“There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted…to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people…We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.”
– President Harry S. Truman
Context: fighting communism in the United States and around the world.
The emphasis above is mine. One of the most important freedoms we have is under attack and I’m afraid it will only get worse. The attacks are coming fast and furious and from every side. I doubt there will be a turn from this trend, only a charging straight into an unknown and dark future.
“We punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have”
We have sunk so low these days that we are punishing people for their opinions. I don’t mean we are legally punishing them, though I suspect we aren’t far off from this. (On second thought, maybe we are – see the baker, the florist, the photographer, the wedding venue, etc. being prosecuted because of their beliefs and opinions.)
We are now punishing people in the public arena via social media, sometimes even to the point of violence off-line. There is no crime in holding an opinion and expressing it, yet many people apparently believe it is these days. The trend to punish people for their opinions has gone to name calling, bullying, harassing, taunting, threatening, unfriending, embarrassing, humiliating, and in some cases even following through with physical violence simply because someone disagrees with another person’s opinion or disagrees with their extreme viewpoint.
Take this student photo article as an example. No harm done, to anyone, by her posting a photo she is proud of. It is easy to imagine that anyone would post a picture they have when they got it while interacting with someone famous. So, when did it become acceptable to treat someone so poorly because you disagree with them?
We teach our kids in school not to bully, harass, threaten, or otherwise make someone uncomfortable (Really? Because that’s reality…). Yet, there is no reasonable expectation among the adult world that this will carry forth into daily life. We aren’t practicing what we preach. It brings to mind that whole “Do what I say, not what I do” adage.
Now, it appears at least as adults, we celebrate people who go out of their way to bully, harass, or even attack others who have opinions that don’t line up with mainstream opinion. We are teaching our kids that it is ok to fight detestable and offensive opinions with violence and intimidation and bullying and harassment, etc. as long as we believe it to be repugnant.
The whole point of the United States and it’s foundation was to protect free speech, even the kind we find repugnant. Our Founders, who were persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, are celebrated because they fought against a society that believed their ideas were repugnant. (Back to the whole historical argument – were our Founders patriots or terrorists? It depends on your point of view.) Our Constitution is meant to protect all ideas and opinions, even the ones we don’t like, because we are supposed to have a “marketplace of ideas”. Take the ones you like and leave the ones you don’t. There is nothing in the Constitution about convincing others they are wrong by bullying and harassing them into changing their idea.
Truman understood that “To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…” He understood that if there is a problem in society it needed to be discussed and worked on until it was fixed. If there is a belief that our country is going in the wrong direction, then there needs to be open dialogue about it not suppression and violence.
If we become a society that suppresses ideas we don’t like or find repugnant, how do we move forward? Censorship at every corner and in every facet of life? I know everyone hates the cliche “slippery slope,” but we are seeing some prime examples these days. Where does the suppression of ideas or thoughts, or opinions end? What one person finds objectionable, another finds acceptable. Who gets to decide in a open and free society?
*Originally posted on the blog 10/21/2013
I had an interesting conversation with my senior students (this is a Contemporary Issues class) this morning. We were watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast from October 20, 2013. There was a story about a student who was bullied and how it was handled, including how it is helping others around the country. Following their viewing of the broadcast, I asked them if there was anything that that caught their attention, something that they wanted to discuss further. One student raised his hand and asked, “Should we be teaching our students to cope better with bullying?” What do you think? Is this a valid question or just insensitivity?
They are, of course, aware of the case, and others like it, where a middle school student jumped from the top of the abandoned cement factory because of the bullying she endured from kids at school. Some of them also admitted to instances in their past where they were being bullied and how they dealt with the situations. But, many of the students agreed with the first student that asked the question. Many agreed that if students were taught skills to cope with adversity in life, kids might not react so drastically.
Before I get too deep into that part of the conversation, let me also mention that the students, nearly to the person, said that bullying was a problem in society and that is has rightly gotten the attention that is deserves. Several students brought up the fact that there is a fine line between playful teasing, something that can happen between friends or family, and becoming mean – usually where bullying resides. They acknowledge that students need to be sensitive to others’ feelings and they also agreed that laws protecting those who are being bullied are necessary.
However, many of the students said that we live in a hypersensitive society. Too many people today, they felt, are too quickly offended, too quick to sue, too quick to play the victim. They said that we have become “soft” and that one of the reasons we are this way is because we have failed to develop “thick skin” when it comes to what other people do or say to us. Several examples they used (again, we watch the news) to demonstrate their point were the case where a school banned balls of any kind on the playground, the school that banned playing tag on the playground because children get hurt, or even from their own school where a former superintendent banned dodge ball because a student broke his wrist in a freak accident be stepping on a ball as he jumped out of the way. All of these cases, they felt, were from people overreacting to incidents because they were afraid that someone might sue. While these cases don’t have a direct connection to bullying, the point was well taken. Adults have been a bad example of how do deal with instances of conflict and our kids see how it has been handled and they act accordingly.
So, how do we teach our kids to have thicker skin? Better yet, how do we, as adults, begin to demonstrate that trait? Surely there is a need in our society to have thicker skin.
I am short and I get short jokes all the time. I have always been teased, maybe even ridiculed. But it hasn’t ever bothered me. It is a fact of my life. It isn’t something I can change so I accept it and make jokes about my own height as well. How did I develop the skill to cope with such treatment? I am not sure. But I am sure that there must be some value in teaching others the skills to cope in similar situations as well.
Admittedly, we all are different and what might set one person off doesn’t set another off. We all have different “breaking points” or we all have a threshold for tolerance. But why is that threshold so low in some and so high in others?
I would like to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Did my senior student have a valid point or was he just being insensitive?
American democracy, as it was designed, is dead. At the very least, it’s on life support and has been for a while. If we aren’t careful, we aren’t going to be able to revive it and the Founding Fathers’ efforts to give it to us will be lost.
As the story goes, Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and was asked by a woman if the new government was a republic or a monarchy. It was reported that without hesitation he responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” So, what exactly did he mean and do we need to heed his warning today?
Today, if you walked down the street of any American city and asked any average citizen what kind of government we have in America today you would likely hear from nine out of ten people, “A democracy.” That answer, to a degree is correct. A democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” (1b) That other person (I am being optimistic here), the one out of ten, would answer “a democratic republic.” This answer would be more correct. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.” (1b.1) America is both a democracy and a republic. Or, at least it was.
I say “it was” because I am beginning to believe that it may no longer be. We the people, I think, like to pretend that we still have a democratic republic but does the “supreme power” really rest in the hands of the people? I would argue that it does not. What do we really have? It is now more of an oligarchy. An oligarchy is “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.” (2) Thomas Jefferson once said, “Liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it [be]comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of the government by an individual, by a group.” (NOTE: Jefferson was not talking about fascism in the WWII sense that we tend to think of it today. He was talking about it more in the economic sense.)
The key part I want to focus on is that our government is now run by a small group of elites, by a group of people who have tremendous economic wealth and through that wealth “own” the government. Let’s first start with the distribution of wealth in our country. To understand this argument, you have to start here because wealth is the means to power.
Did you get that? The richest 1% of the country has 40% of all the nation’s wealth and they own 50% of all the investments in the stock market. What do they do with all that wealth? Well, they invest it of course because that generates more wealth but they also put it to good use by buying elections. Yep, I said it, they buy elections!
This is where the oligarchy of our government comes in. Our government, Congress and the President, is “owned” by private power, a small percentage of super rich elites, who use their wealth to perpetuate what is best for themselves and their friends. The last presidential election cycle is a good example to show my point. Why? Well because we are seeing it happen before our eyes. One thing that I have become keenly aware of is that in order to run for a political office, you need a pretty substantial stack of cash along with some pretty hefty backers as well. If you don’t have the financial support of a few big donors or the very influential party you choose to side with (who also have their own big donors), you likely can’t win an election in America. Running a campaign has become extremely expensive and it has gotten worse over the years. As a result of the media exposure, costs have gone through the roof. How do you make a win happen? Find and use a money source. Well rather, in many cases, they find you. If you don’t find yourself in the “favor” of those with the wealth, you probably don’t stand much of a chance on winning.
The total cost for the federal election cycle of 2012, Congressional and Presidential, was just under $6.3 BILLION. That’s a big pile of dough! If you click on those links, you can see that being a politician is an expensive venture. So, does all that cash come from their pockets or do they have help? Many of those who ran for office did have their own wealth, and collectively the 535 Congressional members have a net worth of more than $1 million each. The millionaires’ club has now gone over 50%. So, what does all that mean? The group of rich people in Congress, those men and women who make our laws, don’t get much competition when it comes to running for office because the average Joe can’t afford to run. Yes, there is competition and in some cases it was a very fierce competition (just look at the top 11 campaigns for self funding) so money doesn’t always guarantee a win, but it does certainly help in a vast majority of campaign races. And, of course, there is help from many other sources as well, all of whom represent a small percentage of the population but a large percentage of the wealth.
Thomas Jefferson spoke of it, and Ben Franklin warned us about losing control of the very government the Constitution set up. We have not heeded the warnings of our Founders. We the people are all created equal but if we don’t keep private power from controlling the government, equality of opportunity isn’t going to survive in the land of the free. Instead, those who have the wealth and the power control opportunity and access will be severely limited to those who can afford it. We already see this in practice as the costs of college have gone up in the last decade. Not just slightly, but by leaps and bounds.
The American government can’t be allowed to continue towards a more powerful oligarchy, but we are well on our way down that road. We have to fight the rise of private power by being educated in our voting and not merely settle for whom has the best commercials or most striking mass mailers. We can’t rely simply on the incumbent, who often becomes entrenched with tenure and power, or vote because it is the only name on the ballot we recognize. We can’t just let those with great personal wealth or with seemingly unlimited backing from a small percentage of the population continue to gain control of our government. For if we do, it will no longer represent us – as many have made the case for already.
Our democratic republic is in danger and our Founder Fathers would be disappointed in us.
I built a fence. Well, when you get right down to it, it really works more like a wall. But it serves a purpose and it does it very well.
Raise your hand if you have a fence around your place too!
Why did I built a fence?
The new neighbor. Actually, he really isn’t all that bad but, for various reasons, I have wanted to put a fence up for a while now. So why now?
- His place is a little run down. It is a bit unsightly with junk laying around, overgrown flower beds, a lawn that isn’t mowed (assuming there is lawn), garbage, house is falling apart, etc. To his credit, he is a new occupant so he is working on cleaning it up. Despite of his efforts, I just really don’t want to see it.
- His pets. He has two big dogs. They are well behaved, but they are dogs and they get excited. So, they wander into our yard. They also crap in it…which again, isn’t his fault, per se, but I hate cleaning up after other people’s animals. I just don’t want them in my yard.
- My privacy, and by extension his. So, I don’t really want people looking in my back yard, or my windows, or my garage, or my front yard. Well, ok, to be fair they can look in the front yard, but not the windows. They are off limits. Anyway, I am kind of a private person and without some way to block the view of my neighbor or anyone else it feels like my life is on display. Not that I have anything to hide, but why does it have to be on display? Know what I mean?
- Having an open yard is not an open invitation to visit, for my neighbor or anyone else. Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Just because I don’t have a fence doesn’t mean you can come into my yard any time you want and it doesn’t mean you can come over for a visit any time you want. There has to be an invitation, otherwise it is just trespassing (and that is against the law, ya know?).
Obviously, these things also apply to me. The fence keeps my privacy and keeps unwanted people out of my yard but it also goes both ways. It keeps me from being in his yard and keeps me from being able to see what he is doing. I respect the fact that I know there is a border between us and that we can live in harmony that way.
Besides my neighbor, there are other things to keep out of my yard too.
- In the fall, fewer fallen leaves blow into my yard. That means less time raking for me.
- Fewer deer come into the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I like deer. They are so gentle and docile and really aren’t hurting anything major. But, they would come through the yard in the spring and eat the new buds on the apple tree, which then meant fewer apples later in the year. Or, they would eat the apples off the lower branches of the tree, which meant fewer apples at harvest time. Not a big deal, but annoying to some degree.
- It keeps some of the garbage from the neighborhood out. I have a couple of neighbors who insist on overloading their garbage cans before it can be picked up. As such, the can gets knocked over or the birds open the bags or raccoons spill the contents as they dig. Either way, garbage then blows into my yard on occasion. The fence helps prevent that.
- It just provides a sense of security. Maybe it is a false sense to some degree, but it feels like if there is a barrier then those who are only moderately motivated will attempt to cross it – thus, a discouragement to most.
If a fence can do all that, it is no wonder when you drive through neighborhoods in ANY city (or state) in America that you will find fences in yard after yard, or drive through the country and you will find fence around property after property. Why? Because they work!
So here’s a thought…if it is OK to build a fence or a wall around my house or property, etc…
Why is it not OK to build a wall or fence on our nation’s borders? Aren’t the goals the same?
It seems a bit hypocritical to me if you have a fence around your property and oppose having one on the nation’s border. If is, after all, a property line that should be protected as well.
**I first published this five, almost six, years ago, while I was teaching senior high school students. I am no longer a teacher, but the subject is still relevant so I am reposting it today.**
Let me first start, right from the top, by saying that this has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with the small erosion of our rights.
Recently in class we have been studying the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791. This is a yearly occurrence in my classroom with seniors and I try to get them to think about their rights in a different ways. I also try to point out areas in our society where the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, makes the news almost on a daily basis. I try to impress upon them that this is still a living and active document. Some days are more successful than others.
The 1st Amendment has five clauses: freedom of religion, press, and speech; the right to assemble and petition the government. We focus on all of these, admittedly some more in-depth than others, but the one that usually makes me ponder more deeply about the state of our society is our “Freedom of Speech.” Because of our discussions in class, I can’t help but notice that our freedom seems to be getting eroded piece by piece, making this natural right harder and harder to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the government is taking away that freedom, we are actually doing it to ourselves.
It is generally believed that the only real limits to our speech are those that pose an imminent danger to society (i.e. shouting fire in a theater), statements of libel, or when there are certain national security interests involved (though there has been a flood of classified info on the government/national security in print lately). With these limitations in mind, why do we censor ourselves and others in society? The discussions with my seniors always make me wonder this. They believe that it is wrong to utter words that hurt someone’s feelings or that offend the sensitivities of others. They have all bought into that old adage that our mothers used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire (though attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, his biographer)
Our debate in class usually begins with a discussion about the quote above. Based on the discussion, I can gauge that it appears to make sense to them and yet they still want to qualify it. They get stuck on the idea that something that may be offensive and, yes, even hurt someone’s feelings still shouldn’t be spoken. Have we gotten to be that sensitive, that thin-skinned, that mere words can hurt? What happened to the old “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” chant we used to hear on the playground? OK, yes, I admit it. Words can hurt. We all know that truth and I am sure we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. However, no matter how much they hurt, or are offensive to someone, don’t we (or they) have a right to say them if we choose to do so?
As of now, many of the words that have been CENSORED from society are still legal to say. We have taken it upon ourselves to declare them socially irresponsible, thus socially “illegal.” (Plug your ears or cover your eyes if you are sensitive because I am about to be socially irresponsible and politically incorrect). “Oh, that’s gay!” and “Man, that is so retarded.” There are other words out there but we don’t need to get into all of them. I think you understand my point. Now, we have seen our society jump all over people in the media or celebrities for using these words and typically there is an apology issued because of the pressure put on them via social media, etc. If directed at an individual and intended as an insult, these statements would obviously hurt an individual’s feelings or offend. If said as a general statement of disgust or disappointment, someone may get offended but in general there was no specific hurt intended or group targeted. This is the where the first part of Voltaire’s statement applies – “I disapprove of what you say, but…” Many people will say things that we don’t like or approve of. Many of us will be hurt by what others say or hurt others by what we say ourselves, but that is the crux of our liberty. We have the right to do so, if we choose, and we shouldn’t be made to censor ourselves because of someone else’s sensitivities.
This is one place where a liberal double standard comes in. In general, liberals are all about being open and permissive. “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” “I’ll do what makes me happy.” “Hey, live and let live.” “It’s MY truth.” We can see this attitude in our society as things that once were seen as unacceptable have become, increasingly, more acceptable. The list is long and I won’t even try to make it complete but I offer a few examples: abortion, tattoos, divorce, same-sex marriage, legal marijuana, assisted suicide, casual sex, atheism, nudity and cursing on television. As our society has grown more open and permissive in most areas, we have become more restrictive in others, language being one of them. So how far do we go in accepting these limitations? How much erosion of our freedom of speech can we tolerate? If it hurts someone’s feelings (and we are all a bit too sensitive these days), it is now off limits…I disapprove of what you say, but…
Let me be clear, I am not condoning the use of offensive or hurtful language. No one has a compelling need to use their words in that manner and certainly we should work to hone our own internal filters when it comes to the use of language. However, I am condoning a careful examination of the external censorship we allow others to exert on us. I have a right to say what I please and I have a right to choose not to talk that way. It was bestowed upon me at the foundation of my country. However, others do not have the right to tell me what I can and can’t say. The freedom of speech, as written in the Constitution, wasn’t intended to be abridged. There wasn’t supposed to be a limit on it, ever. Infringing my rights, or the rights of others, lets others censor us in the name of stamping out insensitivity. That sounds callous, I know, but the fact is that even in callousness there is freedom. “…but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
“It is better to be angry than to be silenced.” Megan O
The quote above is from one of my senior students. She reworded and summarized Voltaire’s statement with a rather profound statement of her own. She realizes that being angered by someone’s voice is better than not hearing their voice, no matter how much she may disagree with what she hears. She understands that as soon as she silences the voice of another, her voice could be silenced as well. Her voice, as of now and into the future, isn’t something she is willing to give up.
The above comment was left on my blog a couple of weeks ago and I have been struggling on what to do with it. I have my blog set so I can approve the comments and I marked this one as spam, not because I didn’t want a negative comment on my blog but because I didn’t want to give someone who is a Holocaust denier a voice.
The last part of that previous sentence resounds in my head – “…didn’t want to give someone who is a Holocaust denier a voice.” Why does it echo so loudly? Well, because I value the 1st Amendment and the right to free speech. Therein lies the struggle. Do I give this person a voice and try to convince them that they are wrong, or do I just pretend it didn’t happen and move on? My initial reaction was to just pretend it didn’t happen, but it has been nagging at me for the last two weeks for two reasons: 1) it is completely off base and should be countered; 2) by ignoring it and not giving the person a voice, I am going against what I believe is an important part of our society, regardless of whether it is offensive or completely wrong. People should be able to voice what they believe.
So, with it nagging me in the back of my head, I have sat on it and debated with myself about it. I posted it on my Instagram account and asked what they thought I should do. One very succinct response was that it was easy to counter because the claim is so far off base. The best part of the response was “If [he] died tomorrow, there would be less evidence that [he] ever existed than there is to prove the Holocaust was a historical fact. Yet, I doubt he would deny his own existence.”
That leaves me to pose two questions to my readers and fellow bloggers:
- What do you do with negative comments to your blog? Do you allow them AND ignore them by not responding OR do you allow them and respond?
- What do you think is the right approach for dealing with this particular comment? How would you respond?
I would appreciate your advice. What would you do?
This is a continuation of #walkout vs. #walkup (Part 1). Please start there and read both posts before leaving a comment at the bottom.
#walkout vs. #walkup
As a history and government teacher (former, but it is still in me), I always encouraged my students to know and exercise their rights. I taught them so that they would be aware of current events and to actively advocate for themselves via their vote, and other means too. That was my job as a teacher. That is my job as a father. And, quite frankly, I wanted my students to be productive and active citizens of their country. That is really important when it comes to the survival of our country.
However, one thing we always talked about and discussed in class was that it was important to be informed before taking action. Allowing emotion and knee-jerk reactions to events could end up causing more confusion (or harm) and being active for the right reason is important. Therein lies the conflict between the two movements that we have seen come out of the most recent school shooting tragedy.
#walkout – or March for Our Lives – is lending itself to the hysteria, and because it makes for “good” media it got all kinds of coverage. As such, the students who are most vocal are being used to perpetuate a narrative that is misleading and inaccurate. And, unfortunately, the students who are active in the movement are protesting the wrong thing or aren’t being active for the right reasons. As my daughter put it, after I asked her why she participated at her school, “Dad, we’re getting killed out here.” To her credit, she does go to a school in a district that experienced it’s own school shooting tragedy, so the community is a little raw when it comes to these things. But, as we have seen in the statistics (previous post), the data doesn’t support her statement. Her generalization was, at the very least, typical teen drama and over-exaggeration. I didn’t run her down or take her to task for participating though. She is one of the few teens I know who actually pays attention to the news and the world around her, even when she isn’t given a school assignment to do so. She does it on her own, and that is important. Instead, we had a discussion about what the root of school shootings really is, why it is important to be informed, and to keep being involved.
#walkup – Students are, typically, quick to jump into action but often they ignore the root problem and go after the symptom. It is easy to blame others or point the finger at someone else rather than to deal with the problem you (or your friends) have created themselves. Having been in the classroom as a teacher for 15 years (let alone my own experiences as being a high school student), I can tell you that school shootings stem, in most cases, from students treating their fellow students poorly. When I say “fellow” students, I don’t just mean the students who are the same age. I mean all students who go to a school.
School shootings DON’T take place every day, let alone on a regular basis. What DOES take place every day, without fail, it that students are treating other students in ways they wouldn’t want to be treated themselves. That is a fact and it is at epidemic levels. Whether it gets reported or not – at school, outside of school, online, in social media – it happens. I saw it or heard it every day, to one degree or another. Teasing, laughing, joking, harassing, whispering about, pointing at, turning their backs, ignoring, physically bullying, etc., etc., etc. You name it; it has probably happened. I am sure you all can look back and remember a time when it happened, where it happened, and whether it was done to you or someone else. It doesn’t take much effort to look back in your own life and remember it.
School shootings DO happen because of this. The only people who can really stop it are the students themselves. As adults we can do everything we can and talk about it and discourage it and punish it, but the fact is that it won’t stop until there is a culture change and the students themselves have to make that happen. Look, one student or even a small group of students likely can’t (or more precisely won’t) do it. It puts a target on their backs and we all know students are vulnerable to the opinions of their peers, whether they like to admit it or not. And, not all students are the problem but may passively “support” the behavior because they don’t want to become a target themselves. There are lots of good kids out there, but those good kids tend to ignore the fact that it is taking place in their presence and most often do nothing to stop it.
Let’s not let the generalization get too far away from us. There are good kids. Lots of them! But we need those good kids to stop being bystanders (we talked a lot about this in my history classes in direct relationship to the Holocaust, but it applies in lots of places) and #walkup to step in when they see or hear it happening around them. Then we will see change. Students need to be the change and it can only really come from them. BUT, it has to be done in the right places and at the right times. #walkout or March for Our Lives isn’t the right thing to be protesting when the students themselves are the root of the problem, and the solution to the problem. They need to stop blaming the symptom on others and step up to own the cause.
I saw it going around social media. A counter argument to the #walkup movement. Apparently some believe that by asking the students to prevent school shootings by stopping or standing up to the behavior of their classmates is victim blaming. This counter argument is completely off base. First, let’s be sure we understand where the term comes from.
Victim blaming has most often been used to describe what happens to a victim as a result of rape or racism (there are other crimes too, but these are the main ones). There are those with the belief that the victim must have done something to deserve the outcome. The victim was the cause and therefore the crime was appropriate for that cause. Obviously, this is not a way to understand or treat victims. No one deserves to be the victim of a crime. So that is precisely where accusing those who participated in the #walkup movement of victim blaming goes off base. No one actually believes that students deserve to be the victims of school shootings or other crimes.
So, am I victim blaming? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. Students are and will be the victims of crime in school. They certainly don’t deserve to be the victims of crime. Unfortunately, in a world that is self-focused and has a lack of empathy, our students aren’t immune to the cause nor the crime. I believe that many of the students/victims of school shootings are likely not even participants in the poor treatment of fellow students. They truly are victims in every sense of the word because the become a convenient target for someone bent on destruction.
The Final Word
Students, if you want to stop school shootings, cure the cause. Befriend the friendless. #walkup instead of standing by. Have empathy for your fellow students and and treat them as though you would want to be treated. Listen to each other. Value each other. Protect each other. Put down the phone (or mirror) and take a look around you. You are not that important to be so self-absorbed. You can make a difference, for yourself and for others. But, you have to choose to do so.
I firmly believe, and in my experience I have seen it, that if students do those things they will lessen the number crimes in their school, they will lessen the number of bullies in their school, and most likely also lessen the number of school shootings dramatically. It won’t stop it completely (because there are people who do bad things), but it would go a long way to making it happen.
March 14, 2018, will stand out as one of the more memorable student movements in recent history, though I think it will likely be remembered for the wrong reasons. I say wrong because the movement is a bit short sighted in that it is trying to deal with a symptom and not the problem.
When I taught American Government to my seniors (and my juniors, for that matter), I always made great effort to encourage them to be involved – in their communities, in their state, in politics, in leisure, in things they cared about, and in things that were important to all Americans. So, by discussing this issue I am not discouraging the active participation we saw from our students. We WANT them to be involved and paying attention to what is going on around them. HOWEVER, we also want them to pay attention to the motivations and be good “consumers” of information so they can see through the rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions political parties and the media want them to have. Be informed. Think critically. Make wise choices.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that is happening with the recent protest – the student National Walkout Day and the “March for Our Lives”. This movement, though claimed to be “student led” isn’t. It is hysteria driven. There are may reasons behind the hysteria, but I think it best to say that it essentially stems from a political party bent on limiting the select Constitutional rights of individuals and by a sensationalist, chaos fueled media.
Epidemic vs. tragedy
Some have said that school shootings are at an “epidemic” level, but Merriam-Webster would disagree, even by a really liberal reading. One source that got almost no play or attention from the national media outlets after the shooting and before the protests, because it goes against the desired narrative, is from an expert on the subject of school shootings. James Alan Fox, a distinguished professor from Northeastern University, has studied school shootings for decades and he says there are not more shootings, and schools are actually safer than they used to be (watch and read). The national media, celebrities, and those opposed to guns (the 2nd Amendment; in general; or specifically) don’t want to listen to reason or the facts. Instead, we are told that there are more school shootings and favorable statistics used by special interest groups are highlighted to blow the issue out of proportion for a very specific and targeted purpose.
In my experience, and I think I am a fairly typical American, I would have to say that schools shootings (whether there are people injured or killed) are a rather uncommon occurrence and not the experience of a vast majority of Americans. Let me explain.
I grew up in a fairly typical American community and spent my days getting a fairly typical American education. That means I have been in the American education system from kindergarten (pre-school really, but I won’t count that) through the 12th grade. I spent five years in college (that may be unlike most Americans) as I pursued a history degree and a teaching certificate. Finally, unlike most Americans, I also spent 15 years in an American classroom. So, in all how many days have I spent in a classroom? Well, 13×180=2340 days + 5×180=900 days + 15×180=2700 days, for a grand total of 5940 (+/-) days in an American classroom. I do believe that most American’s can’t claim to have that many days in a classroom, except for those teachers or professors who have taught longer than me.
The point of all that math (remember, history teacher, not math – I hate math) is to establish that I am not talking out of my ass here when I say that in my 33 years of being in an American classroom, I never once saw or heard of a gun in the school. Not once. I would venture a guess that most, like 99.9%, can say the same of their educational experience. Did I ever feel unsafe? Sure, but not because of a gun. Did I ever get threatened by a student? Yes, but not with a gun. So, are we really at epidemic proportions when it comes to guns at school, or even gun violence at school? Not even close. Again, if you look at the math – the number of students in the US and the number of schools in the US versus the number of people in the US, it is a rather small percentage of people who have experienced such a threat or event.
What it is, really, is a tragedy. Merriam-Webster, again, serves us well here. I am not trying to minimize the suffering of those wounded or killed in the events and I am not trying to lessen the impact the families of those students have felt either. Nor am I trying to say that students aren’t the victims of crime. But, what I am trying to do is put the matter into perspective. Hysteria tends to drive a tragedy into a rallying point for further hysteria, which ultimately leads to someone’s rights getting trampled or others becoming unintended victims. We aren’t at epidemic levels for school shootings and we shouldn’t let the hysteria of tragedy turn this into a rallying cry for something that really is only a symptom of the problem, not the catalyst.
This post continues with #walkout vs. #walkup (Part 2). If you would like to comment, please continue to the next post, read ALL of it, then leave a comment.
I was going to write about this earlier, but the fact is that when it is a hot topic and you have no time, it is hard to get ahead of those who write for a living. So, I’ll just preface a professionally written article with my two cents of analysis.
Public Relations is a hard thing for companies, but when they have the right atmosphere a PR stunt can garner them a lot of positive attention. We witnessed such a perfect PR storm this last week that it can’t be denied for what it really is. Many Americans applauded and ate it up, but my take is that many of those Americans are really naive to think the decisions were made based on some moral guide, superiority, or an actual political stand.
PR stunt Olympics
Companies this last week have been announcing they will no longer sell assault style weapons, raising sales ages to 21, banning bump stocks, etc., etc., etc. They are all basically designed to make it more difficult to legally buy these types of weapons or supplies. On the surface, this is a great PR win for the companies but it is really just a stunt for press attention.
Why do I say these moves are just PR stunts? Let’s be real here. There is no moral fortitude being used when it costs you nothing to make a stand. I don’t have real hard numbers here but I would bet if you looked over these companies financial statements you would find that gun sales are a small, small percentage of their overall sales. By extension, that would mean the sales of the specific weapons they are now demonizing are a fraction of a percent in their overall sales. If your PR stunt involves a small fraction of your overall sales, it doesn’t cost you anything to make a stand. But what it does do is help naive Americans think you are the greatest thing since sliced bread.
A few examples:
- Dick’s Sporting Goods/Field & Stream – the first of the big stores to announce the ban and restrictions. Let’s be honest, not the first place most people would think to go to buy a weapon! Dick’s sells more shoes, shorts, baseball gloves, and golf clubs than it sells guns. That’s their bread and butter, so guns sales is an afterthought for them. *Personal note – The firearm section in my local Dick’s is so small and limited that it is a joke to even think of shopping there. Most of the time, I forget they even have them.*
- Walmart – What are they known for? Everything under the sun (most of the time) at low prices. Yes, they have a small section of firearms but this is not your go to destination for firearms. They even admit they have sold these types of guns, but they just don’t sell. (That would be because people who are serious about anything don’t shop at Walmart, they go to a specialty store.)
- Kroger/Fred Meyer – Again, what are they known for? Clothes, groceries, and home goods. Firearms is not a major source of revenue for them. *Personal Note – I was actually surprised to see a small firearms section magically appear in our local store a few years back. It seemed totally random and out of the blue.*
Listen, a PR stunt is a PR stunt and there no real stand being taken here.
The fact is, there are laws on the books to keep bad people from getting guns and when they are followed they work a vast majority of the time. Are there ways around them and are they fool-proof? No. Nothing is perfect. I am not that naive. Could we do more? Maybe. But for me it comes down to “just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” These things are a slippery slope and are much like government entitlements (once you give them it becomes difficult to take them away), only in the opposite direction – once you take someone’s right away, it becomes difficult to give it back.
Check out the great article below which was published before I could publish my conclusions:
Gun-control proponents shouldn’t be so quick to praise corporations.