What School Safety Reports Ignore: Reducing Class Size

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.

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Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

Over the summer we have seen a glut of school safety reports. Local, state, and federal agencies have written possible solutions they think will thwart future school violence. Some suggestions might be well-advised, but others have created concerns about questionable student surveillance. It’s difficult to believe any solutions will be successful if no one addresses class size.

In the July report from Homeland Security, “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence,” they report:

When establishing threat assessment capabilities within K-12 schools, keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker.

There have been male and female attackers, high-achieving students with good grades as well as poor performers. These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular (p.1).

Most teachers understand that middle and high school students experience hormonal changes and rapid physical growth. It’s sometimes difficult to separate mental health difficulties from general teenage angst, moodiness, impulsivity, or a variety of other developmental factors.

The omission in the report is lowering class size. Teachers who teach the same students, get to know their students. But this is difficult to do when teachers have over thirty students breezing in and out of their classrooms daily. In total, that’s 150 students!

The plan includes forming a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, establishing central reporting mechanisms, identifying behaviors of concern, defining the threshold for law enforcement intervention, identifying risk management strategies, promoting safe school climates, and providing training to stakeholders. It can also help schools mitigate threats from a variety of individuals, including students, employees, or parents.

The report’s Table of Contents emphasizes attention to a variety of issues concerning students in school including:

  • Motives
  • Communications
  • Inappropriate interests
  • Weapons access
  • Stressors
  • Emotional and developmental issues
  • Desperation or despair
  • Violence as an option
  • Concerned others
  • Capacity to carry out an attack
  • Planning Consistency
  • Protective factors

They mention school climate but refer to a 2014, U.S. Department of Education Report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (p. 26).

Smaller class sizes are still not addressed. Teachers are better able to identify unusual student behavior if they know their students. When classes are smaller school feels more like home.

In the movie The Edge of Seventeen, a troubled student confides in her history teacher when life’s problems seem overwhelming. Students need to know that adults and other students in their lives care. But it’s unrealistic to assume this can happen with unmanageable class sizes. Teachers need time to connect with students. Students need smaller class sizes to connect with each other.

School reformers fight against lowering class size. They demand proof that it raises test scores. But lowering class size involves other benefits that are far more important.

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

While reducing class size may seem expensive and unattainable, giving students some smaller classes should be a reachable goal. School and school district officials should work towards that end.

-Nancy Bailey

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A clarification on just what the Second Amendment is about

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People who demand there be no limit to the number or type of weaponry they can possess always refer to the Second Amendment and the importance of their “freedom”.

Recently I came across the following article published in the New York Times where the writer goes into depth on why this amendment became part of our Bill of Rights.

-Dora Taylor

What the Second Amendment really meant to the Founders

Love it or hate it, the Second Amendment provides the constitutional framework for American gun laws. As with all things constitutional, Americans are adapting 18th-century laws to fit 21st-century lives. But in reality, the concerns of the Founding Fathers had little to do with either side’s position in the modern gun-control debate. None of the issues animating that debate — from “stand your ground” laws to assault weapons bans — entered into the Founders’ thinking.

Yet because both sides in debates about the Second Amendment invoke what the Founders would have thought, it’s important to look at what they actually intended.

1. The Founding Fathers were devoted to the militia.

Read the debates about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the militia’s importance leaps off the page. Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, called a well-regulated militia “the most natural defense of a free country.” His anti-Federalist critics agreed with the need for a citizens’ militia, writing that “a well regulated militia, composed of the Yeomanry of the country, have ever been considered as the bulwark of a free people.”

Their disagreement was over how best to ensure that the militia was maintained, as well as how to divide up the roles of the national government vs. state governments. But both sides were devoted to the idea that all citizens should be part-time soldiers, because both sides believed a standing army was an existential threat to the ideas of the revolution.

The only way to be both free and secure was for citizens to be armed, organized and ready to defend their society. The choice was a stark one: a standing army or a free nation.

2. The amendment’s primary justification was to prevent the United States from needing a standing army.

Preventing the United States from starting a professional army, in fact, was the single most important goal of the Second Amendment. It is hard to recapture this fear today, but during the 18th century few boogeymen were as scary as the standing army — an army made up of professional, full-time soldiers.

By the logic of the 18th century, any society with a professional army could never be truly free. The men in charge of that army could order it to attack the citizens themselves, who, unarmed and unorganized, would be unable to fight back. This was why a well-regulated militia was necessary to the security of a free state: To be secure, a society needed to be able to defend itself; to be free, it could not exist merely at the whim of a standing army and its generals.

The only way to be both free and secure was for citizens to be armed, organized and ready to defend their society. The choice was a stark one: a standing army or a free nation.

3. The authors of the Bill of Rights were not concerned with an “individual” or “personal” right to bear arms. 

Before the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, courts had ruled that the right of individual citizens to bear arms existed only within the context of participation in the militia. In Heller,the Supreme Court overturned that precedent, delivering gun rights advocates their biggest legal victory.

This was not, however, a return to an “original understanding” of the Second Amendment, as Justice Antonin Scalia claimed for the majority. It’s not that the Founding Fathers were against the idea of an individual right to bear arms. It just was not an issue that concerned them.

Again, the militia was all important: The men writing the Bill of Rights wanted every citizen to be in the militia, and they wanted everyone in the militia to be armed. If someone was prohibited from participating in the militia, the leaders of the Founders’ generation would not have wanted them to have access to weapons. In fact, the 18th-century regulations that required citizens to participate in the militia also prohibited blacks and Indians from participating as arms-bearing members.

The restrictions underscore a key point about militias: They were more effective as domestic police forces than they were on the battlefield against enemy nations; and they were most effective when they were policing the African American population.

4. The Founding Fathers were very concerned about who should, or should not, be armed.

These restrictions on militia membership are critically important to understand. Because despite the words of the Second Amendment, 18th-century laws did infringe on Americans’ right to bear arms.

Laws rarely allowed free blacks to have weapons. It was even rarer for African Americans living in slavery to be allowed them. In slave states, militias inspected slave quarters and confiscated weapons they found. (There were also laws against selling firearms to Native Americans, although these were more ambiguous.)

These restrictions were no mere footnote to the gun politics of 18th-century America. White Americans were armed so that they could maintain control over nonwhites. Nonwhites were disarmed so that they would not pose a threat to white control of American society.

The restrictions underscore a key point about militias: They were more effective as domestic police forces than they were on the battlefield against enemy nations; and they were most effective when they were policing the African American population.

5. Eighteenth-century Americans tolerated a certain amount of violence and instability, as long as it came from other white Americans.

During the 18th century, insurrectionary groups such as the Carolina Regulators and vigilante groups such as Pennsylvania’s Paxton Boys showed that Colonial governments could not simply issue laws and count on the people to obey them. (As did, one might add, the American Revolution.) Shay’s Rebellion in 1787 and the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791 showed that those problems would not go away with the arrival of the new republic. Including all citizens in the militia and relying on that militia to enforce the laws meant that issues which divided the citizenry also divided the militia. When disagreements over political issues turned violent, the government would not necessarily enjoy the balance of power over citizens who, as militia members, were trained and armed.

Those events also showed a pattern that emerged during the 18th century: Americans were willing to tolerate a significant degree of instability and violence on the part of white Americans. The Paxton Boys, for instance, murdered 20 Conestoga Indians who had been living peacefully with their Pennsylvanian neighbors for some time. Though the governor issued warrants for their arrest, and Benjamin Franklin called the killers a “disgrace of their country and their colour,” no Paxton Boys were ever prosecuted.

The Whiskey Rebellion was an armed uprising against the national government. In its aftermath, only two rebels were convicted of treason, and President George Washington pardoned them both. Indians who attacked whites, and enslaved peoples who resisted, however, received no such indulgence.

Americans have been eager to disarm blacks, but hesitant to disarm whites.

Today’s Second Amendment

Anyone wishing for a return to an original meaning of the Second Amendment — where no one was a professional soldier, but everyone would be required to participate in the militia — would find themselves far from the political mainstream.

America’s standing army is now the most powerful fighting force in world history. The National Guard still exists as a citizens’ militia, but participation is a far cry from the Founders’ vision of participation by all citizens. Meanwhile, the Army and the militia have diversified in ways which no one in the 18th century could have imagined.

What remains, though, is the pattern of what Americans will and will not tolerate. In the centuries since the Bill of Rights became law, the strictest gun-control laws have been aimed — sometimes explicitly, sometimes not — at keeping African Americans from arming themselves. Americans have been eager to disarm blacks, but hesitant to disarm whites.

The United States still seems willing to tolerate a significant degree of instability and violence on the part of white American men, the demographic group responsible for the majority of mass shootings.

California’s gun-control laws, for instance, began as a reaction to the Black Panthers’ armed patrols and open carry. Yet, when self-proclaimed militiamen engaged in armed resistance to law enforcement at the Bundy ranch in 2014, there was no similar call for new gun laws, and a significant portion of the American political establishment initially expressed support for their actions.

Meanwhile, the nation continues to tolerate a level of gun violence from its citizens unparalleled in other wealthy nations. Eighteenth-century militias were unstable and unpredictable; American gun violence in the 21st century has been every bit as unstable and unpredictable and, given the improvements in weaponry, far more fatal. In three of the most recent mass shootings — the high school in Parkland, Fla., the church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., and Las Vegas — three men killed a total of 101 people and injured hundreds more, a level of carnage that would have been impossible with the weapons available during the 18th century.

Despite these body counts, and despite the seeming inevitability of future tragedies like these, there have been no new national laws to limit citizens’ access to high-powered weapons. Some states have enacted such restrictions, but other states have moved in the opposite direction, loosening limits on citizens’ access to firearms.

Again, this level of carnage could not have been foreseen by the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The United States still seems willing to tolerate a significant degree of instability and violence on the part of white American men, the demographic group responsible for the majority of mass shootings. The United States also seems willing to tolerate daily rates of gun violence that surpass all but the worst mass shootings, in large part because most homicide victims are people of color.

Again, this level of carnage could not have been foreseen by the men who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As Americans, though, we still live our lives and write our laws within the framework that those men left us, including the Second Amendment. At its best, the Second Amendment was a commitment to citizen participation in public life and a way to keep military power under civil control. At its worst, it was a way for whites to maintain their social domination.

In today’s America, the echoes of 18th-century racial politics still weigh down our society, while the new republic’s commitment to citizen participation is nowhere to be found.

Actions in response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida #NeverAgain

 

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“Every day when I say ‘bye’ to my parents, I do acknowledge the fact that I could never see my parents again.”

Ella Fesler, a high school student in Alexandria, Virginia

 

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Thousands gathered at Florida’s state capitol today to demand their legislators take action against gun violence.

 

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Hundreds of teenagers from around the DC area walked out of school today also to demand action on gun control. The students rallied outside the U.S. Capitol, before marching down the National Mall to the White House.

 

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This lie-in in front of the White House symbolized the 17 students and staff killed in Parkland on February 14, 2018. More joined in after the first 17 students participated.

 

In reaction to the murderous rampage of a disturbed youth armed to the teeth with weaponry that no civilian should possess, there have been rallies and marches around the country and others are planned.

To follow are events planned that have come to my attention.:

 

Wednesday, March 14: #Enough! National School Walkout

One month after the Parkland school shooting, organizers are calling for “students, teachers, administrators, parents and allies” to participate in a nationwide school walkout. The event is being organized by the same people who organized the Women’s March.

The organizers are asking participants to walkout for “17 minutes at 10am across every time zone on March 14, 2018 to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”

The Facebook link can be found here.

 

Saturday, March 24: March for Our Lives

On Saturday, March 24th at 10:00 AM, the students of Parkland will be leading a march in DC for gun violence protection.

The event posted on Facebook can be found here.

 

Friday, April 20: National Day of Action against Gun Violence in Schools

On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, the Network for Public Education is calling for a day of action to prevent gun violence.

Per the NPE event Facebook page, “After the slaughter of students and staff in Parkland, Florida, the time for action has never been more urgent. The politicians sit on their hands as our children and their teachers are murdered in their schools. We will be silent no more! The failure to enact rational laws that bar access to guns designed for mass shootings is inexcusable. It is past time to speak out and act.”

 

There is also the March for Life Facebook page where associated events can be posted.

Dora Taylor