Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Random Thoughts About Connecticut

My random thoughts about the Connecticut tragedy, based on 34 years in the public sector of education, as a parent and as a teacher.   

The shooter's mom (I refuse to post his name because that gives him more of a public forum than he already has) being associated with the school as a part time employee meant that he was most PROBABLY recognized as a family member, which would have PROBABLY prevented the alarm bells ringing in the heads of anyone seeing him in the hallway.  
***Updated reports say his mom wasn't a teacher.  Even so, based on the size of the community, this guy would have been known.  He attended school in the town - which has only one HS and one MS.  People knew him, knew what his issues were, and still never perceived him as a threat.  Odd, certainly, but not threatening.    

Secondly, there are procedures in place in schools for registering visitors.  You can require visitors to register as they come in, and you can intercept them in the hallway if you don't recognize them - assuming that there are people IN the hallway to see them, which often isn't the case.  But the security measures at any school are only as good as the location of the front office and the convenience of the public. You can't keep ALL the doors locked ALL the time. It's just a physical/logistical impossibility.  

Parents start complaining about having the doors locked so they can't walk right in and pick up their kid for a lunch outing.  Students start complaining because they can't get back into the building when they have to pass from one building to another for things like recess or the library or to another class or lunch.  Teachers start complaining because they forgot their key to get back into the building from a quick errand to their vehicle to grab the science demonstration equipment that they brought with them from home because the school didn't have the funds to pony up for the hands-on activity materials.  Yes, today, that all seems reasonable, but in six months, when the new of our national grief has worn soft, it'll be happening all over the nation again - especially in small town America where everyone knows everyone else and everyone feels safe.    

In my opinion, this whole tragedy is defined by our collective attention to three issues.  


Health insurance - what a hot potato topic.  Poor people can't afford it, middle class hope that their company will help offset the cost of an affordable option, wealthy folks don't even think of it AS an issue.  Good health insurance will SOMETIMES provide for mental health counseling, if you are willing to pay an additional cost for a rider.  But it's not "standard."  It should be, but it's not.  Universal health insurance - in my state at least - is still "up for debate" and jostling for position on how to NOT make it happen because we want to keep our tax dollars for ourselves for our own private use.  

We used to provide housing and treatment for severely mentally ill people, including children. But somewhere along the road, the rights of the severely mentally ill took priority over the rights of the rest of us to keep ourselves safe from what they are capable of doing.  We quit being willing to pay the costs of these housing facilities with our collective tax dollars.  We closed facility after facility.  We started housing them in the prisons, treating them while they were in house, hoping they would continue to treat themselves when they were paroled.  Because no-one stays in prison forever until they do something so horrible that they are sentenced for life or death, depending on your state's attitude about the matter.  

Well, here's a news flash.  These people are severely mentally ill, which by definition makes them incapable of self treatment, and our answer to that is to leave them to cope with their paranoia and delusions on their own, with no structured support system in place beyond having a parole officer with an overloaded case file.  Meanwhile, we find them nothing more than a minor annoyance when we step over them in the doorways of our cities, and only give them serious attention when one of them demands our attention with heinous acts like the one committed in Connecticut.   

There is nowhere for these people to BE treated unless you are blessed with enough private funds to provide for the expense - and it's not as simple as "I'd do whatever I could to make sure that it got done."  In doubt?  Watch "Waiting For Superman" to see how hopeless it can be to want to "do whatever you can" to realize just how little you can do.  

As a nation, we are pathetic about the way we fund public education.  We've begun seeing charter schools as a panacea for the problems of public education without doing the homework required to research their effectiveness.  The Nation's Report Card has posted a report on a study that shows charter school students, on average, score LOWER than students in traditional public schools. We are abandoning the public schools in a mad rush to the bottom.  Security in a school system takes personnel and it takes technology.  Both of those things require FUNDING - funding for metal detectors, funding for security cameras, funding for security locks, funding for security guards.  Schools can't pay for these kinds of security measures.  Schools can't even afford TEXTBOOKS and TEACHERS right now because WE won't fund the schools.  

Look at the recent issues in Chicago and tell yourself how you felt about striking teachers a few months ago and then think about what happened in Connecticut and think for just a minute, not about the children who died, but the ones who survived because a TEACHER was there to protect them and give up HER life for the lives of her students - without thought, without hesitation - just like a soldier on a battlefield.  What's the likelihood that you'll get shot at your job this week?  

Until we are ALL willing to step up to the plate and say to ourselves and to each other that we are WILLING to pay collectively for services that protect ALL of us at the expense of EACH of us, well things are not going to change much. We will all continue to be vulnerable to the next lunatic, at which point we'll spend a few weeks arguing and moaning about gun control which only puts a band-aid on the problem, and then puts it on the wrong wound anyway.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the wounded community in Connecticut this week.    I hope this tragedy wakes us up for a lot longer than the 15 minute sound bite that is typical of our collective attention span.   But in the meantime, I'll be praying for the rest of us as we continue down our own delusional paths of selfish and egocentric isolationism. 

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