Preface: This post was originally written on September 11, 2015 on my old WordPress blog and is reposted here by me today May 23, 2016.
Every year since the eleventh of September 2001 we have taken then time to remember that moment forever frozen in infamy. I can remember exactly where I was—doing community service in a bad part of town as punishment for my chalked ID—as most people alive on that day can, but I’m a teacher now and I teach teenagers, children, some of whom were born a year after that event and only understand it conceptually, much like we—my generation—understood the assassination of JFK or the bombing of Pearl Harbor conceptually.
I can remember listening to the radio in my calm and flippant manner thinking it was some kind of a prank. “This has got to be a joke” I thought to myself, “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen here.” But, the next channel on the radio was saying similar things, then people began talking about news footage of the first tower in flames. Soon after it became harder and harder to call our loved ones. I remember watching the news and in rapt suspense, terror, and awe waiting to see if the second building was going to fall, then the first. I remember the sense of camaraderie and national pride permeating the country for the weeks immediately following the attack. It was so nice to see people going out of their way for one another, to see everyone helping and supporting their neighbors and strangers alike. Despite my anger at the tragedy that had befallen my fellow Americans and the lose suffered by so many, I felt happy and proud of our ability to come together and, well, love one another in the midst of event fueled by so much hate.
My middle school students today, have no concept of any of this. They have as much attachment to this event as I did to the assassination of JFK. I understand that it was bad. I understand it touched so many people deeply. I understand the idea of the hope that he represented being ripped away from so many. I even understand the psychological idea that relates to the loss of one’s king as a loss of a protector, father figure, and unifying force. But, I also understand how my cell phone works and if you left me on a deserted island there’s no way I can make one and call you. I simply lack the experience needed to take the abstract concept and make it concrete and tangible.
9/11 for most of these middle school students is just another holiday so to speak. I heard a student say “Again? We do this every year.” So, with that I ask what do we speak about when we speak about 9/11? What are we remembering and why?
The terrorists’ hijacking the planes, and flying them into the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon are obvious I think. But, we can focus on the hatred and anger brimming over from those radical Islamic groups or we can look at the human aspect of all of this.
Our Heroes: The heroic men and women who ran into burning and collapsing/collapsed buildings to save the lives of complete strangers. Those heroes who tossed their lives in action that day, who died years later due to exposure to chemicals at Ground Zero (my Uncle being one of them), and those who are still alive today and still smell the burning flesh of the victims or see the dead bodies and their limbs spread all over the rubble (my father and many close friends included). Each one of these individuals has or had a family who loves/loved them. A lot of them are still suffering because of their innate love of people, their need to protect, their humanity drove them into danger when instinct told them to stay away. I think this is humanity at its most noble. We should do more for these noble protectors than we have done. But, at the very least let us remember their sacrifice and talk about what it took to do what they did and how they’ve been effected by their time down at Ground Zero. Let us never forget our heroes and the physical, mental, and spiritual sacrifices they made.
Lovers: We so often forget the star-crossed lovers destined to be parted by the events of that day. The new lovers and the old, the fiancees planning their weddings or just about to be married or the couples married for 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 plus years and the poorly connected phone calls made to attempt to say a lifetimes worth of I love yous in a fraction of a moment. Or those who could not get through and who left their last words in a voicemail to be played by their surviving partner for years to come. Let us never forget those lovers lost to the flames of war.
Families: Those families who were ripped apart suddenly and unjustly by an angry family of radical zealots whose hatred of all things American blinded them to the fact that they were committing the same atrocities they blame America for. We need to remember the fathers who never got to take their sons or daughters to their first baseball game. To the moms who never got to teach their daughters to put on make up. To the daughters who won’t have their father their to see them marry the person they love. To the sons who will never have their father there to model the strength needed to raise a family. Or, to just sit around on the couch and watch a movie and argue over who finished the popcorn. Families, whether biological (or not) are what make our lives richer. They are the life blood of every culture, or nation and on that day so many were irreparably damaged. Let us never forget those families sundered.
Innocence: Up until that day our country had never really been the focus of such a devastating act of violence. We had been in wars, but since the country was founded we had only fought the Civil War on American soil. All other wars had been fought abroad. Our isolation from the rest of the major world powers had kept us protected for most of the 825 years prior that day from such attacks save Pearl Harbor, but that was a military base, this was a civilian economic center. Before that day many people believed that we lived in a rosey world understanding that terrorist and bad things happened but never experiencing it, but on that day it all changed. Most of America lost its innocence. Let us never forget the innocence we once had and how it was stolen from us without our consent.
Perhaps if we remember these things and teach our children the human aspect of that event along with the history we can truly do justice those those loved ones lost that fateful day, September the 11th 2001.
Author's Note: This was originally published on a previous blog of mine in February 2018 in the light of a number of school shootings. This piece was written as a personal response to the debate going on at the time about whether or not to arm teachers in schools.
In the wake of the school shooting in Florida on 14 February 2018, I’ve been hearing and reading a lot of chatter around the idea of teachers being incentivized to carry guns in the classroom. However, before I get into why this is a bad idea, I want to disclose some personal facts. One, I have experience with guns and I shoot a few times a year. I mainly shoot long barrel weapons, i.e. rifles, which are generally more accurate because of the long barrel, although that’s all relative to the distance of the target. Second, I am a teacher. I have been for five years now. Third, I have been involved in the martial arts in one way or another since I was three years old. I’ve also worked security details and bounced on several occasions working my way through school to become a teacher. I have a good deal of friends and family who are teachers, in law enforcement, in the military, and/or security. Below there are links to various news articles, studies on stress factors in firing a gun, and a video from from former Navy Seal Battalion leader Jocko Willink on firearms training.
And now I begin my argument. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” said Mike Tyson, and it’s true. Stress changes everything. Try writing with a pen or pencil after being in a heated argument and see how steady your hand is. For most people it won’t be so steady. Heart rate increases under perceived stress. Fight, flight, or freeze responses kick in under perception of a threat. Now, these things can be trained out, but they require time in similar situations so that the individual learns how to breathe, and think under such elevated types of stress. We see this is sports, martial arts, especially ones that allow for live training, the military, and some law enforcement units. But, for the average person, they’re operating on their genetic predisposition to stress and their level of physical conditioning to get them through those situations. Here’s why this is important, I’ve seen teachers lose their composure when a teenager gets in their face. A child, without a weapon, without any lives on the line, still can’t handle it. (I also know of teachers who have broken up fights without breaking up a sweat, but these guys/gals usually have spent some time in the martial arts, but there are always exceptions.)
Let’s look at how often we come across stories of police hitting bystanders. I don’t have the exact number, as it varies from locale to locale, but we all know it happens more than we’d like. Why does this happen? Mainly, for two reasons, one, police officers are usually required to qualify with their firearm once or twice a year, and a good number of them don’t fire their weapon at all for the rest of the year. Those who are in special units or in areas where they’re more likely to pull and fire their weapon would naturally train with it more than someone who patrols a nice neighborhood with little to no incidents of violence. It’s just human nature. So, these police officers pull their weapons under a highly stressful situation and miss their target by feet, not inches. Imagine if there were 20-30 children within a few feet of a gunman. Now imagine someone with significantly less training or experience in these kinds of high stress and violent situations firing a weapon that with the shake of the hand to the right or left could miss its intended target and kill or seriously injure an innocent bystander, in this case a child.
I have teachers who still can’t properly use a SmartBoard or comparable piece of technology because they either a) don’t have the time together trained on it, b) don’t care to know how to use it outside of it’s most basic function, c) don’t use it at all, or d) break it whenever they touch it. I don’t want these people carrying guns into a school where I’m teaching or my child is attending. It’s the wrong answer to a very serious problem.
Teachers barely have enough time or training to keep up with the pace in which this world is changing. Their job is to teach, to educate. If they wanted to carry guns and shoot people they would have been police officers. Perhaps we can take that money and spend it to create highly functional within local law enforcement to operate as the line of defense for our schools. Perhaps they could set up a command post on school grounds or inside the building where they work with school security to get to know the students and their habits. Maybe even put some of that money into hiring more psychologist and counselors to help those students who may be in anyway close to approaching or just contemplating that kind of behavior.
I have no issue with beefing up protection around schools, I mean this is where we send our children after all. My concern is that the focus is directed. There is a larger conversation to be had about gun regulation across the various states of the union, but that isn’t this post. Let’s work together with those already in position to protect and serve to find a safe and effective way to protect our students and our teachers. Let teachers teach. Allow students the opportunity to learn in a safe environment. Let’s not think we can we can paint spots on a house cat and call it a leopard. The time, effort, energy, and funding it would take to transform the average teacher into a, well citizen solider is high. Just look at what it costs to train a new recruit in the military. Then they’d need to maintain their level of proficiency. Because, I certainly wouldn’t want a teacher in a classroom with a gun who only shoots once a year on the day a shooter came into school, the bodycount would just start rising as more shits were fired.
In closing, I think we need to have a conversation as a nation about guns and how to keep our children safe while they’re attending school. I don’t think arming teachers is the solution. Everyone is ready to fight until they’re actually in one. I don’t want to find out that one of my students, one of my friends’ children, or in the future my own child was shot by a teacher who shot well at the range but lost it under the pressure of a live shooter and the potential loss of life he presented. Let’s figure this out together. Let’s understand there are much more effective ways to protect our children than to attempt to train and arm teachers.
Jocko Willink on Training Guns as a Martial Art (Video)
(Quora) How long does it take to get decent at shooting firearms?
Training with anxiety: short- and long-term effects on police officers’ shooting behavior under pressure
Ready, Fire, Aim: The Science Behind Police Shooting Bystanders
As Gunman Rampaged Through Florida School, Armed Deputy ‘Never Went In’
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