Category Archives: gun violence

BULL’S EYE

I don’t know where the bickering has taken the lawmakers on Capital Hill.  I don’t know if we are closer to a bill that begins to slake American’s out-of-control thirst for guns.  But I found this photograph from Education Week to be chilling:

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These are educators in Clifton, Texas at a shooting range. The new professional development.

Does anyone honestly think armed teachers make our school safer?

I’m thinking about  the lockdown we experienced last year when some tweaker off the streets  jumped a fence and entered one of our classrooms with a knife in his hand.  I’m thinking about how many teachers I passed on my way out to confront him in the classroom.  The look in their eye.  The terror. I have no idea how many people might have been hurt if one of those panicked teachers had whipped out a gun (they would keep it locked up, right?)… managed to load it (locked in a safe, un-loaded, right?)… aimed it at the wild-eyed  intruder and commanded him to drop his weapon.  And of course he wouldn’t have complied any more than he complied with me when I offered to escort him off the campus.

So what do naive, common citizens do when they are armed to the teeth and staring down an stranger at their school and the whole episode does not seem to go according to the script from the “School Safety Plan” or the last tv show they watched that made it all look so easy and antiseptic.

What happens when a teacher kills an un-armed visitor who poses no real threat at all?

What happens when a teacher starts spraying bullets through classroom walls into areas where other kids have “ducked and covered”?

What happens when the intruder quits laughing long enough to take her weapon away from her– and now instead of being armed with a pen knife he is armed with that freaking gun?

UnknownThe NRA has figured it out.  They know how Apple Computers benefitted from their partnership with schools (considerably more than schools benefitted!) and how the endless cycle of technology upgrades has affected their stock market fortunes. They see thousands of schools, millions of educators, and an endless stream of future customers sitting in desks learning about the Second Amendment of the Constitution. They see momentum building off of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and they want to ride it all the way to Wall Street. It’s a bull market.

They see pictures of entire school districts teambuilding out on the firing range. Target practice for God and country;  improving public education in the bargain.

Not me.  I still see that terrified look in our student’s faces as they ran out of that classroom, fleeing for their lives.  And the relief when it ended so quietly and peacefully.  No one hurt.

Nothing good will come from more guns in places where they don’t belong.  Just more red dots on the HP map depicting the number of gun deaths since Sandy Hook:

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Filed under children at risk, Common Core State Standards, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, teaching, technology in schools, Uncategorized

TRADING MACS FOR GLOCKS: A Twisted Vision and the New Frontier

gunsWe’re trading in our Macs. We don’t need them anymore.

Trading our laptops too. We have thwarted the nascent rise of iPads. Now. Before they become too familiar.

I mean, what good is digital literacy if some sinister shadow drops in out of the sky to shoot up the school. And we all know it happens. We all feel that sense of dread lingering, remotely familiar, like the acrid cloud of cafeteria food prepped daily for a thousand kids. We all read the headlines:

L.A. School District Buys 14 Semi-Automatic Rifles To Protect Students

Southern California Schools Get High-Powered Rifles

GOP Lawmaker Wants High Schools To Teach Kids To Shoot

Mother Writes $12,000 Check For Armed Guard At Daughter’s Elementary School

5-Year-Old Suspended For Pink Bubble Gun Threat

Duncan: You Can’t Teach Kids Scared Of Being Killed

The School Where Nearly Every Student Has Experienced Gun Violence

18 States Already Allow Guns In Schools With Few Restrictions

Utah Teacher Wants To Carry Gun Without Telling Parents, Students

Minnesota Teacher Brings Loaded Gun To School For Fear Of Newtown Shooting

Our fences cannot rise any higher and still stand against the wind. We have rows of metal detectors. Our children remove their shoes for inspection as if they were boarding an airplane. They know the drill. We scope their pockets and their backpacks. We x-ray their intent. They are each sworn daily to refrain from brandishing arms. At least in any menacing way. It is our new and collective oath of allegiance to protect one another from mutual annihilation.

We are America’s most innovative school. We are widely renown as the first in any line of early adopters. First to be wired. First to go viral. First to poke holes in the internet firewall. We used to camp out for iPhones but we can’t afford dual priorities: upgrade learning technology or arm to the teeth?

So we invest in the latter. Once secure in our conviction that Macs were superior to IBM’s, we now know what we know: Apple expenditures are so pre-Newtown.

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So we have glocked up. Every kid. Every teacher.

We ripped out the fitness stations that lined our running track and installed target shooting pods. They are creative. Colorful. They lend themselves to seamless integration of the so-called 21’st Century Skills– to which we have now unilaterally added: “Mastery of Firepower.”

Our students may be prone to childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, but they can freakin’ shoot. And besides, are you going to be the one to tell them they are fat?

Our “Gun Free Zone” is the registration counter, where in exchange for enrolling here you get your guns for free. (Ammunition clips are provided at no cost– however, any modifications are subject to the discretion of individual families.) Frankly, I worry about that policy. In the name of equity, is it fair that some families can afford state-of-the-art ammo packs while others can not? Are we perpetuating another national divide of “haves” and “have more pop”?

teacherOf course, without trained teachers, what good is an entire student body strapped to their sidearms?

So on minimum days we target and crouch and shoot and load and afterwards debrief. There’s a lot of peer coaching. A lot of self reflection and goal setting. We feel morally obligated to out-shoot the kids.  And so we do.

As of late, we are frequently invited to present break-out sessions at state and national conferences: “Shooting Straight:  How Schools Can Target the Real Common Core Priorities.” And: “The New Literacy Standards: How Guns at School Somehow Sharpen Everyone’s Listening and Speaking Skills.”

We’ve done keynotes. Workshops. Webinars. TED-talks. Book signings.

This year we intend to run a booth when ASCD merges with the NRA at the the national gun show in Las Vegas.

And while our academic metrics have virtually imploded, our kids and our staff generally feel good about themselves. We feel like pioneers of the old west. Revolutionaries. And we feel safer in the bargain. Sort of.

Now that we have a baseline established, we can afford to debate whether glocks are enough. We are nothing if not professionally diligent. We are an ever-visionary and forward thinking lot:

“What if Sunnyside arms their kids with higher caliber weapons?”

“How do we keep up with the inevitable modifications and weaponry upgrades– say…Glocks 2.0.?”

“If we hire a sniper coach, where should we place him or her on the salary scale? And would she have to be credentialed?”

“What happens when we discover that we’ve been  left behind in the arms race?”

Taken together the questions are chilling. Where’s the leadership?

So I sidle into my office and remove my firearms as I sit at my desk to Google updates on best practices. I reach for my laptop when I am reminded– that we traded our technology for glocks.  It’s gone.

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More  from Kevin W. Riley…

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Filed under children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, school reform, technology in schools, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies

A POEM FOR BARACK OBAMA UPON THE INAUGURATION OF AMERICA, PART II


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I have a thousand favorite poets so when I cite Maya Angelou it’s not just because everyone knows and loves her work.  It’s because I know and love her work.  I was mesmerized by her reading of  “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993:

“Here on the pulse of this new day– you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister’s eyes, into your brother’s face, your country, and say simply, very simply, with hope… Good morning.”

Unknown-3On Monday, Richard Blanco becomes the fifth poet to contribute to our Inaugural history when he offers a poem for the nation and the President’s second term.  He will follow some towering shadows cast by Dr. Angelou and Robert Frost.  As a young Latino immigrant, his experience growing up in America will not doubt be reflected in his work.

But I decided you don’t have to be formally invited to Open Mic Day on the Capital steps to contribute to the body of Inauguration poetry.  When I wrote my poem for President Obama on the occasion of his first Inauguration, I was moved by the profound historic significance of  his election.  It wasn’t chosen for the big event but I posted it here anyway and it has gotten thousands of hits over the past four years.  Through the political battles, arguments, threats, criticisms, wars, animosity and divisions… I still have faith in America and our President.

So I am reposting A Poem for Barack Obama Upon the Inauguration of America, with the same hope of national unity that Richard Blanco and Maya Angelou and so many other poets envision for our country.

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“I AM HOPE”

A POEM UPON THE INAUGURATION OF AMERICA
January 20, 2009 and January 21, 2013
Written for Barack Obama,  the 44th and 45th President of the United States
By Kevin W. Riley

Hope.

I  am.

Hope has, even for America’s moment,
Brought more than this moment of redemption.

Hope.
Though I am shackled and thrown upon the swollen deck,
Seaborne and riding the stench of slavery to some new world- lost to life.

Hope. Though I am asleep in Lincoln’s apocalypse.
I am Gettysburg and Manassas and Shiloh.
The dead stacked and shoveled into history’s silent pocket.
In the atrocities a war wrought, even the birds were lost for song;
their throats clutched
In witness of humans who could be so calloused and so cruel.
All in the name of Freedom.

Hope.
I am innocence: Emmit Till and Little Linda Brown
and Addie Mae Collins and her three young friends.

Hope.
I am the blessed martyrs. I am Medgar Evers.
I trust Malcom X with my fury.
I marched from Selma to a Birmingham Jail.
I ripped away the judge’s hood that silenced Bobby Seale
and enjoined the Freedom Riders to endure the flames at Anniston.
I heard the chilling voice of Bull Connor and the sting of riot dogs.
The fire hose.
I saw school buses ignite Roxbury and trigger decades of white flight.
And still I stand.

Hope…
I am the preacher-prophet who foretold that we would reside one day
in a promised land.
He must be with us now.
Though the years have kept his visage young…
His eternal voice is crisp as fire
As he sings from the mountain top.
This morning I heard the sky rejoice-
like the deafening wail of 10,000 hurricanes.

I am Lazarus.
I have redeemed the blood of a beloved brother, gone 40 years.
(Bobby’s picture is still among a shrine of holy cards
in a little house in San Antonio
Where Abuelita says her morning rosary
To Cesar Chavez and a wall of popes whose names she cannot pronounce).

I am JFK for whom Ireland still weeps.

I am redemption for centuries of sorrow;
For a word so foul it sticks in civil throats like drying cactus–
Thistle and rust, decapacitating…
A poison elixir that not all our years combined can exorcise.

I am first Hope. Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Mashall.
I am the first black pilot, the first black principal,
the first black business owner, the first pioneer.
I am first to serve, first to play, first in science,
and first to sail deep into space.
And yet I am last.

I am Hope.
I ride a mighty wave.
I stand on shouldered giants, most for whom history has not reserved a name.
I am beneficiary of the wishes and the words and the blood of legions.

I rise by the toil of Chisholm and Jordon;
on the scaffold stairs built by Jackson and Charles Houston
and Andrew Young.

I am
Hope– tempered, with no guarantee.
But if ever He loved a people
Surely now He has heard our prayers…
Whispered through days and years and generations–
Through all America’s time
To let us be who we must be;
To even once know what it means to be ONE nation.

Alas…
I am only Hope.
My arms are thin.
I speak as if all of God’s angels have somehow filled my lungs
with righteous air.
I am your mouth. His voice.
Our hands–
That the promise of humankind might at last be realized.

But I cannot be who YOU will not be…

So now my name is nailed above Katrina’s door,
Above the Wall Street debacle and the house of cards.
My name is nailed to Iraq and Jerusalem, to all ancient Persia–
And to the suffering of Darfur.

And as I go, so go a hundred nations.

Freedom shines,
A loud bell tolls the moment.
We are astride a wondrous day.
History will remember us as giants…
Or it will not.

Redemption has a name.
I am Obama. And mine is a holy song.

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Filed under Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, resiliency

ZERO IN-TOLERANCE

The airport security line at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field was as long as I have ever seen it yesterday.  It stretched from the central hallway of Terminal One, past the baggage claim area, up the escalator, across the footbridge to the southeast parking and halfway down I-5 to National City.

Well maybe not that far.

But it was the expected overreaction to one Nigerian douchebag who tried to launch a rocket from his briefs to bring down the very airplane he was sitting on, and instead lit himself up like a silvery flare. Overreaction is a political calculation designed to confuse systemic bravado with actual security.  It’s what we do. And so we stand in line.

It is the same mindset that has fueled the sweeping logic of “zero tolerance” in public schools all across America.  After a series of tragic assaults from Santana to Columbine, administrators and legislators decided to actively pursue a policy of zero tolerance for weapons or violence– or even just persistently obnoxious behavior.  So kids that brought a loaded “glock” to school got themselves expelled.  As did kids who brought unloaded guns.  Or long knives.  Or swiss army knives. Or butter knives for their box lunch.  Or the nail file that their mom had given them.  And pretty soon zero tolerance reached to laser pointers and paint brushes and swizzle sticks.

There is no doubt that the first job of educators is to keep children safe, but zero tolerance polices have become so draconian, that the number of suspensions and expulsions have skyrocketed in virtually every urban center of America.  (An article in District Administration: The Magazine of School District Management states that while current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan headed the Chicago schools, expulsions ballooned from 32 to 3,000 in the ten years between 1995 and 2005!).  Many of the students who were “zero tolerated” out of the schoolhouse door… never made it back. And this is because such a disproportionate number of zero tolerance suspensions and expulsions  are children of color and kids who lack the resources to solicit proper legal representation.  And since public school students are often treated as if they are protected by a different constitution than the adults who are supposedly protecting them, violations of their due process rights are sometimes not even called into question.  After all, that is zero tolerance.

So what have we accomplished with metal detectors and security guards and armed teachers and district policies void of not only tolerance– but also judgment?  For sure, some juvenile offenders have been caught or found out or at least deterred.  But on the whole, we have made school campuses much less safe.  Instead of safe havens, we have created green zones.  Bunkers.

Just as the “war on terror” is partly a war on terror and partly a war against individual freedoms, enforcing zero tolerance has too often violated students’ individual rights in the name of campus security.  The consequence of which is mistrust and oppositional behavior.  And sometimes more violence.

Jim Freeman, the project director of the “Stop the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Project in Washington, D.C., works with urban districts to change these kinds of codes and policies. The stated mission of Freeman’s organization is:

“To end the use of school policies that push young people out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Through research and analysis of school discipline data and policies, communication strategies, and policy advocacy, we are eliminating the needless exclusion of young people from their schools through the use of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.”

Freeman cites a landmark study in 2006 by the American Psychological Association that alerted districts that the zero tolerance logic was flawed.

“While the standard claim was that zero-tolerance policies would improve school safety, the schools were no safer than before zero tolerance.  What the report showed was that zero-tolerance policies turned schools into inhospitable environments that didn’t promote school safety.”

recent article by Ron Schachter suggests that a degree of both compassion and discretion have returned.  There are alternatives to suspension and expulsion.  There are better ways to pre-empt student behaviors that could lead to more serious consequences. Those alternatives are having huge positive effects in major urban districts including LA Unified and Denver Public Schools: decreasing office referrals, suspensions, expulsions, and arrests, while increasing academic achievement.

More and more districts are recognizing that their zero tolerance policies do not connect kids to their school.  If instead, children are provided opportunities to reflect on their mistakes, to “right their wrongs”, and to insure their classmates and teachers that they can be trusted…  tremendous growth is possible.  Offenders give back.  Restorative Justice.

Think about that as you wait in line for TSA to complete their full body scan on your next flight to Sacramento.

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TWO CHICAGOS

chicago 2016The International Olympic Committee decided to hold their 2016 Games in Rio instead of Chicago.  Even a personal appeal by President Obama could not persuade them otherwise.

And maybe it is only fair.  As attractive as Chicago may be as a venue, South America has never hosted the Olympic Games. As Chris McGowan writes: “Brazil is one of the world’s top ten economies– after having emerged relatively unscathed from the global economic crisis.”  It is a giant of culture, food, partying, agriculture, music, and biofuel!  It is one of the world’s leading exporters of ethanol (half its cars run on pure alcohol!) Already self-sufficient in petroleum, Brazil recently discovered massive off-shore oil reserves.

riojpegThe IOC was evidently not disuaded by the poverty, crime, pollution, corruption and violence  present in Rio.  After all, it is not like those conditions don’t exist in Chicago.

In fact this week, while the president was flying to Copenhagen to make a personal appeal for his home city, another 16-year old honor student became a victim of school violence.  Last year 34 Chicago school children were killed and 290 were shot.  Several have already been killed this year… and its only October.

Gun violence continues to be one of the leading causes of preventable deaths of young people in our country. The  Children’s Defense Fund reports that:

• In 2005, 3,006 children and teens were killed by firearms, the equivalent of 120 public school classrooms of 25 students each.

• Between 1979 and 2005, more than 104,000 children and teens were killed by firearms in the United States. This is the equivalent of 4,177 classrooms of 25 students each.

• California lead the nation with 475 gun related deaths of teens  in 2005

CDF also reminds us that

• Every second in America, a public school student is suspended

• Every 7 minutes a child is arrested for a violent crime.

• Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.

And that is just for starters.

gunAnd as sobering as that data may be, Derrion Albert was not the victim of random gun violence in Chicago!  He was hit over the head with a splintered railroad tie in the middle of a street melee, and then he was punched and kicked unconscious.  He was not a participant.  He was merely walking home from school.  While he lay in the street dying, another teen captured the entire scene on his cell phone so that it could later be posted on You Tube.

This is Bobby Kennedy’s “Mindless menace of violence”.

Who are their parents?  Where are their counselors and teachers?  Where is the clergy?  Where is the compassion and sense of justice among so many kids that could participate in this melee and watch another student die?

Where is the President?

It is not as if the educators of the Chicago Public Schools don’t know what is happening.  Education Week reported that:

“Chicago is launching a $30 million plan to try to end the waves of annual shooting deaths of student-age children. The nation’s third largest school district says it’ll target 1,200 public high school students seen as most at risk to become gunshot victims. Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman says the money will go toward connecting the at-risk kids with full-time mentors and finding them part-time jobs. It’ll also help pay to provide safe passage for students forced to go through areas with a high concentration of gangs.”

stop gunsThis is not the first time large expenditures have gone into the public schools to try to keep our children safer.  Back in the early 1990’s, Walter H. Annenberg established the Annenberg Foundation with $1.2 billion in assets, explained that he made his historic commitment to school reform because he was concerned about rising violence among young people: “We must ask ourselves whether improving education will halt the violence.”

Those Foundation grants went to a number of major American cities with large urban school districts, including Chicago where the “Chicago Public Education Fund” was developed.  This not only provided funding to work on grass roots efforts to stem the horrific levels of violence in our urban schools, it provided a forum for civic leaders to get involved in schools.  This all took place in 1992– or just about the time that Derrion Albert was born.   And the chair of the Chicago Public Education Fund… was Barack Obama.

And now all has come full circle as the President returns to America with more than enough challenges on his plate.  The good news about not getting the Olympic Games in Chicago?  The President’s many detractors will not have fresh ammunition to pummel him with every time something goes wrong with the planning or the unemployment numbers stubbornly decline in the heartland.  Perhaps even better news, the President might lend the full power of his office to the kids in his old neighborhood on the South Side.  There are two Chicagos.  One mourns the failure of their city’s Olympic bid and the billions of dollars that would have been injected into the local economy.  The other mourns the death of still another child who just wanted to go home.

Next week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General  Eric Holder will visit Chicago to lend their official support for efforts to protect our children. It will be an uphill battle that will take more than photo-ops and fly-bys.  It will also require a lot more than Walter Annenberg’s millions.  It will require the transformation of an entire community: the schools, the public housing, jobs, career counseling, parent engagement, social services, medical care.  Maybe it will require  the transformation of the nation at a time when there seems to be so little patience for real change.

In fact, teen violence and student deaths are taking place at such staggering and unacceptable levels in our cities, it will take an Olympian effort on the part of our President who knows first hand how such violence threatens to rob America of its very soul.

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