Why Schools? and More

My heart is broken for the families of the youngest victims of gun violence this week in Uvalde, Texas. Too many beautiful little people were taken away too soon. When faced with unthinkable, senseless tragedy, the only hope is make changes that will prevent this from happening in the future. Like Andrew Rotherham, I support gun control, but not turning schools into fortresses. I also think we should look at ways to improve school culture.

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And some edu-gossip At The Educated Parent. I wrote this before news hit about Texas.

35 thoughts on “Why Schools? and More

  1. I found this piece asking schools to do more, even more, and the idea that a school can even have the goal that all the children be “happy” quite troubling. A school can’t make all children happy even with the very best of supports (as a student coordinator at one of the America’s most well resourced schools struggling with the problem once told me).

    I do not believe that better schools would prevent the development or actions of the last three young killers I’m remembering.

    I think the first focus needs to be on how these young men got guns and tactical gear (all legally, two of them shortly after their 18th birthday), the guns (automatic rifles) and ammunition (lots of rounds) and flack gear. We don’t let 18 year olds drink beer legally; we don’t let them rent cars. We could prevent them from buying rounds and rounds of ammunition. And though those changes might seem politically impossible as of this time, they can’t harder than providing the resources to address mental health issues, providing wrap around supports for all children, and “loving” the unloved.

    And I’ll leave you with this bit from the NYTimes about Eca Mireles, who died in the Ulvade classroom:

    “Audrey Garcia, 48, whose daughter Gabby was once a student of Eva Mireles, recalled Ms. Mireles on Wednesday as a transformational teacher in her child’s life.

    Gabby is 23 years old now, with a high school diploma. Ms. Mireles had been Gabby’s third grade teacher. It was only a couple of years earlier, she said, that schools in the Uvalde area had begun integrating children with developmental disabilities into regular classrooms. Gabby was one of the first students to be mixed in with a nondisabled population. “It was new for teachers in that area,” Ms. Garcia said.

    Ms. Mireles, she said, threw herself into the work. “She used every teaching method she knew to help Gabby reach her highest potential,” she said. “She never saw that potential as lower than anyone else’s in her classroom. She made sure Gabby was included. She was just above and beyond as far as teachers go.”


    1. We can, and should, limit access to fire arms and equipment. I said that at least five times. But I also think that there’s a toxic school culture, especially in the upper grades, as well as a profound societal neglect for vulnerable groups. Of course, that neglect and contempt helps to breed resentment. In its most extreme form, it leads in rare incidents to mass shooters. But it also takes other forms, too, like the support of DJT.


      1. “But I also think that there’s a toxic school culture, especially in the upper grades, as well as a profound societal neglect for vulnerable groups.”

        Uh, yes, of course, But that has been going on for years and years. HS was toxic when we were there. There’s a reason John Hughes’ teenager movies were so popular – people related to them. The difference between then and now is Too Many Guns. I grew up accepting hunting as a way of life (the farm where my mom’s best friend hosted hunters every year). But no one I knew had a gun, or talked about guns except as they related to hunting.

        We are the generation who remembers what life was like before these mass shootings. We know damned well that the only real difference is that there are more guns and more gun worship. Oh, and also the learned helplessness that we can do nothing to change this situation.

        (As an aside, we are watching the George Carlin documentary now. I really miss him. He would be tearing apart the Republican Party right now.)

        (However, I also think that he would be Bill Maher-esque in hating “cancel culture.”)


  2. Are there more guns and more gun worship? Do more people own guns than in the past? Are guns easier to purchase than in the past? I genuinely have no clue. I have never even touched a gun before in my life. Nobody I know owns a gun. Nobody I know goes hunting. I have zero contact with the parts of the country that owns guns, so I have little knowledge of that culture.

    Yes, high school life was always brutal, but there were outlets for those who were bullied and ignored by school leaders. There were good union jobs waiting for them. Jobs that paid a living wage to those who didn’t go to college. There were more supports within the community for marginalized individuals.

    But schools have changed. The stakes are higher. More AP classes, more varsity sports, more specialized honors programs. We know that this craziness is having a huge toll of kids, because the suicide rates are through the roof. We know that kids are miserable.

    At the end of my piece, I proposed various remedies, including hiring social workers in high schools, who work in conjunction with social workers within the community. This is a very modest proposal. I’m not sure why we can’t hire social workers and limit guns. Why is that an extreme idea?


    1. Gun culture is completely fucked and very different from what it was when I grew up. There were issues when I was growing up (e.g. alcohol and hunting were often mixed), but the NRA is completely unrecognizable from the one the ran the hunter’s safety course I took. And, yes, people who have guns now have more and more lethal guns (nearly all of which are illegal to hunt with).


      1. So true. The NRA has changed from being a marksmanship and gun-safety promoting organization, to one whose sole purpose is to represent the interests of the firearm industry by panicking as many people as possible into buying large numbers of guns, including guns that were never meant for civilian use. And this is because the nuimber of people who hunt, any more, is going down and the firearm industry is shrinking. The NRA social media presence (and those of its related industries and hangers-on) are all about scaring people into thinking the government (or the liberals) are going to come and seize their guns — all the mmore reason to go out and buy them now, “while you still can.”


      2. And this is because the number of people who hunt, any more, is going down and the firearm industry is shrinking.

        I suspect the causation is reciprocal. That is, the number of people who hunt dropped at first because the population trends were changing (mostly the U.S. becoming less rural) but now it is accelerating because of cultural issues (people who might be fine with hunting are unwilling to associate with the NRA and related organizations so they find a different hobby). I know Pennsylvania is really trying to up the number of deer hunters among the young. There are enough deer that they constitute a danger and it’s getting worse.


    2. “Is there more gun and more gun worship? Do more people own guns than in the past? Are they easier to purchase than in the past? I genuinely have no clue.”

      If you want to talk about the reasons for school massacres you need to know answers to those questions. And, more children died by firearms than car crashes in 2020.

      You wrote that the US economy has changed, “There were good union jobs waiting for them. Jobs that paid a living wage to those who didn’t go to high school”.

      Schools can’t fix that. And, they might not be able to fix it even by doing the very best that they can do, that no amount of resources will make it possible to optimize every human to be productive (“get a living wage”) in a competitive, market based, globalized economy, without unions or other government rules or subsidies.

      “I’m not sure why we can’t hire social workers and limit guns. Why is that an extreme idea?”

      Because it is a distraction unless you believe that it is a better fix than common sense gun laws that limit access to high powered weapons and rounds of ammunition to that same group of young men for whom you propose social workers. And I don’t think it is. I think there will always be disaffected young men and the difference now is that they can by assault rifles and 1000 rounds of ammunition on their 18th birthday.

      Then, your proposal is asking for two things, one of them very expensive, instead of just asking for the inexpensive one. And, that’s always going to be harder.


    3. “Why is that an extreme idea?”

      Who said it was an extreme idea?

      “I have never even touched a gun before in my life. Nobody I know owns a gun. ”

      I looked up stats on gun ownership. In a chart covering 1972 to 2019, the highest percentage of households with guns was 1990. 47%, almost one out of 2 households, had a gun. You probably knew someone whose house had a gun. The difference is that it was a tool then and locked up and no one talked about it. My dad even had a handgun in the 90s (I have no idea why. Midlife crisis? He also got a motorcycle at one point) and he kept it locked and unloaded, and he kept the ammunition in a different place. We made him get rid of it before S was born (she was the first grandchild, and my parents babysat her 2 days a week).

      I found this Twitter thread to be simultaneously fascinating, depressing, and unsurprising: https://twitter.com/Monstrous_Fest/status/1529836648925732865


  3. Laura, I often take the opposite side in any argument. A good education gone bad on my part, I suppose.

    You propose extending the supports and services on offer at high schools. But such supports and services, to be effective, would need to be staffed by smart, sensible, empathetic and knowledgeable counselors. I don’t think there’s a supply of such people just waiting around for these jobs to open up. I think anyone able to be a good counselor to young adults is already employed. And most guidance counselors in schools are already essentially working as social workers.

    It would be good for schools to offer career and education counselors. It would help for high schools to given informed, individual advice to students about future career paths other than college.

    The trend across the country has been to raise the age of compulsory education. We regard dropping out of school as a failure on the part of the school. But what about the children and young adults who are truly miserable in school? It’s compulsory.


    1. And just because I’m a difficult person, while higher levels of education are often a good thing, on average, only 26.7% of 9th graders complete college within 150% of the standard time (as of 2018):

      There is the problem that we do need people with practical skills, such as carpenters, cooks, truck drivers, automotive technicians, welders, sailors, fishermen, etc. Focusing on the college track is shortsighted.

      Even Massachusetts only manages to get 38.9% of their 9th graders complete an associates’ or BA. So, at best, 60% of students will find future careers that do not require college degrees.

      I feel the counselors in high school should know more about “alternate” career tracks. There should be more vocational training available to students. Yes, it is more expensive. On the other hand, when I read about high school students stuck in study hall, because their school doesn’t have enough academic classes for them, it does feel like warehousing.


  4. I hadn’t thought of this as a reason for why school shootings happen in elementary/high schools but I think you have a point. Schools are not a good or fruitful experience for a large group of children. This goes beyond whether it ends up with tragic deaths, but it certainly could be a major reason for mass shootings happening at schools.

    My memories of school days line up with what you said, there really was a lot less pressure on kids and a lot more freedom and opportunities around. It was common for 16-year-olds to buy their own (beater) cars, have jobs, and they did not spend so much energy trying to line up the resume, get to the right school and “succeed”. There was a lot more slack in what was expected.

    Although, I don’t know if we can find all that many “helping, caring adults” to hire to achieve a better experience. My other memories of the adults from my school days is that they were just a lot of average, quirky people, they were not saints or miracle workers or even particularly competent at their jobs in general. I think it’s worth trying to have better school systems for academics for all levels and after school programs for kids who aren’t on the AP/scholarship/sports-star route It would probably be a major improvement for everyone in school and society in general. There have to be outlets for kids besides books and papers. Having robotics clubs and croquet clubs and garage bands and all sorts of clubs to interest children is something I think is more and more important.

    About the change in gun culture, here is my data point: I grew up (in the 70’s) in suburban neighborhoods just outside a large east coast city. The area had been more rural and there was some farmland still, but it was rapidly being urbanized. Still, I remember trucks, with gun-racks in the back, parked in the school parking lot. I’m pretty sure I drove around in those types of trucks with friends when there were guns in the racks, but I’m not sure about that. At any rate, is was not that out of the ordinary.


  5. “I think it’s worth trying to have better school systems for academics for all levels and after school programs for kids who aren’t on the AP/scholarship/sports-star route”

    This requires changing the economy, not the schools. The schools follow the training for the jobs that exist and they are being told that a college education is the path to a middle class life. And, the children of the better off are being told that the path to the elite life is intense academics and achievement in HS followed by elite colleges followed by internships at google or mckinsey followed by law school followed by . . . .


    1. “The schools follow the training for the jobs that exist …”

      Which jobs? When I look at this list, most of the jobs do not require a BA: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/in-demand-jobs

      For most, yes, a high school degree is required–but that’s a minimum requirement. Many require training for the particular job, such as a driver’s license.

      As to the elite life, it isn’t necessarily guaranteed for life. https://www.mauldineconomics.com/the-10th-man/ageism

      and: https://bdtechtalks.com/2019/03/29/ageism-in-tech-age-limit-software-developers-face/

      and: https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/7-industries-where-ageism-is-the-most-rampant


  6. Interesting piece in the WashPost that says Trump actually considered supporting assault weapons bans & raising the age for purchasing guns to 21 after the Santa Fe massacre but was dissuaded by Mulvaney and the NRA.


      1. If Trump really wanted to impress me as a cult leader, he would take some sort of position opposite to that of his cult followers and champion it and get them to change their minds.


  7. The school theory might make sense for teenagers who murder people at their own high school, but not for killers at an elementary school. I don’t know what makes someone want to go after children – maybe a desire for total control, because they have no chance of fighting back? It’s horrifying.

    Although I did not grow up with guns, I live in a rural area where hunting is quite common. Hunters who hunt things they and their families actually eat are serious and careful (almost always) about guns and are not in the same category as the people the NRA leadership itself acknowledges are the “fruitcakes” and whackos (we just listened to this podcast on the tapes where they debate what to do about the NRA convention that was held in 1999 after Columbine: https://www.npr.org/2022/05/25/1101401106/the-nras-secret-tapes).


    1. ” I don’t know what makes someone want to go after children – maybe a desire for total control, because they have no chance of fighting back? It’s horrifying. ”

      I’ve always believed it’s because they’re utter cowards, and don’t want to take the risk of someone fighting back and shooting them before they’ve ‘made their name’

      I do think the publication of the details of the shooter just gives them much of what they want – and is an encouragement to others for their moment of ‘fame’

      In NZ – we had that experience with the Christchurch shooter, where most media (and the Prime Minister) have refused to use his name, just referring to him as the ‘Christchurch shooter’ Denying him his public gratification.


    2. When I was in an archery club there were a lot of hunters who did both bow and gun hunting. They were VERY safety focused.


  8. On the education side – I thought this was a really great initiative – partnership between education and the IT industry – deliberately targeting lower decile schools here in Auckland NZ.

    “Up to 250 secondary school students will be enrolled in the free initiative that will see them take part in a five-year structured programme that brings together high school and tertiary education as well as tech workplace experience.”


    Of course, there’s quid pro quo for the companies involved (they’re struggling to hire IT professionals). But they could have just continued hiring from the existing middle class schools, instead they’re deliberately working with kids who are at risk of failure at school.


    1. We have this here, too, a TMobile fellowship and it sounds alike a great program. But, I think that kind of partnering is necessary. Schools can’t do it alone because they can’t know what employers will want and, shouldn’t be providing specific training for an employer with taxpayer money, which then accrues to the employer. It’s like Wallmart relying on Medicaid (healthcare for the poor) and SNAP (food help for the poor) for its workforce.


      1. I agree that it’s great to have industry partnering, but more from the perspective that schools rarely have any idea of what to teach in a vocational sense, in order to give the kids readily saleable skills in the job market.

        Here in NZ, an IT qualification (not uni-level – high-school + trade certs + job experience is more than sufficient) is a quick route out of poverty. Salaries start at 45K (which is basically just someone interested, and they expect to do on-the-job training), head rapidly (within the first 2 years) to 60-70K, and after that – it’s open to massive rises if you develop significant skills. That’s basic IT admin – if you’re talking coding, then you’re looking at 20K more at each level.

        The 5 year South Auckland programme will be around giving the kids confidence they can do this (most won’t have had computers at home – and school IT education is pretty rubbish), making sure that their basic maths and English skills are up to scratch (you need them for the trade certification part of the qualification), and giving them lots of exposure to workplaces (so they can see the possibilities and imagine themselves working there – lots will be coming from blue-collar backgrounds: mum is a cleaner, dad (if he’s present) drives a truck or a digger).

        It’s a lot more than would be needed to just target the middle-class code-geek kids – so real kudos to the industry players for putting their time/money into it.


  9. Laura, I agree with you. I think that public schools can be really tough on some kids and I think we do need to rethink things. That said I don’t see a lot of NRA supporters lobbying for better mental health support in this country! I think we need gun control and more attention to kid’s mental health and social-emotional learning. And honestly, a universal basic income so there not so much crazy pressure in our winner take all society!


    1. “I think we need gun control and more attention to kid’s mental health and social-emotional learning. ”

      It’s a mental health issue, cry the right wingers, as they fight any kind of social-emotional learning references in school textbooks.


      1. I agree they are total hypocrites. I generally don’t think most republicans care about fixing the problems of the world.


    2. Phillip Bump at the WA Post, analyzing Newt Gingrich’s arm the teacher’s “plan”. Bump points out that the plan (pay teachers extra to arm themselves is both expensive, 10 billion + expensive, and reactive & ineffective — in the Detroit shooting armed police brought down the shooter in 30 seconds, but at least nine people still died; in Buffalo, an arm security guard engaged the shooter, and many people still died).

      But he ends with the real problem with the “proposals”:

      “This article is itself a disservice, admittedly, since it treats Gingrich’s proposal as serious. His proposal was not serious. It was, instead, something to say that met the needs of his position as a Fox News contributor: giving primacy to toughness over rationality and focusing first on coming up with solutions that don’t involve limiting guns.”

      It’s playing to a constituency and not actually proposing any solution.


    3. And, yes, that’s what the SEL curricula are about, teaching students to manage their emotions and their interactions with others. I’ve seen them play out in my kids K-8 and they do have a positive impact (compared to the little kid meanness I remember from my days). They are imperfect in a variety of ways (they don’t get rid of social game playing, status games, competitiveness, manipulative behavior), but they made the environment a better one for all the different quirky kids. I remember, particularly, the support given to a classmate after his father died. The boys were remarkable, came up with solutions that worked for ten year olds.


      1. Agree, part of the reason my wife took the job she is leaving after 18 months was that the school was implementing SEL. The kids in her high school have a lot of issues (gang activity, poverty, undocumented parents) and a lot of them are super emotionally disregulated. She has seen how SEL makes a difference in schools, regardless of SES. Unfortunately she is so burned out being the only mental health professional for over 1000 kids she is leaving for private practice.


      2. Laura, it’s with great sadness that she is leaving. She’s hoping to see a few kids in her practice since she can bill Medicaid with her license. She’s one of the few people I know who just love teenagers, and teens love to talk to her. There were always students on the couches in her office.


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