. And leave the decorations up, for the kids’ sake and our own.

Read More: A Conversation.


I read this Friday. For me, this lady nailed it out of the gate.

not heard ’round the world-lifted from Quartz.com

The deadliest school massacre in US history was in 1927. Why its aftermath matters now

By Lenore Skenazy — December 15, 2012

In the end there were 38 children dead at the school, two teachers and four other adults.

I’m not talking about the horrific shooting in Connecticut today. I’m talking about the worst school murder in American history. It took place in Michigan, in 1927. A school board official, enraged at a tax increase to fund school construction, quietly planted explosives in Bath Township Elementary. Then, the day he was finally ready, he set off an inferno. When crowds rushed in to rescue the children, he drove up his shrapnel-filled car and detonated it, too, killing more people, including himself. And then, something we’d find very strange happened.


No cameras were placed at the front of schools. No school guards started making visitors show identification. No Zero Tolerance laws were passed, nor were background checks required of PTA volunteers—all precautions that many American schools instituted in the wake of the Columbine shootings, in 1999. Americans in 1928—and for the next several generations —continued to send their kids to school without any of these measures. They didn’t even drive them there. How did they maintain the kind of confidence my own knees and heart don’t feel as I write this?

They had a distance that has disappeared. A distance that helped them keep the rarity and unpredictability of the tragedy in perspective, granting them parental peace.

“In 1928, the odds are that if people in this country read about this tragedy, they read it several days later, in place that was hard to get to,” explains Art Markman, author of “Smart Thinking” (Perigee Books, 2012). “You couldn’t hop on a plane and be there in an hour. Michigan? If you were living in South Carolina, it would be a three-day drive. It’s almost another country. You’d think, ‘Those crazy people in Michigan,’ same as if a school blows up in one of the breakaway Republics.”

Time and space create distance. But today, those have compressed to zero. The Connecticut shooting comes into our homes–even our hands–instantly, no matter where we live. We see the shattered parents in real time. The President can barely maintain composure. This sorrow isn’t far away, it’s local for every single one of us.

And of course it brings up Columbine. Two horrors, separated by years and miles, are now fused into one. It feels like terrible things are happening to our children all the time, everywhere. Nowhere is safe.

As a result, I expect we will now demand precautions on top of precautions. More guards. More security cameras. More supervision. We will fear more for our kids and let go of them even more reluctantly. Every time we wonder if they can be safe beyond our arms, these shootings will swim into focus.

Will this new layer of fear and security make our children any safer? Probably not, but for a reassuring reason: A tragedy like this is so rare, our kids are already safe. Not perfectly safe. No one ever is. But safe.

That’s a truth the folks in 1928 America understood. We just don’t feel that way now.

Not when there’s no distance between us and the parents in Newtown.


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