Students demonstrate as ‘the change’ needed in violent culture

They don’t know how right they are.

All across America and beyond, hundreds of thousands of young people demonstrated, walked, marched and spoke out for prompt action by legislators to change gun laws and apply new restrictions to prevent disturbed perpetrators from carrying out mass acts of violence, especially in schools.

Their goal remains, as articulated online in the event’s mission statement, to “demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”

But before the demonstrations this March weekend, just after the violent rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February, students and parents affected by school shootings met at the White House with President Trump and authorities in law enforcement and mental health services for an emotional listening session.

Every one of these shootings have been by young men who are disconnected

said one man who represented a community mental health group.

We have to learn, and work on, how to connect students with each other, with their parents and teachers.

This teacher has a good, very powerful idea, a set of ideas, expressed in an open letter to students planning the first walkout. It’s personal, painful and poignant.

“Dear Students,
I know you. I am a retired teacher of 24 years. I have taught you as 7th graders all the way through 12th grade. This is not a tweet or a text. It’s called a letter; lengthy and substantial. Do you really want to make a difference? Are you sincere about making your schools safe? Don’t walk out, read this instead. Walking out of school is easy compared to what this letter will challenge you to do.

Now that time has passed and the walkout happened, followed by last weekend’s nationwide, globally joined demonstration, that activism seems to so many to be the answer. It’s a strong, highly visible show of unity and determination to cause change. But the students who claim to be the change they intend can do that, right now, in ways they may not have considered.

If they’re really determined – and no doubt they are – they should consider this teacher’s sincere call to action of another sort.

First of all, put down your stupid phone. Look around you at your classmates. Do you see the kid over in the corner, alone? He could likely be our next shooter. He needs a friend. He needs you. Go and talk to him, befriend him. Chances are, he won’t be easy to like, but it’s mainly because no one has tried to like him. Ask him about him. Get to know him. He’s just like you in that respect; he wants someone to recognize him as a fellow human being but few people have ever given him the chance. You can.

Tough love? He’s only getting started. This is a challenge and if it’s startling, he wants it to grab the attention it needs.

Next, see that kid eating lunch all alone? He could likely be our next shooter. Invite him to eat lunch with you. Introduce him into your fold of friends. You’ll most likely catch a lot of flack from the friends you eat with because they don’t want him upsetting the balance of their social order. After all, who you hang out with is critical to your status, is it not? If status is important to you, don’t you think it’s important to him also? The only difference being that he has no status because generally, shooters have no friends. Are you serious about wanting to make your school safe? Invite him to your lunch table and challenge your friends to do something meaningful with thirty minutes of their lives each day.

What will adolescents and teens do with that advice? They should seriously consider it, talk about it, do it one person at a time if only one person is able to break through their comfort zone where comfort was already tenuous as it is for teens, and then shattered after the attack.

But the teacher presses on.

Lastly, are you completely frustrated by that kid who always disrupts your class and is consistently sent to the principal’s office? He could likely be our next shooter. Do you know why he causes so much trouble? He initiates disruption because that’s the only thing he does that gets him attention, and even bad attention is better than the no attention he receives from you and your classmates. You secretly wish he would get kicked out of school or sent to the alternative disciplinary school so that he wouldn’t disrupt your classes anymore, that somehow, he would just disappear. Guess what? He already feels invisible in a school of thousands of classmates, you included. So, before he acts out in your next class, why don’t you tell him you’d be willing to help him with the assignment that was just given? Or why don’t you ask him to join your study group? If you really want to blow his mind, ask him for help on the assignment. He’s never been asked that. Ever.

Maybe the raw reality of the Parkland mass shooting and potential for more will open eyes to see and minds to think of solutions to the deeper, underlying causes of angry young men acting out on the urge to do violence to themselves and others.

That’s the teacher’s message in this open letter. It’s a deep seated problem and as wide and deep as society and social ills.

If you’ve read this far, you probably really do care about the safety of your school. Don’t trust that walking out of school will bring an answer. Gun control or more laws is not, and will not, be the answer. You are the answer. Your greeting, your smile, your gentle human touch is the only thing that can change the world of a desperate classmate who may be contemplating something as horrendous as a school shooting. Look past yourself and look past your phone and look into the eyes of a student who no one else sees. Meet the gaze of a fellow human being desperate to make contact with anyone, even just one person. You. If you really feel the need to walk, walk toward that person. Your new friendship can relieve the heartache of one person and in doing so, possibly prevent the unjustifiable heartache of hundreds of lives in the future. I know you. I trust you. You are the answer.

That is a profound reality. One student may not make all the difference in changing another student’s mental health issues, but one student wasn’t at the White House listening session alone, nor was there only one student at the Washington DC March for Our Lives to change the nation’s gun control laws.

It takes a community.

And teachers, my fellow guardians of our youth, I know you too. I know the desire of wanting to make a difference in a young person’s life. I know the thrill of stepping in front of a classroom of students but simultaneously intimidated by the trust bestowed upon you. I also know the crushing, sometimes unbearable responsibility that your shoulders are asked to carry. But that’s why you got into teaching, because you have big shoulders. And a big heart. You’re overworked (I would add underpaid, but you didn’t get into teaching for the pay, so it needn’t be said), underappreciated and exhausted. May I add one more item to that list? You’re also a miracle waiting to happen in the life of your worst student. He could likely be our next shooter. The next time (and there’s always a next time) he’s ready to wreak havoc in your classroom, I challenge you to pull him aside and ask him if he’s ok, if there is something bothering him and is there anything you can do to help? Your genuine concern for him may be just the miracle he’s looking for. The miracle we’re all looking for. I know you. I trust you. You are the answer.

(Signed)

A former teacher who is as heartbroken as you and trusting you not to walk out on the real answer…

What really is the state of America now?

President Obama’s final SOTU was a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ snapshot.

Starting with the political theater of the whole thing. Which is embarrassing for everyone.

Political commentator Ed Morrissey saw it as “a parody of monarchical excess“, altogether unnecessary and irrelevant. Right. Return to the Jeffersonian practice of sending in a report and save us all from the “droning, laundry-list campaign speeches of grand spectacle, but very little import.”

Fact-checkers looked at the speech on paper, and laid out a list of claims the president got wrong.

Bill McGurn had keen foresight of the single visual that would capture what the president got wrong, even before he arrived to great fanfare or spoke, because

a White House teaser reveals one of his planned props for the evening: “We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.”

Every time I think this president can’t outdo his audacity, he does. He recently held an emotional press conference to announce executive action on gun violence, choked up over the innocent children gunned down senselessly. Where has this emotion been for the past seven years of his presidency while in his and my hometown, innocent children, women, men, grandparents, teens, promising youth have been shot and killed in gun violence every single day on the south side of Chicago, the very familiar territory of his early days as a community organizer and fledgling politician? Even some community leaders there who hold rallies have called out the president for his lack of presence or voice on this most notorious of neighborhood turf wars by street gangs, year in and year out. I recall once when he virtually phoned in a message to be delivered at the rally, delivered by proxy. Why seven years of the bully pulpit not directed to that, to them, to promising young lives snuffed out by guns and gangs? Only to have the final SOTU address gun violence with an empty chair, for the missing?

How symbolic, McGurn continues.

The spectacle is made for President Obama. After all, this is the man who strode out on a stage of foam Greek columns when he accepted his party’s nomination for the presidency. How appropriate that in his last State of the Union he now opts for the empty chair routine used to such derision by Clint Eastwood at the last Republican National Convention.

Then again, for Mr. Obama the maneuver has always been the message. From his 2008 campaign appearance before the Berlin Wall (where he declared himself “a fellow citizen of the world”) to his decision to accept the Nobel Peace Prize before he had in fact done anything, the stage has always upstaged the substance. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama’s penchant for the beau geste carries a high price for Americans, not to mention other, less fortunate citizens of the world.

Start with foreign policy. Though Candidate Obama inveighed mightily against the U.S. intervention in Iraq, he also campaigned on the idea that Iraq had distracted us from winning “the necessary war” in Afghanistan. When he announced to the American people his own surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December 2009, the cadets at West Point were drafted to serve as the dramatic backdrop.

Today we can see the same speech shows that more important to him than winning this war was the withdrawal date he tucked in the next sentence. Later his own defense secretary, Robert Gates, would record in his memoir how he came to the conclusion that his boss “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.” Meanwhile, Americans in uniform would continue to die for this strategy.

The painful truth.

The domestic side has also been decided by high theater. When Mr. Obama was first elected, such was his popularity (and the low standing of the GOP), he could have done almost anything. On cue he opted for what he called “the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history,” an $800 billion stimulus that never did stimulate.

ObamaCare followed a year later. Notwithstanding lopsided Democratic majorities in both houses, Mr. Obama still had trouble getting his signature issue through. A more modest president might have found ways to address the problem—i.e., the millions of Americans who could not afford health insurance—without upending the entire market…

This has been the steady fare of the Obama years. Overseas his insistence on the grand gesture has led the president to pretend that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan means we’re no longer at war. This may be popular in the faculty lounge, but in the real world Islamic State beheads Americans, Afghanistan teeters on chaos and Iraqi cities such as Ramadi, liberated from al Qaeda in the original surge, now have to be re-liberated all over again from Islamic State.

At home the president’s Big Ideas (unintended consequences be damned) have seen millions of citizens losing the health-care plans the president promised them they could keep, a record number of Americans giving up on work, and an anemic growth rate of 2%.

The gimmick Mr. Obama has now chosen for his final State of the Union, meant to highlight his end run around the Second Amendment, is fully consistent with this past. But seven years in, an empty chair in the first lady’s box only reinforces images of an empty suit at the podium.

And one more thing, the one thing that got to me more than any other, and there were plenty of others. It was the moment I talked back to the TV, the galling moment when he lectured us all once again, and this time, once too often. Columnist Stephen Hayes had the exact same reaction I did, and expressed it on television in a panel roundup following the speech.

Hayes told Bret Baier he found it a little unbelievable that the president devoted a whole section of his speech to lamenting our broken politics and calling for civility.

Bingo. A jaw-dropper. He was lecturing us on civility.

He brought up a White House advisor comparing the GOP’s fight on the budget to “people with a bomb strapped to their chest,” Obama himself saying Iranian hardliners have “common cause” with the GOP, and the president saying Republican candidates are “doing the work of the terrorists.”

“And now this guy’s gonna lecture us about civility?!” Hayes bewilderedly cried. “The president––it’s not just that he misdiagnoses the problem, the fact that there is this incivility… it’s that he doesn’t understand he’s the cause of so much incivility in our politics!”

There it is. That was the moment when I said the same thing to the television. Our country is more fractured, splintered, divided, intolerant, angry, hostile and uncivil now than it was before he came into office, or so it seems. The president who has used his office in a very unpresidential way, beneath the dignity of the Office of the President, to target for criticism political ‘enemies’, a whole cable news network, particular reporters, the party opposing his party and politics, citizens who hold certain beliefs he opposes, his predecessor, police officers in certain locales, religious groups and others, now lecturing us on incivility in our country, was just too much.

The state of America is actually better than that, but it’s up to Americans to prove it now.