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. (

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.”

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.

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. (

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).”


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

Facebook, Why Hast Thou Blurred Out My Page?

I appreciate Facebook just as much as the next person. But I have a problem: I cannot for love or money fix my fan Page. Like the Great Oz, Facebook can speak to us, but we can’t speak to it – no matter how many times we fill out the little window we’re supposed to use.

So I am pleading my case:  I need Facebook to help me access my Family Field Guide fan page so I can post on it – It’s been perhaps a week since the page has been blurred out. As it happens, a huge FB ad occupies the middle of it, and now I can’t click on anything except the ad’s eventual directive to start a “business account.”  (You get there once you click through.) There is no other option. However, since I am not a business, just a humble parenting page that makes no money whatsoever, I will not open such an account.

My own personal FB page (timeline, whatever it’s called) is something I never use; I don’t care about amassing “friends.” I care about connecting families – moms and dads and grandparents and aunties – with helpful information. It’s what I’ve done for a very long time.

Below you can see the ad in question. But first allow me to clarify: I am a resource Page. I also write a WordPress blog about family issues like raising emotionally healthy children. Sometimes I write about cooking, or current events, or politics, as they relate to children and their families. I have never been banned from Facebook. Once upon a time my Page was connected to this website. You could click on the FB icon and get there. But somehow that connection is no more. (Is this something FB wants me to fix? I just learned today that someone can comment on my Page, but their comments only appear under “Notifications.” Also, it’s impossible to click on it and link to my website. Here’s what it looks like:

Family Field Guide Parenting Blog



Meanwhile,  I am frustrated. I don’t need to know about “audience trends,” “age and location,” or my “top-preforming content.” And I’m tired of dealing with the mess after a relatively problem-free 10-year relationship. Basically, I’m really sad.

And even though the ad says, “If you change your mind, you can go back to using the classic Pages experience,” I am wondering, why is this necessary?

I would be ever so appreciative if someone from Facebook would PM me, send me an email – whatever. I know we can figure this out.

Here’s the ad:

Welcome to the new Pages experience

We’ve made it easier to manage your Page Family Field Guide Parenting Blog and use it to connect with your community:

 What you get
A fresh Page design
A new layout makes it easier to find and manage everything on your Page.
More ways to be social
Follow others from your Page’s News Feed to share, like and comment on their updates as your Page.
Simplified, actionable insights
Learn about your audience trends, including age and location, and quickly see your top-performing content.

If you change your mind, you can go back to using the classic Pages experience. Learn more


After Four Years of Trump Trauma, We Must All Become “Watchmen”

What happens when someone in your world refuses to take responsibility for their duties? Well, if it’s a 12-year-old who’s failed to wheel the dumpster to the curb on trash day, a parent can withhold a privilege. Hopefully, the kid won’t forget next time.


But what if the person failing to fulfill a duty is the one in charge, like a parent, or a boss? Someone with power. And no one is allowed to say anything about it?


Some years ago, my friend Shelly told me about her weekly visits with her father.  Her parents divorced when she just a kid, and on Sundays, her mom dropped her off at her dad’s place.  He watched sports the entire day. She cooked him his meals, which he ate, all the while ignoring her. She felt so alone, she said. So emotionally abandoned. As an adult she composed a letter to her deceased father, expressing her pent up anger. And then she threw it away.


This symbolic gesture may have helped the adult Shelly. But it did nothing to change the pain she felt as a child. Unfortunately, no one ever held her dad accountable for being a disinterested jerk of a parent.


As I’ve tried to work through the question of accountability lately, I see that much of what frustrates people is the inability to level responsibility. Not blaming, but consciously putting the responsibility for failure where it belongs. It’s a reality check, saying, “Yup, that really happened.”


I think that’s important, because the person we’re having a problem with, the person who won’t accept responsibility for their behavior, might not allow a confrontation. They may think they’re right as rain. But unable to self-reflect, they could act offended, cut us off, or hurt us in some other way.


Therapists often recommend journal-writing for expressing anger and resentment. Or perhaps sharing one’s feelings in a support group. A counselor once told me to envision the most peaceful place I could think of. And then there’s prayer and meditation. But how can we blame God when a person whose behavior we detest doesn’t change? We can crank up all our courage to confront the bully, narcissist, or happy slacker who sets our teeth on edge, but sometimes there is no “come to Jesus “moment. No acceptance of responsibility, no dramatic change in the relationship. The irresponsible party continues to offend and it seems we can’t do anything about it – not if we plan to stay and preserve the veneer of a stable family or work situation.


I guess that’s what’s known as the “elephant in the room.” It’s so big and obvious, and so powerful, that it must be ignored. As a result, everyone has to tip-toe around and not make the elephant angry while the elephant goes along unscathed. It’s what we generally call “dysfunction.”


Applying this definition to politics, the bigger problem isn’t the person in office, who just happens to be ignoring propriety and abusing power.  It’s the people who for voted him and continue to support him – in spite of his offensive behavior.


So here we were. For the past four years, we’ve tried to understand how someone in a position of great authority could be so unwilling to take responsibility for demoralizing a nation. Proudly creating a cult following, he will not be called to accountability. Some called Donald Trump’s caustic verbiage “freedom of speech.” But to me, he was that elephant in the room.


Parents are often guilty of ignoring their shameful behavior. As are teachers who demean students and bosses who openly cheat on their spouses. The list is long. It takes a real wake up call, perhaps a catastrophe, before some people realize the trauma they’ve caused.


During the January 6 attempted overthrow of our government, Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman was just doing his job when a violent mob broke through the doors and windows of the Capitol building. Their goal was forcing the Senate to overturn the November election. Using split-second decision-making, Goodman led rioters away from the Senate chamber as they wildly chanted, “Hang Mike Pence,” and “Where’s Pelosi?” ” They were carrying out what they believed to be a mandate from their boss, Donald Trump. Goodman, on the other hand, was carrying out his responsibility to the nation.


In 1972, Frank Wills – coincidentally, another Black man – also helped save our Democracy. A security guard at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., Wills noticed that someone had tampered with the locks on office doors and called the police. His actions that night unwittingly launched what became known as the Watergate Scandal, and the subsequent train of events that led to the House drawing up three articles of impeachment against President Nixon.  With evidence mounting against him, however, Nixon chose to resign.


“According to Wills’ obituary in The New York Times, the ‘most eloquent description of his role’ in American history came on July 29, 1974; Rep. James Mann (D-South Carolina), while casting his vote to impeach Nixon on the House Judiciary Committee, said: “If there is no accountability, another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time there may be no watchman in the night.” (WIkipedia)


We have all been “watchmen” during Trump’s presidency. We watched as he empowered White Supremacists. As he denigrated immigrants and maliciously labeled the free press “fake news.” And we watched as he spun the “Great Lie” leading to the Capitol riot. We watched it all – only in broad daylight.  By writing emails, contributing to Trump’s opponent, and maybe slapping bumper stickers on our cars, we tried to act like the parents in the room. And through the impeachment process, the House of Representatives twice reinforced our faith in Democracy by taking up their Constitutional responsibility. But it was the press, in my opinion, who never let us down. Faithful witnesses to our trauma, they kept us not only informed but hopeful that the November election would allow us to click “re-center” on the nation’s GPS, taking us home to a safer, more sane, way of life.


Now, after leveling responsibility, we should release our anger: scream into a pillow, shred some paper. Maybe run for office. But let out the rage. How the offender reacts to our charges is out of our control. But finding our voices, we must vow never to let it happen again.  FFG