Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Columbine’s chilling legacy: America’s plan to stop school shooters

When Blu Gilliand’s nine-year-old twin daughters came home from school three years ago and told him they had learned how to defend themselves against a school shooter that day, he was shocked.

“They learned to identify parts of the classroom that are not visible from windows or doors to hide in,” says the 48-year-old father from Wetumpka, Alabama.

“Then, if an intruder makes it inside, they learned how to throw books and chairs at the person to try to run them off.”

Gilliand’s daughters, who are now 12 years old, receive ALICE training — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — in their classroom each year.

And they’re not alone, with training drills on what to do in the event of an active shooter now conducted in some 95 per cent of public schools in the United States.

ALICE training began in response to the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, where 12 pupils and one teacher were killed by fellow students.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the attack, as well as 13 years since the Virginia Tech shooting, where 33 college students were gunned down on April 16, 2007.

It is estimated that over 220,000 children have been exposed to gun violence at school since Columbine.

“Learning to deal with an active shooter should be taught on the first day of kindergarten,” says Greg Shaffer, a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team agent who is now head of risk management firm Shaffer Security Group, which trains schools and workplaces on what to do in an active shooter scenario.

Shaffer prefers the strategy of ‘avoid, deny, defend’ — and believes that people need to be trained in such a situation to replace fear with the confidence to act.

“We teach people to avoid a shooter if you can see him — if know where he is at, you run. If you can’t run, deny him access by locking the doors,” he says.

“Then, prepare to defend yourself using improvised weapons. There are five or six things I recommend every teacher have in their desk drawer: a hammer, a box cutter, a screwdriver, pepper spray, a CO2 fire extinguisher, and three cans of soup in a pillow case.”

Shaffer is adamant that teaching anyone, even small children, to take cover is dangerous.

Chris Dorn, an analyst with school safety group Safe Havens International, fears that the current climate has produced a psychological effect on teachers that makes them think they need to be heroes. “There’s a big push to take a more aggressive response when there’s not really a lot of evidence to show that it’s a better response,” he says.

He says that “rogue operators” have become common in the training world, emerging in force after the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, where a gunman killed 20 children aged six and seven years old, and six members of staff. “A narrative emerged that the principal had sacrificed herself to defend her school, but in reality, she happened to be in wrong place at the wrong time.

“Now, I hear school teachers and administrators saying, ‘I have to die for my students, so what do I do?’”

Dorn also believes that there is too much emphasis on the risk of school shootings compared to other risks of injury.

“Between 1998 and 2012, we did some research on types of deaths that happened on K-12 school campuses, and found that there were 62 active shooter deaths compared to 525 transportation related deaths — but we don’t seem to think traffic accidents are worth addressing.”

Still, he believes that teachers need to be trained to trust their judgment in an emergency — but in a way that doesn’t traumatise them.

“One insurer in Iowa paid out $400,000 in the first year for workers compensation claims in districts where they started having ALICE training,” he says.

“Some are so hands on that they’re dangerous, others are psychologically damaging. They get people focused on something that is very, very unlikely, to the point that we are seeing teachers too scared to go to school and leaving the profession.”

Andrew Patrick from the Coalition for Gun Control thinks that training for students and teachers is necessary in lieu of meaningful gun reform in country.

“Unfortunately, as long as we have weak gun laws — meaning people have access to weapons that can kill dozens in minutes — we are going to have to have training to help keep kids safe.”

Despite the fact that there were armed guards at both Columbine and Virginia Tech, politicians in the United States including President Trump have endorsed appointing armed guards rather than increasing the numbers of school counsellors or restricting the sale of guns.

A survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that armed officers were present at least once a week in 43 per cent of America’s public schools, up from 31 per cent of schools a decade earlier.

“The move towards so-called secure schools is really a push by the gun lobby to sell more guns,” Patrick says. “Instead of having a Wild West firefight in our nation’s schools, we need to pass laws to reduce guns to prevent these tragedies.”

University of Alabama Criminology Professor Adam Lankford says that paying attention to warning signs is the first step to reducing school shootings.

“More than 80 per cent of school shooters told at least one person what they were planning. When people hear those kind of threats, they need to report them, and law enforcement has to do a better job of taking these reports seriously and investigating them.”

The FBI received two tip offs that the perpetrator of the 2018 shooting at Parkland High School in Florida that killed 17 people was a “school shooter in the making” — but neither tip was sent to local agents to investigate.


Barcelona schools remove classic fairytales ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for being sexist

Schools in Barcelona have reportedly removed 200 children’s books from an infant school library including classic fairytales like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Sleeping Beauty” after determining they perpetuated sexist stereotypes.

The Tàber school, which is under the responsibility of the Catalan government, found that 30 percent of the books in its library for children up to the age of six were “toxic” while only 10 percent were written from a “gender perspective.”

The school said 60 percent of their books had less-serious problems, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

Anna Tutzo, one of the mothers who reviewed the books, told reporters that they were not targeting specific books, but instead looking at a broader problem with sexism.”

“Society is changing and is more aware of the issue of gender but this is not being reflected in stories,” she added.

Tutzo said the most common problem they found in the books is the idea of masculinity being about competitiveness and courage.

“Also in violent situations, even though they are just small pranks, it is the boy who acts against the girl. This sends a message about who can be violent and against whom,” she said. “Kids are like sponges and absorb everything around them, which allows sexist stereotypes to be normalized.”

El Pais reported that other schools in the Catalan capital are also revising the books in their libraries.


An Idea for Student Loans: Get Rid of Them

It’s time to shut down the Bank of Uncle Stupid.
Here is a three-part plan for something practical the federal government could do to relieve college-loan debt. Step 1: The federal government should stop making college loans itself and cease guaranteeing any such loans. Step 2: It should prohibit educational lending by federally regulated financial institutions or, if that seems too heavy-handed, require the application of ordinary credit standards in any private educational lending, treating the student himself as the main credit risk in all cases, including those of secured or unsecured loans taken out by parents or other third parties for that student’s educational expenses. And 3: It should make student-loan debt dischargeable in ordinary bankruptcy procedures.

The most likely end result of this would be the effective abolition of government- and bank-based financing of college education in all but the most narrowly defined circumstances. Good riddance. That leaves about $1.5 trillion in existing debt on the table, a very large number from which the federal government derives very little income, about 0.1 percent a year, or $1.5 billion — a fact that should enter into our calculations about whether we attempt to collect every nickel of that money or, perhaps, slowly forgive some of that debt for students who keep up with their payments and are otherwise good citizens, maybe at a rate of 2 percent of the principal a year.

It is time to shut down the Bank of Uncle Stupid.

Colleges will have two choices: Bring their tuitions down to a more reasonable rate or, if they are so inclined, work out financing arrangements of their own. This would not present too much trouble to splendidly endowed schools such as Harvard and Princeton, or to public schools with substantial resources at their disposal. A senior official of my alma mater, the University of Texas, once caused a stir by confessing — in public — that UT Austin doesn’t need to charge tuition at all but does so mainly as a population-control mechanism. The problem, he said, wasn’t money as such but the fact that the state would not let him raise admissions standards. Admittedly, UT has become a little more selective in recent years.

I have a theory about why there has been so much tuition inflation: inflation.

When we talk about “inflation,” we generally mean to denote a general rise in consumer prices; but, properly understood, that is the result of inflation, not inflation itself. Inflation itself is an increase in the money supply, and its effects need not necessarily be general. You can inflate the money supply by printing money, but you can also do it by expanding credit. Our friends at the National Association of Realtors and other charter members of the Committee to Reinflate the Housing Bubble, for example, have a keen understanding of the relationship between loosey-goosey mortgage-lending standards and brisk sales in the face of rising housing prices (and rising commissions). Your local new- or used-car dealer knows that he can charge higher prices for vehicles that are to be financed by people who care more about their monthly payment than about the total cost. There are some critics of the federal response to the 2008–09 financial crisis who believe that the recent run-up in the stock markets and the prices of other assets is fundamentally the result of inflation through quantitative easing and other measures. (You don’t have to believe that that was a necessarily bad policy to believe that this is true, incidentally.) Easy credit contributes to higher prices.

If you make a few gazillion dollars available to finance tuition payments with underwriting standards a little bit lower than those of the average pawn shop, you create a lot of potential tuition inflation. Another way of saying this is that if Uncle Stupid puts a trillion bucks on the table, there are enough smart people at Harvard to figure out a way to pick it up.

We managed to provide college educations to those wanting them for many generations without creating a body of debt larger than all of the credit-card bills in the nation combined. Our colleges have become faintly ridiculous places, in terms of their modest academic ambitions (lookin’ at you, journalism majors, women’s-studies departments, undergraduate programs in business administration), their top-heavy administrative structures (the number of administrators per student has exploded along with college debt, suggesting that colleges are being treated as full-employment programs for the politically connected classes), their resort-style amenities, etc. We accept more students but educate far fewer of them — at much greater expense.

The best way to impose a little discipline on that mess is to make students, their families, and, most important, the institutions themselves carry their own water. The current system is exploitative: The students essentially function as a conveyor belt carrying government money into the universities, leaving borrowers instead of taxpayers on the hook because it looks better from an accounting point of view: If we just gave the universities money, that would show up on the books as an expenditure; lending it to students allows us to pretend that we have created an asset when all we have actually created is a great deal of debt and horses**t.

And, hard as it is to believe, it’s even worse in the so-called trade schools and “professional” programs advertised in subways and buses from coast to coast. If you want to know how much money has been transferred to the nation’s bartending academies, the Professional Golfers Career College, or the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building under the guise of student lending, look here.

So, let’s cut the Gordian knot here. Don’t reform student lending, don’t try to lower the interest rates or create special debt subsidies for college graduates who follow careers of which the people with political power approve. Just get rid of it. With a meat ax.

There are lots of smart people at the universities. Or so we’re told. If they can’t figure out how to teach the liberal arts or accounting without dipping into the Bank of Uncle Stupid with both hands and all available snouts, then maybe somebody else should give it a try.


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