Stuck in a Moment

Sphere for Plaza Foundtain from the World Trade Center, now located in NYC's Battery Park; the photo was taken in early 2007...

Sphere for Plaza Fountain from the World Trade Center, now located in NYC’s Battery Park; the photo was taken in early 2007–interestingly enough, the Sphere is desired neither at the rebuilding WTC, nor in plans for refurbishing Battery Park.  Once a symbolic memorial for 9/11, now it’s seemingly become a burden.

Sometimes you find the teachable moment.  Other times the teachable moment finds you. Sometimes, it seems you need to duck.

I made good on my promise to start more regular recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, except for yesterday.  Which meant that of all days, today wouldn’t necessarily be the best day to not have the kids recite the Pledge for a second consecutive day.  I was trying to mutter under my breath something to myself about 9/11, but a couple of the boys heard me nonetheless, and while 29 of their classmates stood politely, waiting for my cue to start the Pledge, the two boys began to pepper me with questions about 9/11.  We met our Ed. Code obligations, and I turned towards the front of the classroom to pull down my map.  I started formulating in my head, how best to explain 9/11.

Up to that moment, however, my earlier trip to the school’s office had had me find a printed list of my students’ collective birthdays.  The oldest of my students were born in 2002.  In many respects, trying to explain 9/11 to my kids seemed to me, at that instant, to be akin to explaining Vietnam.  While the adults and older siblings around them growing up might have some intrinsic understanding of the events of that day, it occurred to me how handicapped I was going to be, to try to build upon the student’s understanding of an event to which they had no context or background.

Osama bin Laden was merely the bad guy in Zero Dark Thirty, not much different than bad guy Loki in the Avengers, except that Loki wound up with way more screen time.

On the other hand, once I had opened up that can of worms, I sort of felt I had no choice but to deep-fry them and wolf them down.

This was not a teachable moment, this was that moment having a seizure.  I did my best trying to explain 9/11.  I was not going to merely dismiss the historical background as one in which we were attacked because “Americans are hated because of their freedom.”  Too much of that sentiment had gone down over the last decade, doing, in my opinion, a disservice to the proper teaching of America’s place in the International Community.  On top of that, teaching at a school that prides itself on a curriculum with an international focus, such an overly simple viewpoint was shortsightedly jingoistic.

As important as 9/11 happens to be, in terms of cultural and emotional touchstone for adults, for my kids, I honestly began to wonder how well they could emotionally connect and relate to something that did not occur within their living experience.  I thought back to the day itself, when I told the kids how myself and 3 colleagues watched the second tower fall on my classroom T.V. that morning.  I also shared a family friend’s experience teaching at a school site, essentially within the shadow of the Towers, that morning.  It still felt visceral to me, but reflecting back, 9/11 had to have been, for these kids, what the end of the Vietnam War in 1973-74 felt for me, when I was about the same age as these students are now.  I knew we had been fighting there, but I couldn’t tell anyone as to why we had been…

I also realized that the 5th graders who had been in my class later on, during that morning in 2001, were now in their early 20s.  An important milestone historically, yes.  But at what point does 9/11, in subsequent years, become even more removed from my students’ experiences?  Do we, as teachers, have to expect to address 9/11 every day on the anniversary?  I know I struggle enough each year trying to help my students differentiate between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, and that’s not even taking into account that many of my kids, having just come from our 4th grade, didn’t know that this past Monday, September 9th, was California’s Admission Day, nor could they likely tell me the meaning of December 7th, or even June 6th.

As I finished, having used up a half-an-hour of time this morning, I looked around the room, convinced I had lost a good chunk of my class.  I told my charges that history is never as complicated as it might appear, nor is it simplistically explained as many people would have us do.  In fact, I admitted that I felt that there was likely even more information about 9/11 that we are still learning, well beyond the practiced narrative that I had internalized over these past 12 years.  Instead, it was my job, I told them, to teach them well enough, so that, perhaps, one of them might grow up to be a historian, and one day be lucky enough to get access to the key missing information about that day, with the hopes that they could write the definitive accounting of the events  of 9/11.

If I could teach them how to pursue history, one day I might be lucky enough to have them come back and teach me something.

I Pledge a Lesson

In every public elementary school each day during the school year at the beginning of the first regularly scheduled class or activity period at which the majority of the pupils of the school normally begin the schoolday, there shall be conducted appropriate patriotic exercises. The giving of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America shall satisfy the requirements of this section.  — CAL. EDC. CODE § 52720 : California Code – Section 52720

Normally, I am one of those teachers least likely to be quoting the state’s Ed Code, unless, of course, my old colleague and I were complaining to our principal at my old school about another teacher, who used to leave her students running amok on the recess playground without credentialed adult supervision.

But given that this was a new school year, I had to admit that I wanted, and needed, a fresh start to go with it.

An iconic Dorothea Lange image, and my favorite. I have this hanging from the wall of my office at home.

An iconic Dorothea Lange image, and my favorite. I have this hanging from the wall of my office at home.

I had been lax in following through on doing this “appropriate patriotic exercise” over the years, although, as a 5th grade teacher, I did make sure that my kids learned about, as well as understood, the meaning of American symbols.  Still, at whatever school I find myself at, I quickly find myself as the resident “Pinko” on the staff.  For instance, the years up to, and immediately after the Iraq War, had, at my old school, led to a stratification amongst my colleagues, between those who supported the military action, and those of us who questioned it.  Naturally, in the early days, somehow disagreeing with a government that legally had to defend our rights to free speech, still, nonetheless, made us, somehow, unpatriotic.

Unpatriotic.  Yup.  Even though one of my signature lessons was my annual look at the historical basis for Longfellow’s Midnight Ride of Paul of Revere.

I guess teaching about William Dawes makes one hate America.

But in trying something new this year, I pledged to pledge.  But first, before we did anything, I told myself that I would, at least, give them some historical background on the POA’s history.  At least the idea was that my students would then realize what it was they were doing and why.  How this manifested in their own patriotic feelings going forward was up to them.

It was instructive for myself, as well, as I learned about things I didn’t even realize about the pledge…like this.

Thinking back upon my own nascent upbringing as a young American, I doubt that my own grade school teachers intended to teach patriotic lessons designed to turn their kids into raging liberals, but in understanding the history and meaning behind American symbols, they somehow allowed me to internalize the understanding that the phrase “more perfect” in the Constitution’s Preamble meant that America was, and needed to always be, a work in progress.  In many respects, my decision to finally become a teacher was part of long process where I, at last, understood that my love for my own country was birthed in a public school classroom by teachers who took the time to explain what it truly meant to be an American.  America’s great progress for me, then, was to try to replicate the same sort of patriotic instruction that I had received.

As an aside, however, it’s worth noting, even in passing, that the past several weeks of debate, involving possible American military involvement in the Syrian Civil War, certainly gives one the clear understanding of what such progress has come to mean.

Still, my goal was to put the background information about the POA out there for my kids, as unfettered and unbiased as I could, explaining the do’s and don’ts of respect for the process, and the expectations I had for them during the morning recital (i.e., hands over the proper side of the chest, hats off, etc…).

How they developed their American citizenship over the course of the upcoming school year will be entirely upon them.  But we did cover Jackie Robinson in class yesterday, and next week, we begin studying the Native Americans.  If nothing else, the latter subject has got to be understood as more than just the only misfire in Schoolhouse Rock‘s repertoire, “Elbow Room”.

For now, however, my students have engaged in their appropriate patriotic exercise this week.

I have no doubt, that there has to be a few of them, who, undoubtedly, feel like Shirley Temple Wong in Bette Bao Lord’s The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (a book we’ll read later on this year…):

“I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America, and to the wee puppet for witches’ hands. One Asian, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all.”

Trust me, there are other ways it likely gets fractured as well.

We will be working on that.

Change of Plans

BostonTerrierSheebaDogSleeping1

WAKE UP!!!

“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”  — Jane Wagner

In some respects, the need to blog fits this idea above about language.  Specifically, why wouldn’t one blog, unless they needed to get something off of their chests?  Or, for that matter, if they couldn’t find the language, where would the blog posts come from?

And sometimes, life happens so fast, that finding the time to reflect upon them becomes as scarce as the time it takes to blog those thoughts that arise from the reflection.

That’s kind of what happened.

As John Lennon expressed: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  

But plans have changed.  I can’t even begin to explain why, or how.

We are back.  Today I have to introduce my newest crop of 5th Graders to their Writer’s Notebooks for the year.  Part of the deal is that I have to share mine.  My “notebook” hasn’t had anything put in it since my last post in April.

It’s a good enough excuse to post something this morning then.  

Welcome back!

It’s the Thought that Miscounts

Posted on a local wine shop's website, I found this a curious way to celebrate Veteran's Day...

Posted on a local wine shop‘s website, I found this a curious way to celebrate Veteran’s Day…that and the fact that “english” is a proper noun and ought to be capitalized…

I know it’s not my friend S.’s fault…he’s a fellow Cal grad and should know better, right?

S. is re-posting warmed-over Bill Gates platitudes (which are actually an urban legend) from the King Glock website. (The text is also accompanied by a disconcerting photoshopped picture of Gates holding a weapon while pointing to an iPod.)  There you find this sentiment posted underneath the purported speech:

If you agree, pass it on

If you can read this – Thank a teacher!

If you are reading it in English – Thank a soldier!!

Wow.  So many things to consider here…

For starters, why just a soldier, why not a sailor, marine, or airman?

Separated from the bulk of the world by 2 major oceans, the United States needs to rely on its Navy and Air Force just as much as its Army.  Especially if the Army needs to get anywhere, it’d need the other services to help it get transported where it has to go.  Of course, I don’t know where the military comment even comes from anyway, since the military exists to defend the country, not a specific language.  Members of the military take an oath to defend the President and the U.S. Constitution, and the last time I checked the U.S. Constitution, there was nothing in the founding document which determined that the United States had an official language.

Perhaps though, the author of the above “Thankful Thoughts” was referring to invasions of U.S. territory?

Well, one immediately thinks of the Second World War and the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, but the December 7th attack was not accompanied by an invasion force.  The American territories of Wake Island, Guam, and the Philippines, were all attacked and subsequently invaded at around the same time though, so I suppose this technically counts as invasion of American territorial considerations, even if these areas weren’t a part of the contiguous 48 states.  Japanese soldiers did land upon and occupy the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska for a time in 1942-43, but again, Alaska was US territory at that time, and not a state.  Japanese master plans for conducting military campaigns though, show a country that meant to keep the Americans at bay on the Eastern side of the Pacific, during which time the Japanese military sought to consolidate its gains in China, the rest of eastern Asia, and the Pacific Island rim.  They were never foolhardy enough to honestly believe they could carry out and occupy huge swaths of land either in Hawaii, or on the mainland.  It was simply too far and not part of their overall strategy of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Perhaps the “Thought” author meant the Mexican War?  Honestly, it was the Americans who invaded Mexico and its territory, not the other way around.

American forces in Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz in 1847, the first large-scale amphibious invasion ever conducted by the American military.

American forces in Mexico during the Battle of Veracruz in 1847, the first large-scale amphibious invasion ever conducted by the American military.

Maybe the War of 1812?  The United States mainland was invaded by British forces, who managed to do this to Washington DC:

The War of 1812:  still influential in America today because it gave us our National Anthem, thanks to a British drinking song!

The War of 1812: still influential in America today because it gave us our National Anthem, thanks to a British drinking song!

When you think about that war’s outcome however, you begin to wonder how a British victory in the War of 1812 would have affected the choice of our country’s language, since, after all, the British do, in fact, speak English.

And I’m very sorry, but if the “Thought” author was thinking about the Cuban and North Korean invasions of the United States, that’s only occurred in movies.

As much as I am supposed to be proud that someone is recognizing teacher efforts to educate students on a daily basis, whoever specifically taught the “Thought” author their historical foundation for the above sentiment, ought to really have their teaching credential revoked.  And quickly.

Action/Overreaction

teachertrainingHere it comes.  This is just one story of what I’ve seen beginning to happen across the country since the Newtown, CT.  shootings.

Gun advocates to give classes to teach teachers how to come to school armed:

Ohio-based Buckeye Firearms Foundation has launched an Armed Teacher Training curriculum to offer gun training to teachers and school workers. According to Ohio’s Fox 19, “As of Wednesday, the Armed Teacher Training Program has attracted more than 600 applicants from several states including Ohio, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia.” More than one-third of the 600 applicants are female.

I am wondering if any of these gun training applicants have taken time to be aware of the ramifications of coming to school packing a firearm each and every day?  This is not the same thing as bringing a laptop or iPad, or making some other teaching tool is available and accessible for the day, although advocates for arming teachers are trying to make this argument.  This choice carries something into a schoolhouse that can make a significant difference in how a teacher approaches the day in his or her classroom.  It also forces us to truly consider the real likelihood of a school shooting occurring in any given day.

I am the worst type of person to be doing this type of math, but you start to wonder if this could be quantified as some sort of rate of expectations with respect to the likelihood of a school shooting occurring on a given public school campus at a given time.  Consider that there have been 31 school shootings since Columbine.  Over 13 years (1999-2012), that’s roughly 2.3 school shootings per year.  If you then take the number of public schools across the United States, 98,817 (as of 2009-2010), and divide 2.3/98,817, the statistical insignificance of the resulting number calls into question this sudden fear of violent gun-related terrorists coming onto our campuses.  There seems to be a more reasonable and rational fear of preparing California school campuses for a major earthquake, given that the likelihood of a major 6.7+ temblor striking the Greater Los Angeles area is far higher than that of a school shooter arriving on a given campus.

But my fuzzy math also doesn’t take into account the fact that an mentally unbalanced individual who decides to shoot up a school will be far less stable and unpredictable than the various faults and geographic terrain factors in the Southern California area.  It is that very unpredictability that is undoubtedly behind this sudden desire for fearful teachers to start packing.  Would it therefore help?

Since the days after the Newtown shootings, another argument I’ve seen expressed, involves some sort of assault weapon fantasy involving Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochprung, and how arming her would have ended Adam Lanza’s life before he had a chance to take the lives of the Sandy Hook students and staff members:

[L]et’s assume that if part of Hochsprung’s job were to protect the school from an armed assault, she would have to be trained in counter-attack tactics. She would have wanted to wear body armor. She would have wanted to clean and fire her M-4 regularly, to make sure it was ready to go at a second’s notice in the highly highly unlikely event that the school was attacked. And she would have somehow trained herself to remain on high alert every hour of every day for all the years and decades that she worked as a teacher and administrator, all the while also being an excellent educator and manager.
And then, the morning of the attack, Hochsprung would have had to have reacted perfectly — hearing the gunfire and shattered glass from her conference room, unslinging the M-4, releasing the safety, crawling silently toward the door of the conference room, and then taking aim at a highly alert gunman and shooting him in the head before the gunman noticed that she was there or had fired a single bullet at anyone.
(In other words, she would have to assassinate Adam Lanza on the assumption that he was there to kill kids, and not wait for him to do it. Or was she supposed to wait for him to kill someone, on the theory that he might just be a dime-a-dozen crazy person who didn’t actually intend to kill anyone? There are lots of those, too.)

In other words, Hochsprung would have had to have acted and reacted like a soldier in a war zone. All day. Every day. For decades.  

Are these 600 applicants prepared to act and react militarily, all while maintaining the appropriate empathy and understanding for the very idiosyncratic nature of what we teachers do with our students in a classroom each and every day?

Even if these teachers have the capability to do their jobs and that of an armed constabulary:

There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin…

Armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances.” A chaotic scene in August at the Empire State Building put this starkly into perspective when New York City police officers confronting a gunman wounded nine innocent bystanders.

But back to this fantasy of arming Principal Hochsprung, even then, that wouldn’t be enough.  The entire school should be armed:

And what if Hochsprung had been on the other side of the building when the attacker shot through the door? Principals do, occasionally, leave the vicinity of the front door.

Well, to eliminate that risk, Gohmert and others who want to keep giving almost all citizens unlimited access to military weapons will presumably want to arm every teacher and employee at the school. So they’ll all walk around all day with M-4s and bullets strapped to their shoulders. And they will all have to be trained and act and react in precisely the same way — all without someone ever making a mistake and shooting a kid instead of a bad guy.

And, in the rare event of a school shooting, in the ensuing chaos, would police officers know who to shoot?

Sadly, calm reassurance was the one consistent component that my daughter’s school district hoped to convey to its parents and students in the days immediately following the Sandy Hook shootings.  It was what I tried to do with my own classroom of kids.  Calm and reason, rather than irrational fear, should be how we moved forward from such a terrible experience.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t play into the minds of those people who have manufactured some sort of post-Newtown gun revenge fantasy wherein the staff members rise up and take out Adam Lanza before he can take them out.  Weaponry apparently trumps calm reassurance.

In the end though, it reminds me of one of my students, years ago, whose mother chose not to allow him to go on a overnight school field trip to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point in the weeks after 9/11, because of her real fear of a terrorist attack occurring there.  While I don’t necessarily mean to belittle her decision to not allow E. to go with us, I was left wondering how the Institute would have moved so high up Al Qaeda’s list of high-profile targets.  Seeing teachers fleeing to gun training classes calls to mind how I felt then.  We’ve allowed the fear to overtake our reason.  We should know better.  Teachers, who must incorporate rationality into their lesson planning, should be even more aware of this than anyone.

The real terrorism is not from forces outside, but rather inside of all of us.

Into the Valley of Wal-Mart, Riding the Gift Horse

1206576751803092354elkbuntu_Blue_gift_with_golden_ribbon.svg.medWinter break has arrived, and with it, the incredible gratefulness that I feel that always accompanies any and all gifts from my students.  I didn’t become a teacher because I wanted presents at Christmas time.  After 16 years, this gesture still surprises me.  Nor am I the type to “brag” about what I get.  Sadly, I can recall a number of instances when teachers would get together, where the quality and the type of teacher gifts would get discussed and talked about, almost like you might hear from a discussion of last night’s football game on ESPN.

The point of this post is therefore not to brag, but rather to relate the misadventures that came along with one particular gift this year:  a Wal-Mart gift card.

Anybody who knows me personally, can vouch for my dislike of Wal-Mart.  This, for instance, encapsulates my feelings.  My old teaching partners at my old site used to love Wal-Mart, along with Chik-Fil-A, and even though a few had political leanings that mirrored my own, they couldn’t stay away from either place.  For my own part, I once actually won a Wal-Mart gift card to get supplies for my classroom at my old school site, and I politely turned it down citing to the principal the same sort of distaste and discomfort with their business model and practices I still feel.  Especially when you read stuff like this nugget from last week.

But all of that seemed to go out the window when, Christmas morning, I unwrapped the gift card that my student, A., had given me.

Dang it.  What did this mean?  Once before, I had gotten a gift card from Wal-Mart, but the wife and I wound up white elephanting the gift to someone who had no compunction about shopping there and who, at the time, eagerly accepted our largesse.  The wife heard my under-the-breath reaction and asked what was going on.  When I held it up, her “Ah” told me that she was on the same wavelength.

“That’s too big of an amount to give to her, or anyone else.”

“I know.”

“You should probably use it.”

“That means I have to go into the store!”

“See, if you can use it on-line…”

“Oh, yeah.”

It was brilliant.  I could be a hypocrite without even having to step into a store.

So, on Wednesday, as the wife found herself running work errands, and Kate buried herself in her room with her own new iPad Mini, I logged on to Walmart.com.

The website interface was as clunky and cluttered as the real-life Cerritos store had been the one time I had been in it, back in the early part of century.

Still, I knew what I wanted:  Dark Knight Rises DVD.  New Walter Mosley.  Maybe headphones for Kate’s new iPad.

2810-beAfter dragging Katelyn away from her iPad long enough to choose the bear headphones as shown on the right, I put in the payment information from the gift card.  I also noticed that shipping would be free if I chose what was called the “Site-to-Store” option.

I thought about it.  If I chose that option, I would be forcing myself to physically have to walk into a Wal-mart.  And not just once, 3 separate times.  Holding my distaste for what I was about to do at bay, I clicked to buy the items.  Later on that afternoon, the wife chided me for spending cash at Wal-mart, even though 95% of my purchase had been covered by the gift card:

“It wasn’t that much, though. Could have been worse…”

“It is worse.  It’s Wal-mart!” comes my reply.

On Thursday, I get the first text message.  Kate’s headphones are in.

“Wow, already?  Kate, your headphones showed up.”

“Yeah!  I want my bear headphones.”

We’d been driving her back from her hair appointment, and I see the message as we pull into our driveway.  Kate’s been complaining about wanting some food but that all vanishes when I tell her headphones are in.  She asks if we can go get them.

I agree.  I then begin to brief her.  I want this package pick-up to be as surgical an extraction as I can make it.  Get in.  Get out.

“Kate, hold my hand at that store.  Do not let go for ANY reason.  Ok?”

“I will, Daddy.  Is that store scary?”

“Oh shoot”, I think to myself.  I want to raise a Blue State child, but not at the cost of making her terrified.

I quickly reply to her, “No, just real interesting.”

We drive over. The parking lot looks somewhat empty.  It’s early on a Friday, and the Boxing Day crowds from Wednesday appear to have slowed a bit.  Still, I make myself aware of my surroundings, even though it’s the middle of the day, not Zero Dark Thirty.  For her part, Katelyn is perfectly behaved.  We walk through the parking lot and into the store.

Oh my.

It’s bright.  And I have no clue where to go.  The customer service department is to our immediate left.  But all I see are signs telling me that it’s for Returns.  Still, Kate tells me to get into that line.

“Daddy, it’s that one.”

“No, I don’t think so, Boots.  Let’s look.”

Except it’s hard to look. I am feeling conspicuous, but worse, I can’t see over the aisle shelves to read any signs to tell me where to go for Site-to-Store.  Following the arrows in any sort of organized pattern, I find myself all the way back where we started from.

“Daddy, are you sure that it’s not that line?  You should ask someone.”

She made sense, but she didn’t know that I was already planning on doing that, if only I could find an employee who looked like they weren’t busy with another customer, or didn’t look like they were in a bad mood.  I walk over to the checkout line, and find an employee not busy, but with an expression that looked like he was in a bad mood.  My thought: Michael Shannon

“Um, excuse me, I was trying to find the place to pick up “Site-to-Store” purchases?”

“Go on back to Jewelry.”

Huh?, I think to myself.

With Kate still in tow, we head back into the store.  The aisles appear even higher.  I remember and think back of how traumatic this might have been for the wife, when she had to go to a Dallas Wal-mart in the middle of the night a few years back, having missed a connecting flight on a trip, forcing her to spend the night without her luggage.  I dismiss such thoughts when I arrive at the jewelry counter.  Then I look around to see where they would put shipped items of various sizes in a counter area that wasn’t very big.  I walk over to a saleslady who is, mercifully, not with a customer.

“Excuse me, but an employee up front told me to come here to pick up a “Site-to-Store” order from the internet.”

She puzzles over this.  “No, not here.  You go back up front to Customer Service.”

“Oh,” I reply, “that’s what I thought.”  Then it slips out, “That guy might have been high or something.”  This gets a slight chuckle from the girl.  (Later on, Amber, hearing that, asks, “You didn’t say that, did you?”)

As we turn to head back up front for the 3rd time, this comes out from Kate:

“See Daddy, I told you.”

“You were right.”

Ok, the sign wasn't *this* small.  But it was close!

Ok, the sign wasn’t *this* small. But it was close!

We go back into the return line.  It’s longer than it had been when we walked into the store.  For a trip I had hoped would be quick, this visit was turning into a quagmire.  A manager-type is working the line, trying to get us to go to another register for returns, until she hears that I need the counter for “Site-to-Store”.  She tells me to go to the Photo counter, next to returns.  There I see the tiny sign for “Site-to-Store” pick-up.  And there is no line.  We walk up.  Our trip could have been over much sooner.  I have robbed Kate of precious minutes of her childhood wandering around a Wal-mart.

We at last get her headphones.  I get her back to the car (Everyone back to the choppers!), and we head home.

“So Daddy, you got me my headphones at Wal-mart.  You didn’t get my iPad there, too, did you?”  She asks that question with her unique sense of righteous indignation.

“No, of course not.  We got it from Santa’s special workshop in Cupertino, California.”

“No, Daddy, they make it at the North Pole.”

“Well, Katelyn, you see factually, Santa contracts out certain types of advanced technology…”

One trip down.  2 more to go.

Boxing Day is no Fight Club Celebration

The shooting in Newtown, CT have, for the foreseeable future, put my twin muses Cynicism and Sarcasm on hold.

This would normally be the time of year wherein I would eagerly tell anyone within earshot about my favorite Holiday song:

Yeah, not quite appropriate.

For that matter, my favorite Christmas movie…

die-hard-1-1988

Nope, not that either.

To do so this holiday season, what with all that has gone on over the past week, would put me in a place where even I am uncomfortable being, given the level in which such a place divorces itself from reality.

But that, apparently, didn’t stop NRA Vice President Wayne La Pierre last week:

LAPIERRE: And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like “Bullet Storm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Combat,” and “Splatterhouse.”And here’s one, it’s called “Kindergarten Killers.” It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all of yours couldn’t? Or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it? Add another hurricane, add another natural disaster. I mean we have blood-soaked films out there, like “American Psycho,” “Natural Born Killers.” They’re aired like propaganda loops on Splatterdays and every single day.1,000 music videos, and you all know this, portray life as a joke and they play murder — portray murder as a way of life. And then they all have the nerve to call it entertainment. But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography? In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior, and criminal cruelty right into our homes. Every minute, every day, every hour of every single year.

I found it interesting that LaPierre might have been giving this exact same speech after the 1999 Columbine shootings, what with the movies and games he mentioned so sadly dated that you have to wonder if he is still watching films on a VCR, or even a DVD, much less Blu-Ray.  And last time I checked, I can’t recall any recently significant music video, particularly given how what used to pass for music television is anything but an outlet for music video.  While a topic for another time, music television effectively killed the music video star.

But in order to obfuscate the point, the true sign of a Mayan Apocalypse, wasn’t in the nature of an End-of-Days, it was in the NRA’s stubborn insistence that American culture can only actualize through unbridled access to assault weaponry and/or high capacity magazines.  It truly must be an inconvenience to have to reload while shooting target practice; or to be an unprepared hunter in the face of either a wildlife banzai attack or a zombie assault.

Even more remarkable however, is that Wayne LaPierre‘s unctuous thinking is guaranteed by the First Amendment, even while he seeks to trample other people’s First Amendment rights, in this instance, filmmakers, songwriters, and game designers.  All of this to protect the gun lobby’s perpetual misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.  It calls to mind this exchange from Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine:

John Nichols: No one has the right to tell me I can’t have it. That is protected on our constitution.
Michael Moore: Where does it say a handgun is protected?
John Nichols: No, gun. We should…
Michael Moore: [interupting] It doesn’t say gun. It says “arms”.
John Nichols: Arms. What is “arms”?
Michael Moore: Could be a nuclear weapon.
John Nichols: It’s not these – That’s right. It could be a nuclear weapon.
Michael Moore: Do you think you should have the right to have weapons-grade plutonium here in the farm field?
John Nichols: We should be able to have anything…
Michael Moore: [interupting] Should you have weapons? Should you have weapons-grade plutonium?
John Nichols: I don’t want it.
Michael Moore: But, should you have the right to have it if you did want it?
John Nichols: [thinking about it] That should be restricted.
Michael Moore: Oh. Oh, so you do beleive in some restrictions?
John Nichols: Well, there’s wackos out there.

It was in this interest that I set out Christmas shopping over this final weekend.  My niece wanted roller skates.  My nephew, on the other hamd, wanted a gift certificate to GameStop–knowing how much the lad wanted to use that game as a chance to undergo training in mass violence and mayhem with which to use to eventually gain tragic notoriety…

Wait.  He wasn’t.  I had to take into account who his mother was.  Very few people cross my kid sister.  And William certainly wouldn’t.  In fact, my brother-in-law even mentioned that there’s no way that they’d allow him to purchase violent video games in the first place.  Still, on Christmas Eve, it was funny to watch my nephew beg my sister and brother-in-law to let him use the gift card to buy Assassin’s Creed III.

Even if they did wind up letting him get the game, my brother-in-law had shared, earlier, they trusted his boy to know the difference.

If the NRA is to be considered a vital part of this country’s conservative movement, it’s instructive (as well as sad) to consider how much so-called “conservative” values, amongst all of the frontline groups who claim to represent that side of the political spectrum, have succeeded in fraying the very familial infrastructure they claim to want to maintain–not just within the family, but each family’s role within the larger American community.  In a political climate that over this past generation has created a mentality of winner-take-all over all-for-one, for all of America’s purported freedoms, once eloquently summarized by President Franklin Roosevelt, freedom from fear has been summarily replaced by freedom to fear.  We’ve created an American culture rife with mutual distrust.  It’s little wonder that the only solace that such distrust can find manifest is the right to access heavy weaponry.

Years ago, while cleaning up around my house as a kid, I came across this battered old revolver.  I showed it to my kid sister, and the two of us asked my Mom, who took it out of where it had been and put the thing away.  We had a general idea where it was located, but neither of us ever considered looking for it again.  Still, honestly, when things used to get tense between my parents, I always wondered if I’d ever see its reappearance.  But that I never did, taught me something — that having access to a weapon does not mean you have to use the thing.  That even with the inevitable tension between my parents, usually about something financial, I never got the sense that the argument would be ended with firepower.

Exposure to something doesn’t mean being tainted.  My daughter hears expletives, and knows not to repeat them.  My nephew could even play Assassin’s Creed, and not get urges to attack people with a musket and hand axe.  My sister and brother-in-law are aware of what he does.  But I also know that our respective domestic situations are far more secure with respect to familial dynamics than those situations that are not.  Adam Lanza’s domestic circumstances, in addition to his mental state, had to have something to do with his internal demons.  Ready access to weaponry at home had to have made it worse.

Of course, there’s this:

In addition to his technological and weapons prowess, Adam Lanza was an excellent dancer – at least within the confines of the Dance Dance Revolution video game.
“It’s an arcade game as well as on the home systems where you basically dance around to a pattern on the screen,” Hanoman said. “And he was extremely good at it.

Wayne LaPierre should have been all over that, decrying “Dancing with the Stars” or any movie directed by Adam Shankman, no?

Hold on There Little Buckaroo!

There’s a scene in 2011’s Rango, where our titular hero is being fitted with his new “Good Guy” outfit, as befits his appointment to sheriff.  He is asked by one of the town’s children to sign an autograph.  Initially surprised, Rango draws his revolver on the child.  Then, realizing that the kid only wanted an autograph, Rango hands him his revolver.

BulletinGun

“There’s a bullet in this!”

The child then proceeds to handle the gun in all the ways you wouldn’t want a child, much less an adult, to handle it.  But somehow, in the logic of the NRA, the equation merely has to be about whether or not the person handling the weapon is good or not.  That’ll be enough to keep him or her safe.  At today’s benchmark press conference, the NRA’s first public pronouncement about the shootings in Newtown, CT:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President, National Rifle Association

What happens, though, if one Good Guy faces another Good Guy?

One of my favorite films of the 1980s, Rustler’s Rhapsody, actually addressed the question.  In the film, Tom Berenger is a stereotypical good-guy cowboy, Rex O’Herlihan, who is drawn out of a black-and-white film and transferred into a more self-aware setting, an updated cowboy movie, but with the idea that the Good Guy now realizes that he’s caught in the same story arc, albeit in a different setting each time.  All of the features of the classic 1930s/1940s Westerns remain, in that the Good Guy always wins the shootout against the Bad Guy.

Eventually, the Bad Guys also become self-aware themselves, and decide that the only way that a Bad Guy can kill a Good Guy is to hire a Good Guy to fight another Good Guy:

Money quote:

Now hold on there little Buckaroos.  You can’t be hearing language like that.  Get on back to school.  Obey your teachers and study really hard.

And if the NRA has anything to do with it, at that school, there’ll be Good Guys patrolling the hallways looking for shooters, the Bad Guys.

But the problem is what’s going on in the head of the Good Guy.  Alex Sietz-Wald in Salon:

The truth is that it’s extremely difficult for anyone, let alone a lightly trained and inexperienced civilian, to effectively respond to a shooter. The entire episode can take a matter of seconds and your body is fighting against you: Under extreme stress, reaction time slows, heart rate increases and fine motor skills deteriorate. Police train to build muscle memory that can overcome this reaction, but the training wears off after only a few months if not kept up.

Or, of even greater concern to me, is when you have armed Good Guys wandering around the campus, in the dark, in search of the one or two armed Bad Guys.  It then becomes a matter of dumb luck that someone doesn’t get killed in the chaos that might ensue, or worse, when the armed police assault team arrives, the police now can’t differentiate between who is a Good Guy and who is a Bad Guy.

While not quite a circular firing squad, how that manages to save lives in such a situation is beyond me.  In light of such advice from the NRA, perhaps the suggestion that we train unarmed kids to bum rush shooters makes far more sense, no?  Of course not.

Karoli, in Crooks and Liars:

Arming teachers isn’t the answer. Scapegoating teachers isn’t the answer. Supporting teachers, making sure they have adequate security, an evacuation plan, enough teachers’ aides and a manageable class size is about the best anyone can do. For all of the stories of tragedy told over the past few days, there are also stories of heroism, of teachers shoving the kids into bathrooms and closets, keeping them safe and shielding them with their bodies.

This is what teachers do. It’s what they’re trained to do. It’s why they’re teachers. Arming them is not the answer. Supporting them is.

Yesterday, at our staff Christmas party, a colleague suggests that perhaps the idea of arming teachers is the right idea.  For my part, as the school’s Union Rep, I try to gently suggest to her how wrong-headed such thinking might be, not to mention potentially harmful, to anyone involved.  I also try to point out that in the midst of unmitigated budget cutting in an era in which teachers are derided as being overpaid, yet are expected to produce magical testing results, to demand that we undertake weapons training, when we’re still trying to maintain a semblance of middle-class living at home, despite furlough days and pay-cuts, is certifiable.  Too many power brokers are content to cut those things necessary to achieve basic academic competencies among our students, yet they would somehow find the funds to pay for armed guards, or, absent that, weaponry for school staff?

Somehow all of that race through my mind to try to be eloquent enough to debunk my colleague’s assertion. But I also realize it’s a holiday gathering, and discerning quickly that my argument was falling on deaf ears, I was glad that the waiter showed up to cause the subject to get changed.

Yet there it was, in an El Torito, Good Guy turning on Good Guy.  I suppose that this was what the NRA wanted to see happen, in order to obfuscate real issues with the nature of the American gun culture.  My only hope as far as eternal punishment for the likes of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre lies with this unattributed quote:

If the devil punishes all the evil people, doesn’t that make him the good guy?

Meanwhile, on Board the Kobayashi Maru

My efforts to win at the no-win scenario

“War is over, we don’t need your help.  America is making war on itself…” — Bono, during a U2 performance of “Bullet the Blue Sky“, Boston 2001

duckandcover

I am old enough to remember how “Duck-and-Cover” was supposed to protect my elementary school classmates and I from a Soviet nuclear attack.

Now my students are old enough to “Duck and Cover” to protect themselves from an American attacking their school…

From today’s New York Times Opinionator, Sara Mosle:

 …because every few months, my daughter’s school, like others across the country, conducts a “lockdown” drill to prepare for a school shooting. A coded message comes over the loudspeaker indicating that there’s an intruder, most likely armed and dangerous, in the building. My job as a teacher, now familiar to many Americans thanks to the procedures rehearsed and followed by the heroic educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is to rush the door, lock it, turn off the lights (to create the illusion of an empty classroom) and corral my students into a corner. There, out of sight, we practice huddling quietly as we would if an armed intruder were trying to shoot us through a doorway or window.

This past Wednesday, as it was apparently at other elementary schools in the local area, including my own daughter’s school, it was “Lockdown” day.

On Tuesday, my grade level team met for the first time since the Newtown shootings.  Lockdown procedures, rather than our IB curriculum, become the topic of concern.  As often happens with epic-level disasters or circumstances, they only become a topic of importance after they happen, rather than before.  As a new teacher at this school, I am admittedly unfamiliar with the procedures, and I need help in learning what’s appropriate at this school site.  At my old school, with its stand-alone classroom, my choices were self-explanatory with respect to a Lockdown.  (Of course, my final 2 years there were spent in a trailer that could have been at home after Hurricane Katrina.  Given its thin walls, and its isolated position on the outskirts of the campus, I could see little protection that it might have provided my students.)  But at my new school, with its remants of 1970s pod design, the classrooms open up to a central community area, and the school is split between the upper and primary grade areas, as well as a pod for the administration and the kindergarteners.  We are effectively cut off from each other in the event of some sort of emergency.

Says a colleague, K., who has the room next to mine, and whose classroom overlooks the parking lot and is the most exposed, “I think they were on acid when they designed the school.”

My reply, “Well, it was the ’70s.”

Still, she is worried about the ability to see into her classroom during a lockdown, even with the lights turned off.  At my team meeting the day before, I expressed the same worry, as my teammates and I discussed the timeline of the Newtown shootings, wondering if the various offices and storage rooms scattered along the periphery of the classroom pods were accessible to us with our keys, and therefore could be locked.  Reflecting up on how students, teachers, and staff, were able to find hiding places at Sandy Hook Elementary in such smaller rooms, we reach a grade level agreement to move our kids into the storage rooms and offices in the event of a lockdown.  I bring up the idea that we need to “buy” time in the event of such a situation, that the longer it would take for students to be “found”, the better chance local law enforcement would have to get to the school to intervene.

My colleagues’ keys work the doors to the storage room which sits between them.  Later on, I am reassured to find that my key will open the RSP room immediately next to my classroom.  Unfortunately, we are only 3 classrooms of 75 students, as well as ourselves, there is still a need to find such an evacuation spot for the SDC class, 2 4th grade classrooms, and 3 6th grades.  Given that this lockdown is meant to find out how we stand with respect to emergency procedures though, we set aside our initial concerns about trying to find places for everyone, until we know it works for our own classroom of kids.

So on Wednesday morning, before my students arrive, I spend a few moments with my 4th grade colleagues, who have the rooms closest to me, to find out what they’re planning on doing.  Both pretty much agree that there’s little they plan on doing beyond “ducking and covering”, because there’s not many places they can move towards.  I point out that with the lights out and quiet children, from the outside, the temporary wall between our classrooms does provide some cover when viewed from the outside.  K., who has that classroom closest to the school parking lot, and with 2 windows that can be used to enter the room, realizes there’s a corner where she can move her kids to hide them from anyone  looking in.  I suggest that later, after we’re done, we try to see if curtains are an option.  My 5th grade colleagues both have curtains on their room themselves, while I am using some posters.  Still, at this point, I move outside myself, switch off the classoom lights and try to see what it might look like from the outside looking in.  There are areas where children sit where enough ambient light, even on an overcast morning, allows someone to see in even with the lights out.  I make the decision to have that student move into the far corner during “duck and cover”.

Nevertheless, I ask myself if “Duck and Cover” would truly be that effective if a potential shooter choose to enter the school through my door or window.  Rather than immediately question that, I decide it best to follow directions during this drill, in order to question the choice later on, if necessary.  My aide comes in, at this point, and I brief him about the procedures we will follow.

When I go to pick up the students, as they try to settle in, I immediately cut off the usual insouciance, in order to explain the lockdown procedures the class will follow when it starts.  I move from the known to unknown.  Most of these kids have matriculated only through this elementary school, but it being the east side of my school district, rather than the west side, I wonder if these kids even know what a lockdown was.

“How many of you have been through a lockdown drill at this school?”

None raise their hands.  I find out later that lockdowns have been held in the past, but these kids apparently don’t remember it.

“How many even know what a lockdown is?”

My girl from Norwalk, a boy from Bell Gardens and another from Hawaiian Gardens, all raise their hand.  The other kids, local area lifers, are still silent.  I explain the lockdown and what it usually means.  Normally, in the area, it’s because the local sheriff deputies are out searching for a suspect in a local crime.  We can still function normally, more or less, in such a situation.  But today is more about the events in Connecticut.  While I have avoided getting specific about details about Sandy Hook, I do get specific now, not to scare the kids, per se, but to explain to them the “why” of what we will do.  I work very hard at trying to remain calm, and my usual casual humor is replaced by a more serious tone.  I want this to go well.   The principal then comes on over the intercom and reiterates a great deal of what I had already told the kids.  I am hoping that the kids will get the message to treat this with some measure of seriousness.

When the lockdown finally happens, I actually find my hands shaking as I deliver the instruction to get under the desks, and I head over and turn out the lights.  So far so good, but slowly, order starts to break down.  One kids bangs his head accidentally on one of the desk legs.  Others giggle, as they are wont to do during earthquake drills, without heeding my request for as much quiet as they can muster.

All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. — Blaise Pascal

I strive to do my best to not raise my voice as move to the next step, getting the kids into the RSP office.  I try to walk around the room in those areas where it is darkest, and I ask the kids to start to crawl, in the dark into the RSP room.  Still, several of my students are determined that they have to provide a vocal soundtrack to the drill.  My kids move quickly enough to crawl into the RSP office, and I make a mental note about a couple of my students who backed out into the area of the room still lit from outside light, to remind them to move forward under the desk to crawl rather than backwards.

But my aide is getting frustrated as he positions himself at the RSP office door to help guide the student inside.  Unlike myself, he is naturally softspoken, but I can see him getting frustrated by the increasing noise level coming out of the RSP office.  My goal was try to hide the kids in the office, but with their inability to pipe down, they’ve done nothing but make themselves even more conspicuous.  It is all I can do to not throw propriety to the wind and not yell at them to shut up.  At this point, the principal, moving through our building to check on statuses, comes by and quietly tries to hush the kids’ giggling and talking.  He leaves, my aide and I are dumbfounded when the talking and laughing continue, especially when I see one boy light up his watch because he has to see what the time was.

Mosle:

During these drills, my students are often visibly anxious because they’re afraid of guns and don’t and can’t know if the exercise is just a precaution. We behave as if the alarm were real because it could be real, and so we can become accustomed to remaining calm during a crisis. My students hug one another and exchange nervous glances as we crouch on the floor and I silently mouth words of comfort. Someone begins to whisper until another student hisses, “Shhhhhh,” so any gunman wouldn’t be able to hear us. Our principal goes around checking doors in the eerily quiet hallways to see if teachers have followed protocol, and when he jiggles our doorknob, several students start as if in a horror movie.

My students, for their part, are far from anxious, because there are enough who couldn’t process what “quietly” even means.

When the lockdown is over, the kids head back to their desks.  I should debrief, but at this point, I’m looking for seriously methaphorical blood.

I ask T. why he was looking at his watch.  He replies that he needed to know what time it was, clueless that he belongs to me until 2:15 pm anyway.

I ask D. why he thought the whole procedure was so funny.  All he can do is shrug his shoulders.

S. starts to complain that someone was touching his butt when he looked out the office window, even though there was no compelling reason to look out the window if the point was to hide.  My class cynic, G., sarcastically retorts that if S. doesn’t want his butt touched, he shouldn’t look out the office window.  (G.’s internalized the Cause-and-Effect lesson I taught earlier this year.)

I am frustrated.  My principal enters shortly afterwards and starts to ream the students out himself.  He is not happy.  I can see this stuff rolling downhill to me and I want to get out of the way, but can’t.  He makes it a point that not only could he hear my students from outside, he could tell where they were based on the amount of noise they were making.

“Perfect practice makes perfect execution”, he leaves them.

I ream them again, because they’ve gotten reamed by the principal.

Later, as we debrief the fiasco in the RSP office, my colleague rustles my jimmies by suggesting it was a classroom management issue.  I consider, for a moment, ritual suicide to save face.  I find my principal, who’s resumed his normal rounds, and apologize for my class’ behavior.  Inappropriate humor or not, I volunteer that my kids and I would be willing to distract a shooter in real life.  But still, with tensions being as it was, I don’t relish the idea that 1/3 of my students don’t fully comprehend the criticality of making themselves as inconspicuous as they possibly can, which includes putting a muzzle on their insatiable need to conduct a running commentary during a drill that’s meant to be done in near-total silence.

When the kids return from their enrichment classes, I try to tear a new one out of what’s left of them for having been called out by another teacher.  But I stop myself.  I point out the ultimate need for such an exercise.  The state has entrusted their safety to well-being to me, and my responsibility is to keep them in a safe setting to the fullest extent that I can.  And when they choose not to follow instructions, they put not just themselves at risk, but also their classmates, and the rest of the school.  I point out what I had shared with my grade level team the previous day, that the point of the drill was to see how long we could last in silent hiding. Sadly, that’s not what had gone down.

I then praise one of my boys, who is normally chatty, distracted, and moving constantly throughout the room, as probably the one kid who “got it”.  L. tells me that he treated the exercise like a game of “Soldier” (I call it “Army Guy”, but most boys seem to gravitate to it at some point in childhood), and that he wanted to be as quiet as he could, just as if he had been playing that game.

I remark that the kids might have done better during the drill had they decided to treat it as they might a game of hide-and-seek.  But then, I back off, and reassure them that I can better keep them safe if they understand that in any emergency situation, since as fifth graders, they should start to know better by now, to listen absolutely to my instructions.  They owe that to themselves, as well as their parents.  I tell them that they have to trust in me just like my daughter Kate has to trust in her kindergarten teacher, or the kids and parents in the classroom of V.’s mom (who teaches in Long Beach USD) have to trust in her.  Then, I move on to what was left of my instructional time, hoping that today’s morning lesson, while painful, would sink in.

Finally Mosle:

After the lockdown drills are over, I try to reassure my students that their classrooms are unlikely to be overtaken by armed attackers. I do a short lesson on probability and the very remote chance that any of them will ever be involved in such an incident.

That evening, I arrive on Kate’s campus to pick her up.  Unlike my school, which is surrounded by a chain link fence around all the buildings, her district’s schools are wide open around the classroom.  It is not unlike the way in which schools were in the 1960s and 1970s when I was growing up in that same area when I was in elementary school.   I wonder what could happen on such a campus.  As we walk out, I ask her about her day.  She volunteers that they had a lockdown drill at school.

Then, perfectly, Kates recites, in her remarkable ability to mimic what she hears, exactly what her lockdown instructions had been from her teacher.

Even my kindergartner had been better at a Lockdown drill than I had been.

 

*That* Conversation

US-CRIME-SCHOOL SHOOTING

And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry

U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

If the conversation was going to be had in a classroom across America this first morning back after last Friday, then this was my version of it.

These are savvy enough kids of mine that I was pretty sure that at least some of them had heard of the Newtown, CT shootings.  But what I wasn’t sure was how much they knew.  Or what I would say.  I am not the most subtle of speakers, to be honest, and my mouth has gotten me into my particular corner of hell more often than I want to remember.

Over the weekend, one of my friends from back east, who tangentially knows a friend who knows parents of some of the Sandy Hook victims, had asked me what, if anything, I would tell Kate.  In truth, I hadn’t said anything to Katelyn yet.  She was unaware of what had gone down in Connecticut, nor did it seem appropriate to bring the issue up if we didn’t need to do so.  Friday was the day she had gotten her first school award, and Mommy and Daddy were there to see her get it at her school.  We know now that there were parents of other primary graders converging on their own school 3000 miles away for entirely different, and ultimately, tragic reasons.

So my struggle for internal eloquence with how to deal with whatever question my 5th graders would have, was small potatoes.  I probably could get away with saying nothing about it, should I choose.  My daughter’s school district had put out reassurances from both the superintendent and the school principal that the issue would not be addressed.  I had been given no such directive in my own district.  I had leeway.  Why go there?  Because I couldn’t not.  If explaining the American Experiment to 10-year-olds was what motivated me to take up teaching, then explaining this incident certainly fell under that large umbrella.

Nevertheless, for one of the few times in my teaching career, I felt it necessary to preface the morning, with words that don’t come out of my mouth very often:

“I know I like to take a weird slant and attitude towards most things regarding life in general, or even our learning at times, but this isn’t one of those times.  It can’t be.  Does anyone have any questions or comments about what happened on Friday or what they heard from this past Friday or this weekend?”

There, I had stepped into it.  Had I been at my old school, I would have been truly concerned, since having a school leader given to openly over-moralizing everything, tends to color what you can and can’t say to your students.  But in this instance, even had I been back in my personal purgatory of a year ago, I would have done the same thing, I hope.  Just be honest…answer the questions, if there are any, as best as you can…

The questions come:  About the rifles, the pistols, the mother being a teacher (which I gently corrected).

We talk about Aspergers, and how this one incident is not about Aspergers, but other things.

We talk about the school safety plan.  Here I take pause to make sure I have all eyes and ears before proceeding.  I know my job is to reassure them, to make them understand that the random acts of violence that coalesced in a horrible morning 3 days earlier are as equally a random act, as a drive-by in South Central, or botched holdup in East Los Angeles.  Americans died, and a gun was involved.

One student brings up the Chinese knife attack, also from last Friday, sharing that his uncle said that “they had enough kids to lose a few out there, anyway…”  I point out that no one in that attack died.  I also find myself immediately adding that attacking someone with a knife is different than attacking with a gun.  Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything more, but several of the boys begin to ask about assault weapons and how they are different from handguns.

Fortunately, I had begun the school year describing each amendment of the Bill of Rights to my students.  When another student asks me about how hard it would be to get a weapon, I point out that both my aide and myself, should we want, could go out and buy a gun if we had the money to buy one.  I explain, in as unbiased a manner as I can, how there has been a gun control debate in the country for longer than these kids have been alive.  I finally, in a weak moment, admit that it is frustrating to me, personally, that it was harder for my wife and I to go through the legal magic show to adopt our daughter than it would be if I wanted to purchase a gun.

Again, though, the kids’ questions start to peter out after about half an hour.  I remind them again that my responsibility as their teacher puts me in the legal position to take their well-being into account.  That we have a safety plan that we’re supposed to follow, and we will follow it in order to keep them safe, be it an earthquake, a fire, or even something wholly out of the ordinary, as Friday’s sad events obviously turned out to be.

Then one final question, from G.:

“Wasn’t it a bad, bad weekend?”

“Yeah,” I reply.

But then I realize he’s talking about players on his fantasy football team.  “Beast mode” for G. means the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch.  Sandy Hook discussion over.

A few minutes later, the principal walks by our classroom.  Would he be addressing the kids in each class about last Friday?  No, he is the advance team, complete with walkie-talkie.

A PTA parent is dressed up as Santa Claus, visiting each classroom and handing out candy canes with his “elves”.  Sandy Hook has immediately moved into the background.  “Normal” had returned, such as it was.