Shooting Safeguards. A Society Armed

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copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

Once again, Americans are up in arms or perchance, better armed and dangerous.  Only little more than a week into 2011, citizens have had to confront their fears, feelings, all at gunpoint.  It began on a calm, clear Saturday.  In a Safeway Store Tucson parking lot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords held one of her customary Congress on the Corner events.  It was January 8, 2011.  Friends and admirers from each political Party turned out.  Suddenly, cordial chatter turned icy cold. gunshots shattered the calm.  People were slaughtered.  Some survived.   However, as a nation, we were all wounded.

Retorts followed.  Seemingly, a culture was changed, or was it?  Just as has occurred, many times in the recent past, people quickly took sides.  Blame was ballied about.  Solutions were also presented.  Some argued for stricter gun control laws.  Others used the occasion to validate a need for less restrictive restraints on gun ownership.  Persons who held a position similar to the most prominent victim proposed a need to protect themselves.

On January 14, 2011, Grand Old Party Representative, Louie Gohmer of Texas, Proposed a Bill that would allow members of Congress to carry guns on Capitol Hill.  Days earlier, after the infamous Tucson, Arizona  shooting, several congressmen vowed to keep the weaponry they already own closer to their chests.  In light of the recent event in Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords home District, one that cast a permanent dark shadow over the lives of many,  Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz expressed his firm belief, it would be best to bring his Glock 23 with him when he meets with constituents.  This long time gun-owner is not alone in his position.  Other members of Congress chimed in.  

Indeed, this distinctive stance is not solely a Republican posture.  Heath Shuler, a Democrat from North Carolina, Vice-Chairman of the House Sportsmen’s Caucus stated that he too would pack heat when on the city streets, even when he strolled the streets of a the highly secured Capitol.   Steve Cohen, another Congressman who sits on the Democratic side of the aisle offered his reflection.  “It’s not that I’m going to be like Wyatt Earp,” declared the Tennessee Representative.  However, he noted, he would reapply for his permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Questioned about lawmakers’ decision to take matters into their own hands, to carry concealed weapons, Terrance Gainer, the Senate’s Sergeant-At-Arms and former Washington, District of Colombia Police Chief, offered his concern.   Gainer told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” The “peace officer” avowed, ”I don’t think introducing more guns into the situation is going to be helpful.”  Nonetheless, just as Educators did only a few years ago, Congresspersons stand strong against gun restraint.

Original © copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

School Shooting Safeguard; Arm Educators

In the last few weeks, [Fall of 2006], school shootings have dominated the news.   The frequency of these seems to be increasing.   People throughout the nation are panicking; what are we to do?   President George W. Bush spoke of this situation in his Saturday, October 7, 2006, radio address.   He proclaimed, “We will bring together teachers, parents, students, administrators, law enforcement officials, and other experts to discuss the best ways to keep violence out of our schools.”   Conferences have been called.   The problem has been discussed for years.  

President Bill Clinton convened such a forum in 1999.   Educators, policy-makers, law enforcement officials, and adolescent-development specialists came to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on May 21, 2002.   Each group was equally intent on investigating the causes and effects of Lethal School Violence.   In the symposiums, experts sought solutions.   Everyone wanted [and wants] to protect our progeny.  

At the time, programs were initiated; yet, the violence continued.   In the last month or more, we as a nation are wondering; is there no end?   Will our children, our Educators, we, as a society, ever be safe?

Citizens again ask how can we secure our schools and shield our offspring from societal harm.   Finally, an answer comes from a Wisconsin lawmaker.   Representative Frank Lasee proposed that Teachers and Administrators carry guns daily and use these when necessary.  “In the wake of school shootings in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania” he would “introduce legislation that would allow teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel to carry concealed weapons.”  At the time, the Republican Representative believed our communities will be safer if everyone were armed.

Unrelated To Gangs

We know that communities have long been concerned with gang violence.   However, what has occurred in recent years differs.   On January 29, 1979, individual outbursts came into our collective consciousness.   According to the Indianapolis Star, “Brenda Spencer, 16, opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle at an elementary school across the street from her San Diego, California home.   She killed two people and wounded seven because she `didn’t like Mondays.'”

Upon hearing this story, our country held its breath as it does now.   Jointly we release a communal sigh.   Still the violence increases as is evident in these last five weeks.   There is talk.   What measures can we take to guard against weaponry?

Cable New Network reported, metal detectors were introduced in educational institutions after a 1992 shooting.  

In 1994, the federal government began requiring school safety programs in an attempt to crack down on violence on school grounds.   Many schools introduced metal detectors to check for guns, knifes and other weapons . . . although the Supreme Court eventually overturned the federal requirements, most school safety measures remained in place.   In Los Angeles, California for instance, [as of 1997] all high schools still use some sort of metal detectors.

However, it is clear, these actions do not secure the premises.   Zero tolerance campaigns were invoked.   Violations are and were numerous.  

Parents, administrators, teachers, and staff were told to observe student behaviors; they were asked to attend to warning signs.   Discipline problems were considered predictors; yet, this was not always the case.   Offenders did not only come from within the school system, they enter and exist throughout society.   Witness the killings within the last month or more [before and during September 2006.]

Machines and Mandates

Whatever we choose to reflect upon, when looking at violence in our schools, our homes, or in our airports I ask us to bear in mind that traditional methods for preventing violence are not working.   I think we must look at why people do what they do.

Violent crime continues to be a major problem and I suspect this will continue as long as we look for simple solutions.   I observe, when we as a country, focus on machines and mandates as a means for deterring violence in schools and within society at-large, we ignore the violator.   I believe the life of the perpetrator is most telling. This is the key component in a crime that can be influenced and altered.   If we address it early enough and treat root causes sincerely and seriously we can make a difference.

More Are Killed

However, instead, we look at guns, knifes, box cutters, gels, powders, matches, lighters, and bombs as though these are the killers.   We work tirelessly to prevent these from entering the systems, schools, airports, office building, and prisons.   Rarely do we address the authentic reason for killings.   People and what goes on in their heads, hearts, and souls cause death.

I propose we look at life, at our daily existence and the stress our culture promotes, rather than hypothesize; how might we use technology and authority to control the minds and misdeeds of men and women.   I theorize if we assess the way in which we live and the life standards we choose to accept, then, we might be able to prevent these carnages.  

I request that you, dear reader, consider what passes for the “common wisdom.”   Is it sensible?   Please ponder accepted theories and simple solutions with me.   Then ask yourself, what might we do to truly change what comes?

On Monday, October 2, 2006, a deeply distressed man entered a one room Amish schoolhouse.   He excused all the male pupils and personnel.   He was interested in only the young female students.   It is not known whether the church-going milkman intended to molest the girls; though there is evidence to suggest that he did.   However, what is certain is that the perpetrator shot these little lovelies before taking his own life.   Pennsylvania schoolhouse killer Charles Carl Roberts IV revealed in a telephone call to his wife, at the age of twelve he molested two young relatives.   Events of 20 years past haunted the man throughout his life.   Guilt took Roberts’ life and the lives of several young innocent Amish girls.

Five days earlier, in Bailey, Colorado an armed drifter walked into Platte Canyon High School.   He then entered a classroom.   The transient demanded that all the men leave the area.   He wanted to be alone with the girls he corralled into a classroom.   According to a student and her mother, Duane R. Morrison seemed to prefer smaller, blonde girls.   This disturbed wanderer with his quarry of petite flaxen hair maidens proceeded to sexually assault some of the six young girls he held hostage.   Ultimately, he shot one before killing himself.   Some social scientists theorized `girls are the targets in school violence.

MSNBC News reports revealed, after the crime, “at their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Morrison’s stepmother said she and her husband, Bob Morrison, have no record of him being, having any trouble before.”   “We just know the way he was raised,” Billie Morrison said, declining to elaborate.  “How was he raised?   Some experts think the relationships established in the lives of the killers might offer answers.   In the series of recent rampages there is a seemingly notable consistency.  An article in the Christian Science Monitor observed . . .

“The predominant pattern in school shootings of the past three decades is that girls are the victims,” says Katherine Newman, a Princeton University sociologist whose recent book examines the roots of “rampage” shootings in rural schools.

Dr. Newman has researched 21 school shootings since the 1970s.   Though it’s impossible to know whether girls were randomly victimized in those cases, she says, “in every case in the US since the early 1970s we do note this pattern” of girls being the majority of victims.

A Complex Problem

Prior to these two incidents, the focus and fantasy was on troubled adolescents.   These were thought to be the persons responsible for such horrendous school crimes.   Some behavior experts hypothesized; violent young persons had been bullied in school.   They were browbeaten at home.   These youthful aggressors were tormented by their own inner struggles.   They act out after years of deep-seated frustration.  Might we consider the cause and effects of troubles early in life.

Forensic psychiatrist Keith Aldo says mental health problems, especially among young people, too often go ignored and untreated.   “Everybody in the class often knows who the troubled kids are.   Parents know.   Teachers know,” he says.   “And if anything we should know that there is a preventative bit of medicine, psychological medicine to be dispensed in our classrooms earlier than we have been doing.”…

He says unresolved issues can continue to haunt a child throughout life.   “The more that you can express your feelings of fear, the more that you can talk about your reactions to terrible events, the less that those events are going to be toxic to you later on.”

Aldo says airing such concerns helps build a stronger and safer community.   Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, agrees.   He says the community must work at making schools safe places.   “It happens by making sure that the first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert school staff and student body who are aware of changes in behavior of other students as well as strangers who are walking around in parking lots and the hallways of our schools.”

I believe the more recent incidents confirm the quandary has many causes.   The dilemma is not limited to youth acting out against their harassing, haranguing, or hounding classmates.   These incidents are not only a reaction to discrimination from peers.   Parents are not the central problem.   This transgression is as all others, complex.  

The complexities that cause violent crime in our nations schools are similar to those that create terrorism. Rex A. Hudson reflects in a report prepared under an Interagency Agreement for the Federal Research Division..

Terrorism usually results from multiple causal factors – not only psychological but also economic, political, religious, and sociological factors, among others.   There is even a hypothesis that it is caused by physiological factors, as discussed below.   Because terrorism is a multi-causal phenomenon, it would be simplistic and erroneous to explain an act of terrorism by a single cause, such as the psychological need of the terrorist to perpetrate an act of violence.

For Paul Wilkinson (1977), the causes of revolution and political violence in general are also the causes of terrorism.   These include ethnic conflicts, religious and ideological conflicts, poverty, modernization stresses, political inequities, lack of peaceful communications channels, traditions of violence, the existence of a revolutionary group, governmental weakness and ineptness, erosions of confidence in a regime, and deep divisions within governing elites and leadership groups.

International terrorists, sadistic student rebels, and lone executors have a common bond; society and stressors impact their lives severely.

Student’s killers are often exposed to frequent slights from peers or parents, just as some terrorists feel slighted by our treatment of their culture and religious practices.   These snubs are evident if society as a whole and those functioning within the system choose to recognize them.   The stress in young lives can be reduced or eliminated if we attend to these grievances quickly.

Frustration and Persecution

We might realize that lone shooters, those that walk into our schools also are victims of a fragile upbringing.   There are reasons that these solitary shooters might aim at young girls, blondes, or the most innocent among us.   Again, if we as a community choose to be aware of what we are creating for our children, we can save them before they become adult or adolescent killers.

Religious or political zealots, the defiant, defensive, and the righteous also are products of their environment.   They may act out against nations or peoples; still, the source of their rage is apparent if we choose to look for it.   Each of these executors feels persecuted and why not.

In a world where frustrations are ignored or attributed to authority figures, women, or circumstances beyond our control, there is much to feel frustrated about.   Students feel stuck in school, at home, or in lives that demand much of them and give little in return.   Adults, loners and cult followers alike, feel lost in the unresolved circumstances of their past and present.   They want to affect the future.   However, in the future, as in the present, and the past, people are not the focus.   Folly and failed systems are.

We evaluate preventive mechanized and legal measures.   We disregard the fact that these are not effective.

I propose we look at life, at our daily existence and the stresses our cultures promote.   I theorize if we assess the way in which we live, the life standards we accept, then, we might be able to prevent these mass and individual tragedies.

Can we as a nation protect ourselves from aggressors?   I contend, guns cannot prevent a crime.  Only if we face the genuine pain that prompts their reactive behaviors will our children, our Educators, and our communities be safe.

References For Reflections . .  .



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It is the Economy [or Education], Stup**! ©


Perhaps, in this election year, it is the economy, stup***.  President George Bush declares he knows this well.  “I reminded you that I understand that the economy is always a salient issue in campaigns.”  For this oilman President, money matters more than scholarship. 

You, dear reader might recall, at a Yale graduation ceremony, George W. Bush said to the seniors, “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done.  And to the C students, I say you, too, can be President of the United States.”  The implication is a world leader need not be academically “accountable.”  There are others means towards success and George W. Bush chased these diligently.  He did as generations of his dynasty did before him; he followed the money.

The Baby Bush endows entrepreneurial enterprises.  Examples of Bush the business benefactor are ample; he has long sponsored the rise of the wealthy class and the fall of the masses.  However, in an attempt to appease the many, this noble “decider”  and his Administration is reaching out to the common man, woman, and child.  The benevolent Bush in his infinite wisdom is giving money to educators.

In the closing weeks of the fall campaign, the Bush administration is handing out money for teachers who raise student test scores, [this is] the first federal effort to reward classroom performance with bonuses.

Apparently, the President perceives applause and appreciation  as not enough to encourage excellence in our schools.  He thinks he must send money.  However, just as a disconnected parent doles out dollars to his or her offspring if the child says, does, thinks, and performs, as the parent dictates is proper, Mr. Bush delivers cash only to those that follow his lead.

Our compassionate President, George W. Bush cares not for the quality of learning.  He shows no interest in genuine instruction.  He ignores pedagogical principles.  Mr. Bush only wants results.  He is selling the idea “Teach to the test!” and he is willing to pay for those who do his bidding.

In the world of George W. Bush, rote responses are reasonable; in fact, they are required.  Regardless of their evident and harmful effect on authentic scholarship, Americans stand behind the construct of “accountability.”  Yet, as we evaluate American students knowledge in contrast to those in other countries, we discover the difference is great.  The youth in the United States do not fare well; their counterparts excel.

A study sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development states education and achievement in this country have suffered.

High school students in Hong Kong, Finland and South Korea do best in mathematics among those in 40 surveyed countries while students in the United States finished in the bottom half, according to a new international comparison of mathematical skills shown by 15-year-olds.

The United States was also cited as having the poorest outcomes per dollar spent on education.  It ranked 28th of 40 countries in math and 18th in reading.

Students in the United States are doing less well today than they were only three short years ago.  “The gap between the best and worst performing countries has widened,” said Andreas Schleicher, the official who directed the study and wrote the final report.

George W. Bush, our “C” student President, deems “standards must be meet,” and they are.  However, these newer goals advance a decline in authentic scholarship.  Still Bush rants and rallies on.

Since 2001, Mr. Bush has claimed that testing is the answer.  High scores on rigid and rote evaluations will yield wisdom.  In truth, the reverse is true.

Under the auspices of an Administration obsessed with the “averages,” American students must be accountable.  George Bush believes in the dogma and diligence of tests, and the ranks they produce, above all else.  For him, there is no other valid option.

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
~ Abraham Maslow

However, in my own life I see the fallacy of this “thinking.”  I recall a time in seventh grade when I became enamored with what was evident.  Be a quiet, well-mannered student, one that memorizes and regurgitates well and “As” will be yours.  I realized as I observed Dawn and Joni, two young girls that were far from the brightest bulbs, that intelligence was not recorded in grades.  Test scores did not document scholarship.  Standards were just that.  In truth, those that meet the requirements, were often sub-standard.

True erudition suffers when testing scores tell the tale.  Critical thinking and all that creates this is lost when we focus as George W. does on grades and rankings.  Please consider this report, Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math, from the, New York Times.

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush proclaims, “If your measurement system shows that you’re providing excellence for your children, it seems to make sense that there ought to be a little extra incentive.” 

  This prestigious President ignores the obvious, measurement systems may seem to show that “we” are providing excellence; however, other observations demonstrate that testing and the desire to furnish verifiable statistics is burdening our students, schools, and American society.  Let us consider the cornerstone of the Bush Education policy, No Child Left Behind.

Nevertheless, the “hammer” pounds on.  He pulls nails out that do not please him.  He punishes educators, institutions, and districts.

Please allow me to present a scenario that might help illustrate why focusing on testing or “teaching to the test” might not make sense when truly learning is the goal.  I ask you to reflect on your own life as a pupil.  Please place yourself in this situation.

You have a test to take.  The subject may be math; it may be science, English, or even history.  There are so many facts, figures, and formulas to remember.  You gather all your notes; your corrected homework assignments, your books, and you cram your brain with information.  You create flash cards.  You memorize answers to any possible question, to every probable query.  You recite the facts that you recall.  You ask family members to quiz you.  You call your classmates to ensure that you have all the particulars.  You sleep on your books hoping the knowledge will filter in through osmosis.  You wake early and review your books again.  You read your notes as you walk, drive, or ride to school.

You receive the exam, and wham; you realize that you know all the answers.  You do well.  An “A+” is your grade!  Then 5 minutes later, five hours later, five days later, five months later, or especially and even 5 years later, you know none of this information.  You did not learn it for a lifetime, but memorized it for a moment, only a minute, or two, maybe longer, yet not for all eternity.

Might I ask, does the grade reflect authentic understanding, astuteness, or intelligence.

I believe, and evidence supports my contention, rankings, standings, and statistics verify little of  what is really important.  For some they are a reflection of frustration; for others they exemplify an ability to solve puzzles.  A few are able to memorize; they can manipulate a system.  However, rarely do “standardized tests” report the essence of erudition or scholarship.  Substantiating the knowledge gained by a student or a class is not a simple process.  This determination cannot be graphed.  What can be calculated is the predictable predilection the President shows towards testing. 

I ask, in instructing our students, in facilitating growth for individuals, or for society at-large, does the practice of testing or teaching to the test truly advance wisdom.  Will we grow an imaginative, innovative, and inventive populace if we focus on the folly of testing?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
~ Albert Einstein

For me, a quality education offers the opportunity to blossom.  If subjects are taught in a way that promotes a genuine love of learning, then all else follows.  Remember a time when you wanted to learn.  perchance riding a two-wheeled bicycle was important to you.  Your mind was alert; you concentrated on your mission.  for me this desire to achieve became a daily endeavor.  I would devote time and energy to learning how to ride.

I spent hours each day and each evening pedaling around my Mom ‘s car while it was parked in the garage.  With one hand I would hold on to her vehicle, with the other I held the handlebars of my new mode of transportation.  I trained myself to maintain my balance.  The sessions were rewarding, even when I failed or fell.  I felt accomplished.  Learning how to do what passionately held my interest day in and day out was not work; it was a pleasure.

There is a reason that they say, “You never forget how to ride a bike.”  For that knowledge is priceless.  The longing to learn creates a lasting impression..  For me, that is what school must be in order to be truly effective.

Educators must be facilitators, mentors intent on originating autonomy.  I think the truest skill we need to teach is thinking.  It is a talent that too often is breed out of us.  When pupils, or people think there is an evolution.  Encouraging experiences are the catalyst for such growth.  I believe instructors, parents, and  administrators must be more cognizant of this virtue.  We all must be sensitive to students and not the statistics they generate.

“Learning is something students do, NOT something done to students.”
~ Alfie Kohn [American Lecturer, Author]

Whether we consider ourselves teachers or students, we will forever be both, simultaneously.  Every [human] being effects every other.  We gain knowledge we give wisdom.  I believe it is vital to consider that we are all Don Quixote; we can dream the impossible dream and then create it.  We all need and crave a supportive, patient, gentle, trusting soul that believes we can be what we want to be.

One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety- nine who have only interest.
~ John Stuart Mill [Philosopher]

Please review the musings of another educator.  Perchance, this writing will ring true for you.

What Testing Means for Children

All in all, increased testing results in increased pressure on teachers and children.  In a school guided by developmental concerns, teachers place much less emphasis on the tests.  If, however, tests play a significant role in grade advancement, or the tests are the primary basis for the school’s so-called accountability, teachers feel compelled to spend considerable time preparing children to take the tests.  In such settings, the tests become the school curriculum.

Preparation usually begins many weeks before the actual testing.  During this period, two to three hours a day are often devoted to practice tests and exercises, all alien to the ongoing instruction and the usual student response patterns.  The teachers readily acknowledge that the questions comprising the practice exercises, similar to those on the real test, are “trivial and unimportant.”  Moreover, the possible responses contain words that children likely have never seen and certainly don’t use.  The practice time is wasted time, yet some teachers believe it is important to waste the time: they are preparing students for the test. 

By the time the three days of real testing is completed–after children have been admonished to “get a lot of sleep,” “remember that this test is very important,” “take all your books off your desks,” “leave your calculators at home,” “keep your eyes down on your own papers” and “ask no one for help”–weeks, sometimes months, will have passed. 

Time for real books will have been sacrificed for time spent reading isolated paragraphs and then answering several multiple-choice questions.  Rather than posing problems for which math might be used, in the process coming to a natural and deeper understanding of math concepts, time will have been spent on reviewing skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, and division–all in isolation.  Little time will have been given to science and social studies, other than the concentration on factual information that isn’t particularly useful or generative of on-going interest.  Time is a valuable commodity; it should not be wasted in this manner.

However, it is. 

Now, with money, cold hard cash coming from our compassionate Commander, George Bush teachers, administrators, and districts will again be called upon.  They must decide.  Do these educators wish to sacrifice their students and themselves for the almighty dollar, or do they wish to truly deliver wisdom.  Will rote be the ruling or will inspiration, imagination, and innovation again return to our American classrooms.

United States citizens claim to be concerned; they perceive competition worldwide.  Yet we knowingly,  have allowed American students to enter the marketplace ill prepared.  Americans have ignored what matters, the quality of life, living, and learning.  We as Americans have not advanced the passion for knowledge.  May I offer . . .

“A man without passion would be like a body without a soul.  Or even more grotesque, like a soul without a body.”
~ Edward Abbey [American Author.  Essayist.  1927 to 1989]

“Without passion man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark.” 
~ Henri Frederic Amiel [Swiss Poet, Philosopher, Critic 1821 to 1881]

Economics, Education, Evaluation . . .
President Bush Holds News Conference. Cable News Network. October 11, 2006
Bush returns to Yale for commencement speech. Cable News Network. May 21, 2001
Money starts flowing in teacher bonus program. Cable News Network. October 23, 2006
Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math, By Sam Dillon, New York Times. March 26, 2006
The Bush Dynasty. CBS News. August 31, 2004
Bush Family Value$, By By Stephen Pizzo. Mother Jones. September 1, 1992
U.S. Students Fare Badly in International Survey of Math Skills, By Floyd Norris. New York Times.  December 7, 2004
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
John Stossel’s ‘Stupid in America,’ ABC News. January 13, 2006
American Students Failing to Meet Global Standards. The Center for Education Reform (CER). September 26, 2006
Why “No Child Left Behind” Will Fail Our Children. FairTest. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
No Child Left Behind, US Department of Education
No Child Left Behind Fails to Close Achievement Gap, By Claudio Sanchez. Weekend Edition. Sunday, January 8, 2006
Candidates agree that No Child Left Behind has failed, By Charles Hallman. Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. October 25, 2006
Every Child Left Behind, By Britt Robson. City Pages. March 10, 2004
State Lawmakers Fault ‘No Child Left Behind’, By Scott Simon.  Weekend Edition.  Saturday, February 26, 2005
Education and No Child Left Behind, Hosted by Tom Ashbrook. On Point, National Public Radio.  March 29, 2006
Bipartisan panel to study No Child Left Behind, By Greg Toppo, USA Today. February 13, 2006
What Is Wrong With Standardized Testing The National Center for Fair & Open Testing
On Standardized Testing, By Vito Perrone. Association for Childhood Education International. 1991
No Child Left Behind? National Education Association. May 2003

School Shooting Safeguards. Arm Educators?



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© copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

In the last few weeks, school shootings have dominated the news.   The frequency of these seems to be increasing.   People throughout the nation are panicking; what are we to do?   President Bush spoke of this situation in his Saturday, October 7, 2006, radio address.   He proclaimed, “We will bring together teachers, parents, students, administrators, law enforcement officials, and other experts to discuss the best ways to keep violence out of our schools.”   Conferences have been called.   The problem has been discussed for years.  

President Clinton convened such a forum in 1999.   Educators, policy-makers, law enforcement officials, and adolescent-development specialists came to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on May 21, 2002.   Each group was equally intent on investigating the causes and effects of Lethal School Violence.   In the symposiums, experts sought solutions.   Everyone wanted [and wants] to protect our progeny.    

At the time, programs were initiated; yet, the violence continued.   In the last month or more, we as a nation are wondering; is there no end?   Will our children ever be safe?

Citizens are again asking how can we secure our schools and shield our offspring from societal harm.   Finally, an answer comes from a Wisconsin lawmaker.   Representative Frank Lasee is proposing that teachers and administrators carry guns daily and use these when necessary.

In the wake of school shootings in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania during the last two weeks, a state legislator says he plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel to carry concealed weapons.

Representative Frank Lasee, a Republican, said Wednesday that, while his idea may not be politically correct, it has worked effectively in other countries.

“To make our schools safe for our students to learn, all options should be on the table,” he said.   “Israel and Thailand have well-trained teachers carrying weapons and keeping their children safe from harm.   It can work in Wisconsin.”

Now there is a solution!   Certainly, our communities will be safer if everyone is armed.   The National Rifle Association believes this is true.   Organization enthusiast state “Guns do not kill; people do.”   While this may be a fact, I remind the vitriolic members of such a vigilant organization, guns cannot cause death unless they are in the hands of humans.   We might consider accidents among trained hunters.   Vice President Richard [Dick] Cheney comes to mind, or we might contemplate what occurs when weapons are found in the hands of young innocents.

Perhaps this determination is too rash; a conference might allow calmer heads to prevail.   We as a society must evaluated the circumstances more completely.

We know that communities have long been concerned with gang violence.   However, what has occurred in recent years differs.   On January 29, 1979, individual outbursts came into our collective consciousness.   “Brenda Spencer, 16, opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle at an elementary school across the street from her San Diego, California, home.   She killed two people and wounded seven because she `didn’t like Mondays.'”

Upon hearing this story, our country held its breath as it does now.   Jointly we release a communal sigh.   Still the violence increases as is evident in these last five weeks.   There is talk.   What measures can we take to guard against weaponry?

Metal detectors were introduced in educational institutions after a 1992 shooting.  

In 1994, the federal government began requiring school safety programs in an attempt to crack down on violence on school grounds.   Many schools introduced metal detectors to check for guns, knifes and other weapons . . . although the Supreme Court eventually overturned the federal requirements, most school safety measures remained in place.   In Los Angeles, for instance, [as of 1997] all high schools still use some sort of metal detectors.

However, it is clear, these actions do not secure the premises.   Zero tolerance campaigns were invoked.   Violations are and were numerous.  

Parents, administrators, teachers, and staff were told to observe student behaviors; they were asked to attend to warning signs.   Discipline problems were considered predictors; yet, this was not always the case.   Offenders did not only come from within the school system, they enter and exist throughout society.   Witness the killings within the last month or more.

Whatever we choose to reflect upon, when looking at violence in our schools, our homes, or in our airports I ask us to bear in mind that traditional methods for preventing violence are not working.   I think we must look at why people do what they do.

Violent crime continues to be a major problem and I suspect this will continue as long as we look for simple solutions.   I observe, when we as a country, focus on machines and mandates as a means for deterring violence in schools and within society at-large.   We ignore the violator.   I believe the life of the perpetrator is most telling. This is the key component in a crime that can be influenced and altered.   If we address it early enough and treat root causes sincerely and seriously we can make a difference.

However, instead, we look at guns, knifes, box cutters, gels, powders, matches, lighters, and bombs as though these are the killers.   We work tirelessly to prevent these from entering the systems, schools, airports, office building, and prisons.   Rarely do we address the authentic reason for killings.   People and what goes on in their heads, hearts, and souls cause death.

I propose we look at life, at our daily existence and the stress our culture promotes, rather than hypothesize; how might we use technology and authority to control the minds and misdeeds of men and women.   I theorize if we assess the way in which we live and the life standards we choose to accept, then, we might be able to prevent these carnages.  

I request that you, dear reader, consider what passes for the “common wisdom.”   Is it sensible?   Please ponder accepted theories and simple solutions with me.   Then ask yourself, what might we do to truly change what comes?

On Monday, October 2, 2006, a deeply distressed man entered a one room Amish schoolhouse.   He excused all the male pupils and personnel.   He was interested in only the young female students.   It is not known whether the church-going milkman intended to molest the girls; though there is evidence to suggest that he did.   However, what is certain is that the perpetrator shot these little lovelies before taking his own life.   Pennsylvania schoolhouse killer Charles Carl Roberts IV revealed in a telephone call to his wife, at the age of twelve he molested two young relatives.   Events of 20 years past haunted the man throughout his life.   Guilt took Roberts’ life and the lives of several young innocent Amish girls.

Five days earlier, in Bailey, Colorado an armed drifter walked into Platte Canyon High School.   He then entered a classroom.   The transient demanded that all the men leave the area.   He wanted to be alone with the girls he corralled into a classroom.   According to a student and her mother, Duane R. Morrison seemed to prefer smaller, blonde girls.   This disturbed wanderer with his quarry of petite flaxen hair maidens proceeded to sexually assault some of the six young girls he held hostage.   Ultimately, he shot one before killing himself.   Some social scientists are theorizing `girls are the targets in school violence.

After the crime,

at their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Morrison’s stepmother said she and her husband, Bob Morrison, “have no record of him being, having any trouble before.”   “We just know the way he was raised,” Billie Morrison said, declining to elaborate.

How was he raised?   Some experts think the relationships established in the lives of the killers might offer answers.   In the series of recent rampages there is a seemingly notable consistency.

“The predominant pattern in school shootings of the past three decades is that girls are the victims,” says Katherine Newman, a Princeton University sociologist whose recent book examines the roots of “rampage” shootings in rural schools.

Dr. Newman has researched 21 school shootings since the 1970s.   Though it’s impossible to know whether girls were randomly victimized in those cases, she says, “in every case in the US since the early 1970s we do note this pattern” of girls being the majority of victims.

Prior to these two incidents, the focus and fantasy was on troubled adolescents.   These were thought to be the person responsible for such horrendous school crimes.   Some behavior experts hypothesized; violent young persons had been bullied in school.   They were browbeaten at home.   These youthful aggressors were tormented by their own inner struggles.   They act out after years of deep-seated frustration.  

Forensic psychiatrist Keith Aldo says mental health problems, especially among young people, too often go ignored and untreated.   “Everybody in the class often knows who the troubled kids are.   Parents know.   Teachers know,” he says.   “And if anything we should know that there is a preventative bit of medicine, psychological medicine to be dispensed in our classrooms earlier than we have been doing.”

Aldo urges parents and teachers to talk more openly about problems that could erupt into violence at school.   He says unresolved issues can continue to haunt a child throughout life.   “The more that you can express your feelings of fear, the more that you can talk about your reactions to terrible events, the less that those events are going to be toxic to you later on.”

Aldo says airing such concerns helps build a stronger and safer community.   Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, agrees.   He says the community must work at making schools safe places.   “It happens by making sure that the first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert school staff and student body who are aware of changes in behavior of other students as well as strangers who are walking around in parking lots and the hallways of our schools.”

While I do not quibble with this later premise and I am willing to consider the earlier hypothesis, I think each supposition negates a broader problem.   I believe the more recent incidents confirm the quandary has many causes.   The dilemma is not limited to youth acting out against their harassing, haranguing, or hounding classmates.   These incidents are not only a reaction to discrimination from peers.   Parents are not the central problem.   This transgression is as all others, complex.  

The complexities that cause violent crime in our nations schools are similar to those that create terrorism.

Terrorism usually results from multiple causal factors – not only psychological but also economic, political, religious, and sociological factors, among others.   There is even a hypothesis that it is caused by physiological factors, as discussed below.   Because terrorism is a multi-causal phenomenon, it would be simplistic and erroneous to explain an act of terrorism by a single cause, such as the psychological need of the terrorist to perpetrate an act of violence.

For Paul Wilkinson (1977), the causes of revolution and political violence in general are also the causes of terrorism.   These include ethnic conflicts, religious and ideological conflicts, poverty, modernization stresses, political inequities, lack of peaceful communications channels, traditions of violence, the existence of a revolutionary group, governmental weakness and ineptness, erosions of confidence in a regime, and deep divisions within governing elites and leadership groups.

International terrorists, sadistic student rebels, and lone executors have a common bond; society and stressors impact their lives severely.

Student’s killers are often exposed to frequent slights from peers or parents, just as some terrorists feel slighted by our treatment of their culture and religious practices.   These snubs are evident if society as a whole and those functioning within the system choose to recognize them.   The stress in young lives can be reduced or eliminated if we attend to these grievances quickly.

We might realize that lone shooters, those that walk into our schools also are victims of a fragile upbringing.   There are reasons that these solitary shooters might aim at young girls, blondes, or the most innocent among us.   Again, if we as a community chose to be aware of what we are creating for our children, we can save them before they become adult or adolescent killers.

Religious or political zealots, the defiant, defensive, and the righteous also are products of their environment.   They may act out against nations or peoples; still, the source of their rage is apparent if we choose to look for it.   Each of these executors feels persecuted and why not.

In a world where frustrations are ignored or attributed to authority figures, women, or circumstances beyond our control, there is much to feel frustrated about.   Students feel stuck in school, at home, or in lives that demand much of them and give little in return.   Adults, loners and cult followers alike, feel lost in the unresolved circumstances of their past and present.   They want to affect the future.   However, in the future, as in the present, and the past, people are not the focus.   Folly and failed systems are.

We evaluate preventive mechanized and legal measures.   We disregard the fact that these are not effective.

I propose we look at life, at our daily existence and the stresses our cultures promote.   I theorize if we assess the way in which we live, the life standards we accept, then, we might be able to prevent these mass and individual tragedies.

I invite us all to pay homage to the notion that problems are not resolved by outside solutions or systems.   What is real, meaningful, and elicits change is knowledge and understanding.   If we are to embrace people more so than policies, I believe we will all be encouraged and empowered.

I think it vital to accept and acknowledge that any of us might turn in a split second, or so it will seem to an outsider.   However, all of us are stewing, marinating in our own milieu.   Without exception, we could easily be a mild-mannered, church going, milkman in a moment, a sullen student, a scholar, or a vagrant in one moment and a murderer in the next.   We know not what the mind might perceive and act upon.

Yet, in assessing this novel crisis, we negotiate matters that are of little consequence, metal, gels, powder, fluids, steel door barriers, and the soles of shoes.   We ignore or avoid assessing the souls and spirits of human beings.

For the 54 million Americans with mental illness, broad access to services and treatments is not a luxury; it is a fundamental need.   It is imperative that state policymakers not target mental health as a way to save money with state and local governments providing more than 50 percent of funding for services through programs like Medicaid and SCHIP.

America’s mental health system is at risk of plunging from crisis to catastrophe.   Cutting budgets and instituting draconian limits to needed treatments and services not only increases human suffering, but also puts additional strain on state economies through increased reliance on emergency services, correctional systems and welfare programs.

We must stop asking, “Are our schools safe?”   “Are our streets secured?”   “What can we do to “prevent” violent crime in our nations educational institutions or on our shores?”   I think the better questions are, what are we doing, how and what are we feeling?   What can be done to improve our lives and what resources are we bringing to bear on these core problems.

I propose what effects our youth [or our nation] affects us all.   We drown our sorrows in drugs.   We suffer silently.   Americans no longer spend time with family; they seek support in superficial forms and forums.   Mental health care institutions are closed to all but a select and wealthy few.   The hospitals of today are not equipped to handle the multitude of mental and physical health concerns.   Yet, we as a nation create more of these lost souls everyday.

Parents are working two and three jobs, just to survive.   Families are rushed about; people do not know their neighbors let alone siblings.   Americans are isolated; yet not insulated from all that surrounds them.   We are stressed and fighting to seem stable.   We react to real pressures and just as the man that took, the lives of the Amish girls; guilt or anxiety ultimately may grip us.

Can we as a nation protect ourselves from aggressors?   I contend, only if we face the genuine pain that causes their reactive behaviors.

We must understand the intentions of the people that perform malicious acts against others if we are to prevent future outrages.   The mind is our master.   Where there is a will, there is a way.   I ask that we address human resolve and spirit as a means of prevention.   I believe placing guns in the hands of potential victims will do more harm than good.   Ultimately, it will cure nothing.

References For Reflection . .  .

Accountability; History Textbooks Receive a Failing Grade ©

A New York Times article, “Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality,” caught my attention.  It stated that two of this nation’s most prominent history textbooks were virtual duplicates.  The authors were not the same; however, the words within these books were.  I was not totally surprised to see this, for I have often mused, “Who writes our history?”  We read the words within textbooks, repeat these, and recognize the specifics as fact.  Yet, how do we know that what we read is true.  According to the New York Times,  much of what is presented is not as it appears.

Authors and academician whose names appear on the textbook cover do not pen what is within.  Dead authors do.  Ghostwriters compose even more; their contributions are expansive.  These indistinct individuals construct a convention.  Then we, a trusting public, accept what these unknowns inscribe.  What most of us believe is valid is not a universal veracity.

Things change in the translation, much to the chagrin of noted authors.  When told that text within his book, “America: Pathways to the Present,” was essentially the same as that found in “A History of the United States,” written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Daniel J. Boorstin, Brooks Mather Kelley, and Ruth Frankel Boorstin, author, Historian Allan Winkler, stated “They were not my words.”  He continued, “It’s embarrassing.  It’s inexcusable.”  Yet, he excused it.

Professor Winkler said he understood the editorial perils of textbook writing, but wanted to reach a wider audience.  He said he was not motivated by money.  Named authors share royalties, generally 10 to 15 percent of the net profits, on each printing of the text, whether they write it or not.

Allan Winkler, a Historian at Miami University of Ohio, who supposedly wrote the 2005 edition of “Pathways,” book with Andrew Cayton, Elisabeth I. Perry, and Linda Reeder, was now making history, though not necessarily writing it.

According to The New York Times, much of the text offered in the 2005 high school editions of each of these history textbooks was identical.  In discussing the September 11, 2001 tragedy or the Persian Gulf wars the verbiage was effectively the same.  We might conclude history no longer guides our textbook writings; power and money do.  Surprise!  Significant stories of eons gone by now must be short, sweet, and yes, even stup**.

The American Textbook Council reports, the problem is

what educators, critics, and journalists informally refer to as “dumbing down.”  Many history textbooks reflect lowered sights for general education.  They raise basic questions about sustaining literacy and civic understanding in a democratic society and culture.  Bright photographs, broken format and seductive color overwhelm the text and confuse the page.  Typeface is larger and looser, resulting in many fewer words and much more white space.  The text disappears or gets lost.  Among editors, phrases such as “text-heavy,” “information-loaded,” “fact-based,” and “non-visual” are negatives.  A picture, they insist, tells a thousand words.

What appears in black, white, and is read all over is not as it appears. Authors are not as noted, and facts are flimsy.

As editions pass, the names on the spine of a book may have only a distant or dated relation to the words between the covers, [it is] diluted with each successive edition.

This according to people within the publishing industry.  Authors themselves make similar assertions.

Again, the American Textbook Council states,

Textbook content is thinner and thinner, and what there is, it is increasingly deformed by identity politics and pressure groups.

Apparently, Political Action Committees produce much of the literature.  Politicians exert their power; they want those with these groups to vote for them.  Money and the market are influential. A contract with a major school district is worth tens of millions of dollars in profit.  If a State Department adopts a textbook series, the bucks will surely pour in.  Publishing is a business and we know businesses have their own self-interest at heart.

Asking academicians to document a dynamic occurrence or two can deplete profits, and that would not be economically wise.  Therefore, it is rarely done anymore.  Historians may write the first edition, from there on, no one knows who authors a text.

Professor Winkler, one of the authors of “America: Pathways to the Present,” said he and his co-authors had written “every word” of the first edition, aiming to teach American history from a sociological perspective, from the grass roots up.  But, he said, in updated editions, the authors reviewed passages written by freelancers or in-house writers or editors.

He said the authors collaborated on their last major revision before September 11, 2001, working with editorial staff members in Boston.  But he said that after the attacks, he was not asked to write updates and was not shown revisions.

“There was no reason in the world to think that we would not see material that was stuck in there at some point in the future,” Professor Winkler said.  “Given the fact that similar material was used in another book, we are really profoundly upset and outraged.”

However, this practice is not a new one.

Susan Buckley, a longtime writer and editor of elementary and high school social studies textbooks who retired after 35 years in the business, said that “whole stables” of unnamed writers sometimes wrote the more important high school textbooks, although in other instances, named authors wrote the first editions.  In elementary school textbooks, Ms. Buckley added, named authors almost never write their own text.

She said even if named authors did not write the text, they had an important role as scholars, shaping coverage and reviewing copy.

What that role might be is illusive.  It escapes many that read of this situation.

Nevertheless, the concept and customs do not go unnoticed.  The watchful eye of William Cronon, a Historian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison is aware of what is happening in the textbook publishing world.  Mr. Cronon authored the statement on ethics for the American Historical Association.

He said, textbooks are corporate-driven collaborations efforts.  The publisher governs the market.  They have well-defined rights to hire additional writers, researchers, and editors.  They may make major revisions without the authors’ final approval.  The books typically synthesize hundreds of works without using footnotes to credit sources.  The reason for these declaratory privileges is profit and a conciliatory stance to those in power.

Professor Cronon affirms,

“This is really about an awkward and embarrassing situation these authors have been put in because they’ve got involved in textbook publishing.”

Textbook publishing is an industry like all others; the driving force is the desire to increase earnings.  Publishers must be innovative, imaginative; yet, they need not be truly instructive.  It is assumed educators will do that.  The printers of textbooks create a market regardless of a need.  Publishing houses know they have a captive audience.  Curriculums change little from semester to semester.  However, the text is altered regularly.  The publisher must create a demand so that they can offer a supply.  They have bills to pay.

In a recent Washington Post article, Textbook Prices On the Rise, journalist Margaret Webb Pressler reported,

the California Student Public Interest Research Group found that the average release time between textbook editions is 3.8 years, regardless of whether the information has changed since the previous version.  Of the textbooks surveyed, new editions cost 58 percent more than the older version, rising to an average cost of $102.44.

Publishing corporate bigwigs cut corners as they relate to production and quality; however, they never lower the prices.  School districts know this, as do college students.  Again, according to the Washington Post,

The National Association of College Bookstores says wholesale prices of college textbooks have risen nearly 40 percent in the past five years.  And students are finding that many of the same books are sold overseas at much lower prices.

Yes, textbook publishing is quite beneficial.  The printer of these volumes realizes great earnings.  Textbook writing can also be quite a prize; authors satisfy their yearnings.  A textbook writer may achieve fame and perhaps, further his or her fortune. Allan Winkler acknowledges this.

“I want the respect of my peers,” Professor Winkler said.  “I’ve written monographs, biographies,” but these reach a limited audience.  “I want to be able to tell that story to other people, and that’s what textbooks do.”

Schoolbooks do tell a substantial story, though it may not be the tale Mr. Winkler or we expected.

Thus, I ask again, “Who writes our history?”  The answer is, publishers, guided by profits, politicians promoting favorable policies, pressure groups, then historians.  After all, Historians seeking acknowledgment from their peers do submit their anecdotes; however, these contributions are less important.  Over time, historical accounts will be lost, just as our past is.  Apparently, profits and power are our only presents [presence.]

• Author and Professor, James Loewen was kind enough to visit Be-Think and read this exposé.  He offered his reflections, and I realized I was remiss in acknowledging Mr. Loewen in my missive.  Now, I wish to present this prominent researcher and writer.

With thanks to James Loewen, the staff of the New York Times became aware of the conundrum existing in our schools.  Dr. Loewen disclosed the fact that high school Social Science textbooks are not as they appear to be.  It was his awareness for the sad the state of affairs that enhanced the knowledge of others.  I wish to publicly acknowledge a wise and wonderful scholar, James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, Lies Across America, and now Sundown Towns.  Please visit the James Loewen webpage and ponder further.

Read What is Written, if you choose . . .

Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality, By Diana Jean Schemo. The New York Times. July 13, 2006
“America: Pathways to the Present,” By Andrew R. L. Cayton, Elisabeth Israels Perry, Linda Reed, Allan M. Winkler
“A History of the United States,” written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, Ruth Frankel Boorstin
Allan Winkler, Organization of American Historians
Daniel J. Boorstin 1914-2004 The Library of Congress
America: Pathways to the Present, This Prentice Hall “History” Text Is Essentially a Propaganda Tract By John Fonte. The Textbook League.
Widely Adopted History Textbooks American Textbook Council.
American Textbook Council.
Testimony of Gilbert T. Sewall, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. American Textbook Council. September 24, 2003
Doing It by The Book, Textbook Publishers Profiting from Students’ Loss. By Tim Paulson. Corporate MOFO.
Textbook Prices On the Rise, Frequent New Editions, Supplemental Materials Drive Up Costs, By Margaret Webb Pressler. Washington Post. Saturday, September 18, 2004
California Student Public Interest Research Group
Frequently Asked Questions About Textbooks The Association of American Publishers (AAP)
Directory of Publishers and Vendors, Education Publishers, AcqWeb.
Getting Started Creating A Textbook, By David A. Rees, Southern Utah University. Society of Academic Authors.
When Government Writes History, A Memoir of the 9/11 Commission. By Ernest R. May. The New Republic. May 16, 2005

Isolation. Insulation. The Go-Go Garage Society and Its Islands ©

copyright © 2006 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink. or BeThink.org

Originally Published on Monday June 26, 2006 at 10:00:00 AM EDT

Days ago I was scanning My Left Wing and saw a diary that drew me in, “I Look at All the Lonely People.”  The author, Eugene, stated “I’ve never been one to have many close friends . . . I am very, very choosy with who I care to spend my time with, who I open up to.”  I thought, “Me too!”  I have been very selective all of my life and it has served me well.  Eugene’s words peeked my curiosity; thus, I continued.

As his article expanded, I discovered that he was discussing a recently released study, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.”  This report revealed people in America no longer have the close ties they once did.  A quarter of the population has no one they confide in.  Most persons are fortunate to have one close friend, perhaps two.  Intimacies within families are not what they once were, or at least they are not as they were once believed to be.  People in America feel alone and isolated.  Interesting; now, I am among the “norm” and yet, simultaneously, still far from it.

  • People have a smaller number of confidants in 2004 than they had in 1985.
  • In 1985, most persons claimed to have three close friends; now they have two or less.
  • Twenty-five percent of the respondents said there was no one that they would turn to in times of trouble.

I think of myself as a loner.  I have very close friendships, many have lasted a lifetime. I am interested in people, anyone, and everyone.  Still, I am discriminating.  I want a genuine closeness or I want none.  I am extremely independent, autonomous, and some say I am a free spirit. I need no one.  I am not a leader; nor am I a follower.  I believe in communities; yet, I do not seek them.  I accept that I am a part of a universal village.  I am I; I think that is best or at least it is best for me.

However, social scientists and authors of this recently released study might disagree and they have reason to, Professors, Lynn Smith-Lovin, Miller McPherson, and Matthew E. Brashears are concerned that Americans no longer have a sense of community, neighborhood, or kinship.  We have become fragmented.  These sociologists state a lack inclusion hurts our social and psychological well-being.  I agree with this creed.

Still, I prefer my dichotomy of an existence, a separation between seeking support for emotional matters and not for physical.  I recognize that each is necessary.  I acknowledge community and connections are vital, even if, at times, I do not engage as completely as I might.  Communities provide in ways that nothing else can.  I share my story to illustrate this belief.

Throughout my life, whether, I had someone to support me when I had a physical need or not, I would not ask for assistance.  As I stated, during times of emotional crisis, I would turn everywhere.  I absolutely will engage when I am feeling confused.  Fortunately, I have cultivated true friends for such occasions.  However, physically, I prefer taking care of myself.

Twice in my life, I experienced an injury.  On each occasion, I needed the assistance of others.  This was difficult for me.  I rather not ask for help; nor do I wish to accept it.

I do not believe in accidents.  I think everything happens for a reason. At the time of these incidents, I chose to accept that I needed to learn from these experiences of asking for and receiving help.  I thought I had, at least a little; however, it took months for me to assess the rationale for this next event.

Years ago, I moved into a condominium.  It was my first experience of “home ownership.”  I could not afford much and I wanted to stay in the community I loved.  I had lived in an apartment in Irvine, California for eight and one half years.  I purchased my new home exactly one mile down the road.  Prices are high in Orange County, California, particularly in a desirable city such as Irvine.  The place I purchased did not have a garage.  In this garage-society, I wanted one.  Still, I knew, for a time sacrifices must be made.

Shortly after I moved in the Association passed out a poll; it asked whether we, as residents wanted a garage and what would we pay for it.  Thirty-nine percent indicated they did want more than the pre-existing carports and the price proposed seemed reasonable.  I was among these, the minority.  Fifty one percent said no and they had their reasons.

Among my nearest neighbors, most of whom had lived there for well over a decade, the vote was no.  We were told that in three years, we would be polled again.  Aesthetically, the carports were ugly; nonetheless, I grew to love these.  Each day, accidentally, and on purpose, those in the neighborhood would met and greet each other in the carports.

Many of us were on similar schedules.  Mike would sit curbside and have a smoke throughout the day.  Our homes were on walking paths and did not face a street per se.  Therefore, it was natural to use the door closest to the car as an entrance or exit way.  Children did this; they brought their friends in through the back door.  Neighbor did the same.  If they wanted to share a thought, converse of the day, or borrow a cup of sugar, they approached from the rear.  The alleyway was a busy thoroughfare.

It did not take long before I appreciated being garage-less.  Though I never felt truly close to my neighbors in those first two years, we were far more than cordial.

Then, while less than a mile from home, I was hit hard.  I was in a very serious car accident.  The Great-Gray-Girl, what some think of as an automobile lost her life, as she worked to save mine.  [Oh, the tears flow.  She was truly my friend and we were connected.]  I was badly injured.  I broke my sternum, four ribs, and I reluctantly say there was great damage to my heel.  I will not share the details.  I do not want that thought to be part of my reality.

What is part of my reality is, I am among the 44 to 50 million, depending on whose numbers you prefer, that does not have health insurance.  Nevertheless, I spent days in the hospital.  This was an experience in itself and though I was eventually released, I was told I would not be allowed to walk for approximately six months.

Those that know me recognize that my lying in bed was not likely.  Still I could not apply any weight to my foot, leg, or heel, and crutches gave me no stability.  With the abdominal injuries, the pain was too great.  I elected to crawl.

I was housebound and extremely restricted.  I lived alone.  My father did fly out from the Midwest to help me; however, he could only give me a few days.  We wondered; what would I do.

For those not familiar with California, particularly in the megalopolis that is Southern California, people are known for being impersonal.  Neighbors do not know those living adjacent to them.  I recall at work one day co-workers mused, the only time they saw their neighbors was during an obligatory Christmas gathering.  I knew that my experience was different, though I never expected what occurred.

While still in the hospital I contacted a friend of mine.  We swam together, almost daily for years; I knew she would miss me if I did not show at the pool.  She visited me in the hospital and offered her help.  She was more than there for me.  Helen took me to the doctors, did all my food shopping, as a retired nurse she was able to teach me to walk again when I was more able.  She did so much to assist me in my recovery.  However, I would never ask her to play nursemaid in my every waking moment.

My father worried, how would I care for myself?  Who would make my meals, feed the kitties, change the litter, just help me to make my life work.  One day, just before he needed to return to his home, he was out in the carport.  He was on his way to run an errand.  My father was entering his car when my neighbor Laura approached him.  She asked of me.  She knew something was wrong.

While I was in the hospital, Laura noticed friends of mine had come to feed the kitties.  My car was gone.  She saw me return to the house and observed I was not in the best of conditions.  My vehicle never returned; my father stayed, she was concerned and expressed this to my Dad.

My father shared the situation and voiced his fear for my being home alone once he left.  Laura said to fear not.  She immediately contacted all my neighbors and drew up a plan.  The entire block coalesced.  For the first month someone fed me breakfast, another lunch, a third gave me dinner.  Laura sat with me for hours every evening so that I might bathe safely.

I need to add; I do not eat processed food, none at all.  Therefore, preparing meals for me was more than dashing off to McDonald’s.  People cooked, cleaned fruit and vegetables.  They worked.  Laura’s daughter gathered my mail and emptied my trash.  Others did other tasks.  Each day was an event, a never-ending chain of care.  By the second month, I could prepare some meals though not all; dinner was too complex.  Mike a noteworthy chef was there to create gourmet delicacies, just for me.  Laura retained her post at bath time for three and one half months.  Evening time with her family was devoted to me.  Heels do not heal quickly.

During my time of need, many of my friends and neighbors did much to help me.  They were there for me each and every day in ways I never imagined. Their giving of themselves meant and still means so much!  There are no words to express how significant and magnificent this was and is to me.  Again, the tears flow.

My father flew in every five or six weeks to assist and relieve others temporarily.  There was no money exchanged.  Actually for a short time, I tutored Laura’s daughter in math so that I might earn money.  I was unable to walk or drive for five months.  For all that time, people assisted me.  There was never a complaint.  Years later, the neighbor experienced another grief.  A young man passed; it was unexpected.  Again, we all reached out and were there for each other.

I discovered as this study concludes, when people are more connected, as a whole, they feel safer and more secure.  Oddly, coming from me, a person can receive comfort without loosing one’s independence.  You can still say, yes, please help me, or no, I need to do this myself.

People enjoy helping others, they do not necessarily feel a need to overpower or overwhelm another.  From my experience, we all want to give and receive help; however, we may not know how.  As society changes, we have fewer exemplars to teach us.

Since 1985, the number of family members in the paid labor force has increased.  Women are working in larger numbers.  Many children are also employed.  So much time is spent away from home; there are few opportunities to form genuine, true, and life long relationships even with family members.

Familial togetherness seems to be a thing of the past.  Divorce is pervasive.  Children are shipped from one household to another.  They do not have a single bed to call their own.  Bedtimes and even siblings may vary from week to week.  “True” friendships are viable on screens. This takes a toll on the psyche of a young mind.  It would weigh heavily on me at any age.

The concept of dinnertime is antiquated.  Families no longer feast together daily; some are not even doing a weekly meal in the company of their kin.  Rarely do we witness a once traditional pattern, parents, and siblings sitting together while enjoying a meal and each other’s company.  This is sad and troublesome.  Much can be learned from our relatives when we slowly dine and discuss life together.  We glean a sense of who they are; trust grows.

Meals are now eaten on the run, at work, at a desk, while driving; often people eat alone, not necessarily because they want to, but because they feel so alone.  Gone are the days when a meal was cooked at home, many sharing in the preparation.  Even when a family shares a space and a time for dinner, the menu differs for each individual. Unity is lost.  It may seem a little nuance; however, I wonder if it is a reflection of a broader issue.

The character of conversations has changed and this might be another reason Americans perceive a distance between themselves, their blood relatives, and their neighbors.  Cell phones, e-mails, and the Internet dominate, in this culture of connectedness.  Yet, these might contribute to the disconnect we experience. Tête-à-tête are chatty.  Substance is missing.  People have little to no time or experience for genuine friendships.  They are flying from one situation to another.

Parents are working.  It takes two or more incomes to survive.  Thriving is rarely a consideration in today’s workforce.  Jobs are at a premium; they are hard to find, and it is a challenge to keep them.  Your neighbor or your associate is no longer a friend or a confidant.  They are the person that might “steal” your not too well-cemented position at the company.  For the most part, be it in friendships, within our families, or even at work, Americans do not have a sense of security or stability.  All they know is an overscheduled life style.

We, as Americans sense a need for something.  We search.  We seek; rarely do we stop long enough to discover, what we longed for all along was there, right in our backyard.

  • I am so conflicted; I want to share the names of all those that helped me.  Yet, I was hesitant to verbalize the names that I did offer.  There are so many of you that gave months of your life to me.  I cannot begin to thank you enough!!!  I love you all.  You are very special beings.

    The Initial Inspirations For This Writing . .

    Listen to an Interview with co-author of the study, Lynn Smith-Lovin of Duke University…

  • Social Isolation: Americans Have Fewer Close Confidantes, Debbie Elliott All Things Considered, National Public Radio. June 24, 2006
  • Read One of My Personal Favorite Writings on Balancing Work and Family…

  • My Family Leave Act. [Op-Ed] Robert B. Reich. New York Times. November 8, 1996
  • References For Reflection. . . .