Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook Elementary School did all the right things to secure their building. Locks, buzzer, lock-down drills. There was no police officer, but that would have also been a minor obstacle for a mass murderer with multiple military weapons.

The NRA solution of more guns in schools is no solution at all, and would only succeed in making things worse. Gunmen who want to create massive carnage before they exit the world in a hail of bullets will not be deterred by additional guns in and around their target when the gunmen plans for his death as part of the rampage.

It is painfully obvious that we cannot solve this problem at the local level. The solution to this constant stream of semi-automatic gunmen is to separate the unstable civilian gunmen from military weapons. Can we do this while we preserve our second amendment rights?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

For those who view the constitution most conservatively, looking at original intent, it’s clear the founding fathers were talking about the citizenry’s right to muskets. Specifically, they were informed by the British regulars marching through Menotomy and Lexington on a mission to remove muskets and powder secured for the Concord militia. A central power that could disarm the local militia was a threat to a free State, and a well regulated Militia was a clear balance to the potential of a powerful federal government.

I doubt the founding fathers wanted the village idiot wandering around the common with a musket or two, and the amendment was certainly not written for the purpose of guaranteeing gun rights to the village idiot or any one individual.

We already place significant limits on civilian ownership of weapons. The second amendment doesn’t guarantee civilian ownership of nuclear weapons. You can’t park a fully-operational tank on your front lawn. You can’t ride around with rockets and mortars in the back of your pickup truck.

There’s a line. We just need to find a place where that line should be drawn to preserve reasonable rights and public safety.

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are military weapons. They have no legitimate civilian use, and we should prohibit civilian use of these weapons. Similarly, high-capacity ammunition is necessary for our military, but its only civilian purpose is mass murder.

The words “well regulated” should also bring us to the point where we can regulate the licensure of gun owners and register guns. Again, under the village idiot in the town common interpretation, licensure and registration should be required for firearms. Because the amendment declares it “necessary to the security of a free State,” let the states register weapons and license users, much as we allow the states to register cars and license drivers.

It is also clear that mental health services are woefully inadequate. If we are to live in a safe society, we need view treatment of mental health issues as a critical public health issue. We need adequate resources so folks get the treatment they need, to protect themselves and their neighbors.

Again, this is nothing we can solve on a local level. This requires significant courage and resolve from our federal legislators, in the face of a powerful lobbying industry that wants to flood our nation with even more military weapons.

A solution delayed is a solution deferred. Our national leaders need to take action now.

 

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Spanish immersion?

My recent post regarding change.org came as a result of the following “petition.”

I am writing to let you know that I want broader-reaching foreign language instruction beginning in September 2013 in our elementary schools. Implementing comprehensive foreign language programs (immersion, FLES & after-school) in Arlington will keep our public schools competitive while providing essential skills and enhancing cultural sensitivity, while also benefiting English Language Learners in our school system. A large group of parents support comprehensive foreign language programs in Arlington’s schools. We believe it is imperative to begin a pilot immersion program in 1 or 2 kindergarten classrooms, at a minimum, starting in September 2013 so students benefit immediately while the program develops multiple offerings. Over 95% of hundreds of parents surveyed affirmed that they want to see this important program established in our community. Other public school systems have implemented successful immersion programs; some are Cambridge (Spanish and Mandarin), Framingham (Spanish), Maynard (Spanish), and Millis (Spanish), to name just a few. Bilingual children have greater executive functions, perform better on standardized tests, and do better in math. Let’s get APS into the top 10 in Massachusetts. Immersion programs are very low-cost and high-benefit. The question of teacher salary is usually net-neutral, because retiring teachers are replaced by new teachers who are dual certified. Each year, a new grade would be added to the program, up to grade 5 or 8. Initially there will also be the expense of obtaining pedagogical materials for each grade level, but the materials can then be re-used in subsequent years. The program would begin in one to two schools, and given the high level of demand that we have gauged, a lottery system would be used to fill available spots. As our country’s demographic includes more and more Spanish-speaking immigrants daily, the ability to communicate with millions of people not only in Latin America but in our own country will be a critical skill. Please establish Spanish immersion strands in September 2013 as part of APS elementary education curriculum! Thank you.

The emails generated by change.com do not offer the opportunity to respond or engage in a discussion on the topic, so I am going to use this space to outline my concerns.

First, let’s start with the basics. Should Arlington students graduate with the ability to be literate in more than one language? Of course. I would love to see our graduates walk across the stage with the ability to speak at least two languages. It’s a worthy goal. The question is, how do we get there?

Arlington had a Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) Spanish program when I first joined the school committee in 2001. During a tight budget season, we eliminated the program. It wasn’t a particularly difficult vote, because we found that students who came up through the elementary program were landing in Spanish I at the Ottoson Middle School. It was a popular program, but it didn’t advance the goal of students speaking a second language.

Now we have a proposal and a lobbying effort for a Spanish immersion program. It goes beyond the first premise that we all agree upon – that children graduating from our schools should be able to speak a second language.

Here’s how the proponents have gone past the first premise. The proponents decided that the language should be Spanish, decided that we should institute an immersion program, decided that we should start the program in kindergarten in 2013, and decided that it should move up a grade level every year. They have gone way beyond the initial statement of need, to place a pre-packaged program at our doorstep. I see lots of problems in the package.

On its face, it sounds like a good idea. If we had unlimited resources, we could hire a new teacher every year and see if the program succeeds. However, as anyone who is involved in a Massachusetts school system knows, resources are rather limited thanks to Proposition 2.5 and the relative lack of state support for public education in our beloved Commonwealth.

Let’s think about what happens if we adopt their proposal. If we go into one of our elementary schools, and convert a kindergarten class to a Spanish immersion class, what would be the impact? We would need to move out a kindergarten teacher and replace her with a new bilingual kindergarten teacher. The following year, we would need to move a first grade teacher out of the school. The following year we move out a second grade teacher. Every year we would disrupt a different grade-level team, removing one member and replacing that teacher with a Spanish bilingual teacher. Which school community wants its successful grade level teams ripped apart to institute a new program?

One of the reasons why we have excellent elementary schools is that we have built successful professional learning communities and grade level teams. It’s an important component of excellence in teaching. If we start an immersion strand in one of our schools, we also end up ripping apart the grade level teams in these schools.

We just went through the pain of a long redistricting process. The school committee acted to create buffer zones, to adjust enrollment to provide an equitable opportunity at all seven schools. After all that, what happens when we place an immersion program in one or two schools? What happens to the people from across town who want the program, and what happens to the people who live in that sending district? Do they get pushed out of their neighborhood school?

We also have a limited administrative staff. We have limited capacity in the district to develop new initiatives. We have strategic goals, we need to institute a new teacher evaluation system, we need to align our curriculum with the new Common Core standards. Which of these do we put aside to institute an immersion program?

Here’s another issue of concern. In Arlington (2011-12), 12.5% of our children speak a first language other than English, 5.3% are classified as limited English proficient. In East Arlington, 28.7% of children at the Thompson school speak a first language other than English, 12.5% are classified as limited English proficient. 19.8% of children at the Hardy school speak a first language other than English, 12.7% are classified as limited English proficient. Spanish is not the predominant second language in town. How does a Spanish immersion program make sense in schools with 20-25% of the children come to school with a home language that is neither English or Spanish? Shouldn’t a program take advantage of the multicultural resources already in place in our schools? Shouldn’t a program have a dual task of helping our second language learners become proficient in English while they help their classmates to learn their language?

So, my thinking is that we should put the brakes on this Spanish immersion program, and go back to the first step. We can acknowledge that we want our children to be multi-lingual, then work together to find a solution that makes sense in the Arlington Public Schools.

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change.org

Recently, an Arlington resident started an online “petition” on change.org that is directed to the members of the Arlington School Committee.

I am asking that folks who have a cause that might be placed before a local governing body (selectmen, school committee, redevelopment board, et al.) refrain from using this (or a similar) device.

Since the start of this weekend, I have gotten more email from change.org than from any other source of perpetual spam, including green coffee beans, credit reports, loans, Viagra, and Magic Jack. The mechanism behind this website is that it generates a significant number of email directed at the target(s) selected by the initial petitioner. This might be a winning practice if you are trying to get Hasbro to picture boys on the box of the Easy-Bake oven, trying to get Walmart to address the working conditions in its factories, or trying to get Malala Yousufzai a Nobel Peace Prize nomination (all causes on the change.org front page). It may be a winning practice if the goal is to generate sheer volume of email. It certainly is a winning practice if a for-profit corporation wants to harvest contact information for people who identify with a cause. It’s not an effective method for persuading local elected officials in a New England town.

I have found that folks who are elected to local office are thoughtful, responsive folks. If you communicate with any of our elected officials, you are very likely to get a thoughtful response. If you communicate through change.org, that’s impossible. While change.org generates a boatload of emails when you sign their online petition, and sends an email with your name on it when you enter a comment, the email all comes from mail@change.org. There is no way for me, or any other local official, to respond to your request.

Yes, your contact information is being collected by change.org, but it isn’t being passed on to the folks who are the targets of the campaign. Your name is used, your name comes through in the email header, but your contact information is used for a purpose other than fostering communication with the target of the campaign.

Please note that change.org is a for profit corporation, and their own website states that, “Like most companies, Change.org has a business model that allows us to grow rapidly and be financially self-sustaining, providing tens of millions of people with a free empowerment platform for change.” In other words, they are selling the information of petitioners as part of a for-profit business model.

The school committee website lists our personal email addresses.
http://www.arlington.k12.ma.us/asc/#members

The selectmen’s website has links to their personal email addresses.
http://www.town.arlington.ma.us/Public_Documents/ArlingtonMA_Selectmen/index

If you have a local cause, if you want to persuade your local officials to take action, please address us directly and personally. Your message will be read, and you will get a thoughtful response. Please do not use change.org to generate high-volume automated email to your local officials.

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