Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why Are They Surprised?

If you don’t watch the nightly news on TV, you may be missing how much gun violence there is in your city and how far that gun violence reaches into almost every age group and neighborhood.

In Houston, where I live, fully the first 10 minutes of each night’s broadcast follows a too-familiar formula:

Last night/this morning/earlier today a man/woman/child/shopper/bystander/convenience store clerk/intruder was shot by an estranged spouse/former employee/angry driver/homeowner/toddler/business owner/teenager.  The shooting happened in the victim’s home/in a parking lot/inside a store/at the grandparent’s home/across the street from the school.”

The reporter, standing in front of crime scene tape and the blurred lights of ambulance or police cars, puts the microphone up to a distraught neighbor/teacher/mother/coach/employer/cousin/friend dismayed that such a violent act could happen in this neighborhood/park/school/shopping center/hospital/family’s home.   The victim was a great guy/a caring mom/a loyal employee/a trusted friend. The shooter is described as no one we would ever suspect/a loner/a quiet neighbor/someone always talking about his guns/an angry man/a troubled teen.  The suspect got away/is in custody/has no prior record/is well known to police/said he didn't know why he pulled the trigger.

It would be easy to dismiss these police-blotter news leads as sensational journalism.  But the shootings are too numerous, the stories too similar. The formulaic reporting is evidence of the frequency of these shootings: the daily occurrence of gun violence that takes human life, destroying the lives of the victims and their shooters.  The reporters have a formula for their stories because we have not yet come to grips as a society with the scale, scope and harm done by guns in America.  We have not created those “special protections”  of smart laws to control guns, to work out peaceful ways of resolving conflicts, to create social stability essential for protecting each other – and our communities – from a gun culture that becomes so “normal” that a reporter just has to fill in the blanks to get the latest shooting ready for the 10 o’clock broadcast.    

In case we forget, here is how big the problem is and why as parents and teachers and neighbors and voters, we can’t let it continue:

2015 statistics
There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870 people.  A total of 13,286 people were killed (excluding suicide) in the US by firearms in 2015, and 26,819 people were injured.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Gun Silencers

“It’s easier to buy a silencer…..”

Yes, it is.  It is very easy to buy silence about gun violence.  The NRA has been doing it for years.

Actually, the NRA has made the US Capitol building its marketplace and a few key members of Congress its silencer sales force.  You would never know that gun violence is a major public health crisis in this country if you checked the statistics of any state public health department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Even though there are more gun-related deaths each year than fatal cases of the flu, you can probably find the data on the flu, maybe even displayed by location or the age of the patient.  But a search for information on gun deaths will just yield silence.

That silence has been bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association through its influence on the way Congress allocates the tax dollars for research.  From Daily Kos:

     “The research 'ban' is one of the most pernicious impacts of the extremists in charge of the National Rifle Association. NRA arm-twisting led to the rider the senators talk about in the letter being passed in 1996. It was first added to an appropriations bill by Jay Dickey Jr., then a Republican Congressman from Arkansas. Congress followed up by shifting $2.6 million that the previous year had been budgeted for gun violence research into traumatic brain injury research, instead.

     After that first vote, Knight-Ridder investigated and found that 75 percent of the lawmakers who backed the Dickey Amendment had received $1.6 million from the NRA that same year. Only six of the 158 members who opposed the measure had received support from the gun lobby.”

Questions:  why so little info?  No maps of gun violence, no mandated collection of data from states, or from coroners, ER's, police responding to domestic violence calls?  Why no documenting of cases of gun violence involving mental illness? no "duty to report" for pediatricians (as in the case of other forms of child abuse)?  no map of the geography of gun violence by type of weapon, source of weapon, age and circumstances of the shooter?  

We don't have this information because the  NRA has found the silence easier to buy than a refrigerator.  Just like the ad says:

"Now that our [brand name] kiosk units are becoming accessible across the country, we feel it's divine intervention that our Silencer Shop mobile app is now ready for use, too. (Thank you, suppressor gods!)"

"With our new kiosks, we've gone digital!"

"Take your time picking the right suppressor for your needs"

"Fortunately, buying a [silencer] is a simple process that generally requires less paperwork than buying a refrigerator!"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Part 2
“I have the right to be a child!”

Eight words, eight one-syllable words, shout the child’s version of Provision 2 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  The official version is no less direct, no less compelling:

"Principle 2 The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration."

Every time a child is harmed, our credibility as grown-ups is challenged, the strength of our society diminished.  How much more so if that child is harmed not by a careless, evil or neglectful act, but by a set of policies.  By the “normal” way the society works?

The killing of children and their principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a single shooter who owned what can only be called an arsenal of weapons designed for killing shocked the world and set in motion a determination to finally – finally – bring gun control to the US.  It didn’t happen.

In the nearly four years since the Sandy Hook shooting, our children have not “enjoyed special protection” from gun violence.   In fact, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Research, there have been 191 school shootings in the U.S. since 2013, including occasions when a gun was fired but no one was hurt.

Less headline-grabbing but even more troubling is the news that in the US, again since the Sandy Hook deaths, an American child under 12 (under 12!  not inclusive of teenagers!) has died by intentional and accidental gunfire every other day.

If we take the best interests of the child seriously, then we cannot reconcile the ready availability of guns with the loss of life at Sandy Hook.  Our sympathies have not translated into the “enactment of laws” to make the world safer for our children.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Part 1
Missing Molly Ivins

When the Texas legislature in its 84th legislative session passed new laws permitting the “open carry” of hand guns and “campus carry” of guns on university campuses, my first thought was “Where is Molly Ivins when we need her?”

I could just picture the lead sentence in her next day’s column:  “Why are all those guys in the lege eager to make their masculine insecurities so public?”  

Molly Ivins’ wit skewered the pompous and the fear-mongering alike.  She made us laugh at the absurdities of our politicians’ ignorance, the often petty and equally as often overtness of their corruption, and the cruel impact many of their actions had on the most vulnerable Texans.

In my next few blog posts, I’ll be reflecting on what it means to live in a state where a majority of legislators think carrying a gun around is good public policy. And I’ll be inviting readers to situate this whole guns on campus thing in the context of teaching and learning, the increasing diversity of the students on our campuses, and the seeming ubiquity of violence as a commonplace in our communities --- violence against young unarmed Black men and boys, violence as domestic or international terrorism, violence as public policy, and violence as the product of fear more even than a cause of fear.  And I’ll write about the emerging pushback against official violence, including actions that students and professors are taking to resist or overturn these “carry laws.”

A rumor going around Austin claims that at least one member of the legislature requires everyone on his staff to apply for an “open carry” permit.  Some versions of the rumor add that the staffers have to own and carry a gun; another version is that they just have to go through the training to get one and bring their “carry” license in as proof.  A litmus test for staffers:  no pacifists need apply?  no freedom of expression in this office?   My mental picture is of an NRA official making regular rounds to our legislators’ offices with a suitcase of campaign cash to be handed over only after inspecting each staffer’s gun “carry” license.  (I mention this rumor here in the hopes that one of you who knows the legislature will write to tell me this is absolutely NOT true! Surely, if true, it’s not legal…..)

If you live in Texas, you’ll want to know who voted for these laws.  Check the lists to see how your legislator voted, and if you don’t want the moms in the carpool lane or the check out clerk at the grocery store, or the folks next to your kids at the movie theater to be “carrying” a gun, ask the candidates in your district what they are going to do about it:  Ask “do you favor open carry gun laws in our neighborhoods and on our campuses?”  and “if elected, will you work hard to rescind these laws?”  We do, after all, have an election in a few months and  the 2017 legislative session coming up in January.

And if you want to know what Molly Ivins did say about “our infatuation with guns,” read her 1993 column so titled. She ends with this discussion of the Second Amendment:

“’A well-regulated militia’ surely implies both long training and long discipline. That is the least, the very least, that should be required of those who are permitted to have guns, because a gun is literally the power to kill.  For years, I used to enjoy taunting my gun-nut friends about their psycho-sexual hang-ups – always in a spirit of good cheer, you understand. But letting the noisy minority in the National Rifle Association force us to allow this carnage to continue is just plain insane….I do think gun-nuts have a power hang-up.  I don’t know what is missing in their psyches that they need to feel they have the power to kill.  But no sane society would allow this to continue. 

“Ban the damn things. Ban them all.  You want protection? Get a dog.”

Where is Molly Ivins when we need her?

Monday, July 18, 2016


Diane's latest post is about a teacher using her own voice against reducing children to data and for honoring children's privacy, not only in the legal sense, but in care for the many ways children learn and grow -- almost none of them linear or precisely measurable.  I encourage you to visit her blog and read the entire thing.

Friday, July 15, 2016

For those of you too young to remember, Richard Nixon chose the unqualified and reputedly corrupt governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, to be his vice president, purportedly to "impeachment-proof" his presidency.

It didn't work.

Let's hope the choice of  Indiana governor Mike Pence as a national candidate to be second in line for the presidency of our democracy never comes that close.

A cynical choice just when our nation, our children, the public's schools, our health care system, our need to end wars, our hunger for racial and economic justice, -- and our very planet -- deserve wisdom, not mean-spirited mediocrity -- at the top of the ticket, or in second place.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Anyone who grew up in the oil patch of West Texas or eastern New Mexico, as I did, can only find all this talk about "grit" hilarious!  Grit as the key to students' learning? Grit as the cure for the "achievement" gap?  Oh, my!  When I hear "grit," I feel tiny grains of sand in my teeth, I smell a dust storm sandblasting my cheeks (I was in my twenties before I found out some people pay to have their skin evened out by sandblasting -- we got smooth skin by walking across the playground), and I see the tenacious line of grit coming in around windows -- seeping through weather-stripping and the ugly, added seals of masking tape.

Stinging eyes, sandy eye lashes, having to dust the furniture every day -- sometimes more than once and always with a wet cloth, not a fancy polish:  grit everywhere everyday.

"Grit" as the latest "cure" to what ails US education is silly at best, tragic at worst when it diverts our attention -- and, as Politico reports below, our dollars and our policies away from what we really need to be doing for kids:  addressing poverty, investing in teachers' salaries and on-going education, and dismantling the harmful testing systems and corporate "reforms" that are sucking the life out of learning.

And as for measuring grit, easy:  brooms full, buckets full, hands full, windowsills full, eyes full.  Instead of romanticizing grit, let's call it for what is is: "Grit:  what you need when you don't have a trust fund."

Thanks to Diane Ravitch for sharing this from