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Tragic School Shooting Devastates Oxford, MI, Families and Community – But What Should We Expect?

 Once again, we ask ourselves, why do we have to live like this?  But really, what should we expect when guns are worshiped in America like demi-gods?  When one in three Republicans believe violence may be necessary “in order to save our country,” according to the Public Religion Research Institute. (The Independent, 11/1/2021)

Some gun owners feel so threatened they open-carry to the grocery store for a loaf of bread.

I blame Tuesday’s school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, on the 15-year-old suspect’s father. Imagine the man’s delight upon showing his brand new 9MM Sig Sauer SP2022 semiautomatic pistol, reportedly purchased on Black Friday, to his son only days before the teenager took it to school. Now the man and his wife could face possible charges, according to a story in Tuesday’s Detroit Free Press. And well they should: three students lost their lives and eight more were wounded in the massacre. One 14-year-old girl is on a ventilator in critical condition.

Pictures of the gun and a target were posted on social media in advance of the shooting, news sources say. I’m wondering, did the dad let his son take pictures, the two of them standing over the gun with their mobile phone cameras, admiring it, like Thanksgiving turkey? The shooter, still unnamed because he’s a minor, relinquished the weapon to police and was taken into custody as students and teachers barricaded themselves in classrooms. Meanwhile, “police found two 15-round clips in the school and are looking for a third.” (Detroit News, 11/30/2021)

But here’s the thing: there were rumors of a threat circulating around the school prior to the shooting. According to the news story, “Earlier this month, Oxford schools published a note to parents that it was aware that ‘numerous rumors’ had ‘circulated throughout our building this week,’ and the school was reviewing the concerns.” Unfortunately, that review didn’t happen fast enough. Even the school resource officers who were in the building were not able to prevent the five-minute shooting spree.

The suspect’s parents are not permitting their son to talk to police and have hired a lawyer. I can see why.

Thoughts and prayers are not going to solve our gun problem. And it is solely an American problem. Today, more families are mourning the loss of their children. And another town, one where people believed a school shooting couldn’t happen, is grieving en masse. How many more parents will have to face the news that a child may not live because some entitled individual decided that buying a gun and leaving it unsecured was a good idea?

The hard truth is, gun violence can happen in any community – as long as we live in a culture that glamorizes weapons, creating a religion of gun worship. And as long as just about anyone can buy a gun.

https://www.freep.com/…/oxford-high-school…/8810588002/

 

Are Conservatives All Suffering from Unhealed Childhood Trauma?

When individuals in power attempt to force their fantasy of a perfect world onto the whole of society – or even a segment of it – it can attract a cult of followers who are willing to believe that, like their leaders, it’s possible to live some charmed version of reality. It’s like existing in a dissociative state.  Or a dissociative fugue.

 

According to the Psychology Today definition (Aug. 2, 2021), “Dissociation is generally thought of as a defense against trauma that helps people disconnect from extreme psychological distress. A dissociative fugue state is a condition in which a person may be mentally and physically escaping an environment that is threatening or otherwise intolerable.”

 

I have seen students do this. They just “punch out,” like they’re floating in space. It happens when kids are abused or neglected by shameless adults who don’t give a damn. By staying inside their heads, children can tune out reality. It gives them a sense of control. They often imagine they can protect themselves. However, the least threat, real or imagined, can trigger an angry response. Their stress level at this point is through the roof. They can’t think rationally. When I would ask students to please clear their desks for a spelling test, I could expect one kid to have a problem with it. Because children aren’t supposed to run or fight, sometimes they simply freeze. The ones who do act out – usually boys – might throw all their books and pencils on the floor. Rip their neighbor’s paper. Or disturb the entire class with crazy talk.  I’ve seen both boys and girls act out by sitting back with arms folded. They feign arrogance. Sometimes they look broken.  The look says, “Lady, I ain’t doin’ nothin’ you say to do.”

 

A woman I know, a writer and educator whose parents were both doctors,  once revealed that she was left alone every day after school. The family had horses and a barn, and it was there that she created an imaginary world into which she could escape.

 

Another woman whose memoir I worked on as a ghost-writer had a hideous childhood. As a girl she had dissociative episodes both at home and school. She fainted when she couldn’t cope with her parents fighting. At school, it  was beyond her understanding why everyone cried when President Kennedy died. Her mother, a nurse, would come home from work, lock herself in her bedroom, get drunk,  and cry wildly while my friend played jacks outside her door. And she insisted she had a happy childhood.

 

I would guess that more than a few over-the-top Right Wingers grew up without empathetic relationships. People like Gov. Greg Abbott, who thinks he’ll score votes by denying women the right to an abortion; Rep. Lauren Boebert, who believes everyone should carry a pistol, and wanted Jan. 6 to come off like the Revolutionary War (1776),   And then there’s Rep. Jim Jordan, who according to the Washington Post, Tweeted out that vaccine mandates are un-American. He means for everyone.  (Jordan apparently hasn’t heard that while fighting the British, Gen. George Washington was also fighting a smallpox epidemic, and felt it necessary to mandate a crude smallpox vaccine for his troops.)

 

However, by denying their personal stories of hurt and trauma, these self-righteous zealots abandon their humanity. They become fundamentalists who need everyone to become part of their fantasy world. To quote psychotherapist and author Thomas Moore, “The tragedy of fundamentalism in any context is its capacity to freeze life into a solid cube of meaning.” (Care of the Soul, 1992, HarperCollins.)

 

Conservatives today seem bent on freezing the country into a solid cube of meaning. No discussion. No compromise.

 

So, what do we have now, but an increasing number of far-Right elected officials pushing a concept of freedom they’ve packaged into a neat and tidy single belief, whether it’s denying a woman’s right to choose, insisting that legitimate election outcomes were fraudulent, or pushing a false narrative on vaccinations? They think if enough voters take them seriously, if they can force their childish will on enough people, they will never have to feel the burden of pain, loss, and failure, all of which make us human and are part of life.  In my opinion, it’s not the future that scares them, but facing their pasts.

 

Time and again, we’ve heard Joe Biden talk about his personal history of loss and pain. Telling his story is exactly why he has empathy for families who’ve lost loved ones to school shootings, floods, war, and disease. Because in the retelling of his traumas, he’s owned his humanity, not sold it for some easy, fundamentalist fix he’d like to impose on other people’s lives. He’s done the hard, emotional work of healing. Some would call it resilience, but I think Biden’s gift of empathy is the result of having grieved, and having given each of his stories a Beginning, Middle, and an End, so that they are no longer traumas. By owning his pain, he has gained “soul.”

 

I believe those political and religious fundamentalists who are trying to force the country into a “solid cube of meaning” are simply prolonging their own pain. And they would like to see everyone else suffer along with them. They just don’t know why. If they could only acknowledge their humanity, and accept the fact that life is a shared journey, they might walk alongside the rest of us instead of trying to lord over us.

 

Fixing the problem won’t happen overnight. It takes raising a generation of empathetic listeners. And to do that, we have to become empathetic listeners ourselves. In other words, we have to believe in everyday soul work. It’s about telling your story, whether to a trusted friend, counselor, or writing it in a journal. It’s about crying and grieving losses of all kinds. And most of all, it’s about listening to our children when they share their  hurts. Just by listening to our children, and to each other, we can help heal the world. FFG

 

Bennie Hargrove, 13, Was Shot to Death on a School Playground; His Killer’s Parents Should Accept Responsibility

My heart breaks for Bennie Hargrove’s family. They lost their boy.

On Friday, August 13th, Bennie Hargrove, age 13, was shot and killed by a bully on the third day of school. Known as a “peacemaker,” Bennie had approached Juan Saucedo Jr., also age 13, on the playground at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, NM, asking him to stop intimidating his friends. What Bennie didn’t know was that Juan had a gun. (https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/albuquerque-police-school-shooting-suspect-bullied-other-students/article_bd4a9dd7-c94b-5a79-a9b0-a493d77cbbbe.html)

It’s an all-too-familiar tragedy: Juan’s father, Juan Saucedo Sr., had not safely secured his loaded gun in the house. (Come on, Mom. You knew about this.) But the fact is, the son was only performing a violent action his father had modeled in the past. Here’s how that event went down:

In April 2018, Albuquerque’s KRQE TV reported, “There was a feud-turned-shooting between Saucedo Senior and another father in the pick-up line of Highland High School, just off school property. Court document and police lapel video revealed that mean looks and a confrontation escalated to Saucedo throwing a punch, while the other man grabbed a baseball bat. It eventually ended with Saucedo shooting and injuring the other man in the hand and thigh. At the time, Albuquerque Police seemed certain that both men would face charges.”  https://www.krqe.com/news/crime/father-of-middle-school-murder-suspect-has-history-of-shooting-near-a-school/

The arrest never happened. “The District Attorney’s Office never filed any charges saying both men were culpable but had valid self-defense claims.”

Bunk. Gun violence and physical violence should always be charged. They were disturbing the peace, traumatizing everyone around them.

Here’s another sample of the kind of parental behavior Juan had to look up to:  In 2015, Saucedo Sr. and his wife Luz Saucedo were subjects of a civil personal injury lawsuit following an altercation at Zuni Elementary School, which left a woman with a broken back.

The case was thrown out. Again, what kind of justice system allows this?

In my opinion, since the Saucedos have a history of violence, modeling aggressive behavior for their son, and since they they did not secure the loaded gun, they are culpable in Bennie Hargrove’s death.

Here’s a bit of science on aggression: When someone grabs a weapon, or punches and kicks with hands and feet, it means their fight-or-flight response system has kicked into high gear. Their “thinking brain” is switched off.  Stress hormones have escalated, and the brain stem has hijacked the frontal lobes, triggering the fight or flight response. It’s intended to keep a person alive in an emergency, not for hanging out with family and friends.

The idea that more guns are needed to keep ordinary people safe is just not true. Maybe in the deep woods while hunting bear and wild boar. But the potential for gun violence in the everyday life cannot be ignored. It’s not just gang members killing one another; it’s a toddler getting hold of a gun and shooting his mother in the face. A stray bullet entering the skull of a child celebrating the Fourth of July.  A child finding a gun in his father’s drawer and accidentally shooting his brother or sister. And this doesn’t even touch the subject of suicide, or racially motivated shootings, or mass shootings by mentally ill white men.

Underscoring aggressive behavior is aggressive speech. If you’re listening to hatred-laced shows on TV or radio, consider its ill effects on your state of mind. If you ridicule family members and neighbors in front of your kids, know that it hurts their young hearts. And your own.

Looking at his actions, Juan Saucedo Jr. seems like one damaged child. Like other kids who are unable to talk about their feelings, he acts out. Perhaps it’s because his parents failed to create a safe environment for talking about such things. Perhaps it’s to gain his parents’ approval, being the tough guy.  I’m no psychologist, but I can imagine the disconnect must be painful: not feeling free to be his true, authentic self – the person he was meant to be. The bully’s response to Hargrove, a protector, was “get out of my way,” as Hargrove prevented him from injuring someone younger and weaker. That empty space in Saucedo Jr., the space that lacks connection, must be a very lonely place indeed.

It’s too soon to know if the Saucedos will face charges. “Right now, New Mexico has not passed specific statutes about criminal penalties for irresponsible adults to secure a firearm. I know it’s been debated in the past, and I hope it gets a renewed hearing in the upcoming (legislative) session,” (Bernalillo County DA) Raul Torrez said. https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/da-torrez-parents-of-juan-saucedo-jr-could-face-charges/6209670/.

I can imagine, however, that they will face civil charges brought by Bennie’s family. The school administration could bear at least some responsibility for failing to keep students safe. But charges may not change who they are, intrinsically. Or how they relate to their son.

Parents like the Saucedos rarely take a bullet for their child.

Bear in mind, that’s because some parents have no shame. They lack courage to stand in front of the judge and say, “We’re to blame. We allowed this to happen.”

Now Bennie Hargrove, he stood for something.  FFG.

By Abandoning Fact-Based Teaching, We’ve Opened the Door to Disinformation

Nature abhors a vacuum. When the facts are no longer there, the void must be filled with something. And that something has become disinformation.

A new focus in some schools is helping students sort through the facts, tossing out disinformation, and embracing fact-finding.

An initiative in Florida designed to teach “digital literacy,” is one such program. (https://www.npr.org/2021/03/30/980405254/as-bad-information-spreads-florida-schools-seek-to-teach-digital-literacy)

Michael McConnell, who spent his career in national intelligence and security, is working to get this type of instruction into schools. McConnell told National Public Radio, “We need to understand this so we can appreciate what’s happening to us, and be able to not only understand it, to be able to navigate through it,” McConnell said. “That’s what I call digital literacy.”

OK. Let’s rewind. We still have high school students who cannot read beyond a fifth-grade comprehension level, can’t name the seven continents or point to them on a map, and have no idea how to write a decent paragraph.

How does this relate to the mass consumption of disinformation? It relates in that adults who went to school after the country largely abandoned the fact-based teaching paradigm are now at a huge disadvantage: they just don’t know enough to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

We started abandoning fact-based teaching in the 1980s, just as my children were becoming school-age. It was always my assumption that they would be taught as I was taught. They would learn facts. And then they would have a basis from which to formulate ideas and questions in their minds.  They would learn where the Nile River was and memorize their multiplication tables. They would know which trees were coniferous and which were deciduous.

Teachers “teaching” students was the accepted pedagogy. Instead, the pedagogy flipped to “students as learners.” What my children encountered in school, back in the 1980s and ’90s, were group projects for which one student mostly did all the work and the rest did nothing. They got consensus-building, and “soft-subjects,” like self-esteem and multi-cultural appreciation classes, where they made up acrostics with their own names and constructed piñatas. We were in the age of the experimental “Outcomes-based Education” model. It didn’t matter how long it took for a student to learn something. And Theodore Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools, with principles such as, “students as their own teachers,” and “teachers as facilitators.”

This, I’m afraid, is where we dropped the ball. I believe they called it Goals 2000. And there was money to be made by going about the country peddling teacher training in dubious models.

When children learned facts, they learned to trust what is true. They could check their answers and know for a certainty that they knew it. They found answers they’d looked up in an encyclopedia or textbook.  And their teachers carefully graded their papers and made them go back and correct their mistakes. Sure, we have come a long way in our understanding of cultural bias. And we need to continue making changes as the facts become clear. Because the teaching of facts is an important preventative to making up and consuming disinformation. If someone told a third grader in 1960 that the Amazon River was in Africa, he could rebut the fact. “It’s in South America, you idiot!”

They told us that children no longer needed to know facts by heart. All the facts are on the internet, at the touch of a button. Well, a lot of disinformation is also on the internet at the touch of a button.

If we don’t fill our children with fact-based truths, as well as moral truths, through our careful teaching and example, they have not a leg to stand on.

Like poplar trees easily blown over in the wind, our children’s shallow understanding of the world will allow them to be bowled over by rancorous entertainment “news” that makes viewers to feel like victims. Group projects and consensus building will have groomed them for accepting disinformation lest they have to do all the work themselves.

A boy came up to the teacher’s desk where I was substitute teaching one day, and made a white supremacy hand sign. He asked me, “Do you know what this means?”
 
“Yes,” I said. “Now go sit down.
 
I admit, he took me off guard. On the other hand, I smiled to myself when he was gone: the white-supremacy configuration reminded me of the “flying A-hole” sign kids used to make in the 1960s and ’70s, when they thought somebody was acting like a total jerk.
 
The tragic thing is, whoever taught him that sign, whether he learned it at home or on the internet, has no idea what it means to investigate the facts. The kid was probably nine or ten, and the home-based influence on his thinking at this stage was far greater than my momentary influence could ever be.
 
So how do we reach young minds, and teach them to question what they see and hear?

I am not certain the new programs teaching students how to recognize disinformation is the answer. While such programs may help some students, in my view, it’s more important to have teachers who require them to memorize poetry now and then, and to read good literature, and get up in front of the class and read a fact-based report they’ve researched themselves.  Kids need adults they trust to hold them accountable when they don’t get their facts straight.

Better to be embarrassed by a caring teacher for copying from a reference book when you’re eight than be arrested for invading the U.S. Capital when you’re 45. FFG

American Rescue Plan Not Only Impacts Family Finances, it Impacts Developing Brains

This is big news for the United States. With the passage of the American Rescue Plan on March 11, 2021, for the first time ever this country is moving toward a policy shift with tangible financial benefits for families with children. And policies that decrease child poverty, which this plan aims to do, are policies that increase children’s health, both emotional and cognitive. It’s a game changer – just ask any social worker or school principal.

 

I know child poverty is a nasty little subject, but one that I have seen in abundance over the years. I’ve spent a lot of time working in schools where low-income students on the reduced or free-lunch program far outnumber the kids whose parents can afford ballet and gymnastics lessons. And believe me, going without socks has never been a trend among 2nd graders. Why is this important? Because coming to school hungry and living with financially stressed parents decreases a child’s ability to learn by a lot.

 

The sad part is, kids have absolutely no blame in this. A second grader I had in a class – I’ll call him Marty – left for the afternoon bus without his “backpack program” supply of food for the weekend. The program provides easy-to-prepare foods for children who are most at-risk of food insecurity. When another little boy in the class saw the full sack sitting on a table, he became alarmed. “Marty forgot his food!” he said. “He needs it! He immediately asked permission to run the sack out to the bus before it left. I could barely restrain my tears. He’d made it just in time. The boy’s empathy for his friend taught me the degree to which even young children are aware of human need. My question is, why are so many adults reluctant to do anything about it?

 

One of the ARP’s benefits is the expansion of the child tax credit. (It’s not a tax deduction, which would only be a percentage of family income.) It’s a credit available even to low-wage earners that “will increase the amount from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6 and to $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17. Kids that were 17 at the end of the 2020 tax year also now qualify (they were previously excluded).”https://www.forbes.com/advisor/taxes/child-tax-credit-expansion-monthly-payments/

 

Who qualifies for the new child tax credit expansion? According to Forbes, “You may qualify for the new child tax credit expansion if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $75,000 or lower for single filers (up to $150,000 for married couples). If you earn more than these amounts, you will see a reduced credit, or you may not get a credit at all.”

 

In addition, “For the first time in history, families will qualify to receive the child tax credit as a monthly stipend. These monthly payments will provide up to $300 per child starting this July through the end of the year (the remaining credit can be claimed on your 2021 tax return).”

 

And this, say supporters of Biden’s plan say, will keep families from having to make tough financial decisions like, “Are we going to fix the car or buy the kids’ new school shoes?”

 

Getting families on back their feet after dealing with lay-offs and company closures due to COVID-19 should be our first concern. But there’s also the residual impact of parents being stuck in low-wage jobs, single-parent families living on one income, the high cost of child care, the lack of paid family leave, and a general lack of family support in a highly mobile society.

 

The ARP isn’t a panacea. It’s a hand-up. The cost will be billions on the front end. But the savings at the back end, we’re betting, will justify the expense. Financial stability for at-risk families, including the monthly stipends and greater food security though an increase in SNAP benefits – also included in Biden’s package – will also increase the emotional well-being of children. And emotional well-being is essential for the healthy development of young children’s brains and bodies. It’s chronic stress that hurts them the most. (Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score)

 

So let’s reassess those corporate taxes and put them back up where they should be. Experts are saying that any losses to the economy will be short-lived. After that, with billions allocated for jobs – green energy jobs – boom! FFG