When Going to School Causes Trauma: Guns, Drills, and Kids

The question was asked quietly from the back seat, “Mama, will a bad guy ever shoot me?”  It was from my 5 year old on the way home from school last week.  He is not a quiet child, so this question felt different.  His brother was sitting next to him and drives home from school are generally about Minecraft, Star Wars, or bickering about who gets to hold what toy.

I was taken aback, I wanted to provide comfort and reassurance, I was curious about what prompted such a question, but mostly, I was profoundly and viscerally struck by the reality that I could not, in good conscience, state factually that, no, a bad guy with a gun will never shoot you, honey.

I know what my son needed in that moment was reassurance, so reassurance was what I offered.  I kept the gut punch of reality to my adult self.  “Mama and Daddy work really hard to keep you safe, honey, away from bad guys with guns.  We live in a safe home in a safe neighborhood and don’t come in contact with guns.”

All of that is true, but the other truth is that an American’s chance of being shot and killed with a gun by assault are 1/315.  We know this through data collection and research, but that research is hard to come by.

In 1996, the Dickey Amendment, an NRA backed piece of legislation, forbade the Centers for Disease Control from funding or performing any research about gun violence in America.  That changed in March 2018, but the government still has not funded any major studies.

Outside resources and entities like Everytown for Gun Safety have tried to make a dent into the issue.  They report that in 2018, almost 2,900 American children and teens will killed by gun violence.  Another 15,600 were shot and injured by guns.  And a whopping three million kids witnessed an incident of gun violence.  Just in 2018.

Those numbers are staggering to me.  And when I see them and try to digest them, it starts to make sense why my pre-k 5 year old asked the question he asked.  That ish trickles down.

About an hour or so after we got home, I checked my email and saw in a chatty note from his school that the kids had been involved in a “safe room drill” earlier in the day.  In between news of summer camp schedules, spring break dates, and info about Mr. Smarty Pants performing his Big Balloon Show next week, was a brief description of approximately fifty 3-6 year olds being guided into a “safe area of the school, away from windows and view.”

And there it is.  Dots connected.

With the rise of mass and school shootings in America, educators and administrators across the country are scrambling to prepare their teachers and students should the worst happen — a bad guy with a gun, as my child calls it, pulling the trigger.

Photo taken by Sheila Quirke in Chicago, Illinois in February 2018, days after the Parkland shooting.

Connecting more dots, after I got my sons settled down with an after school snack, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this Tweet, detailing what teens are now experiencing as just part of day-to-day life in this new America:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’m not gonna lie, it was all a bit much for me last Friday afternoon.  Click through the link to see an anonymous kid describe what happens these days at the local laser tag place, why kids no longer eat potato chips a certain way, and the new use school districts have found for staplers.

What that child who wrote about being a teen in an American high school today  described is trauma.  That child is traumatized.  We are raising a generation of children who experience trauma merely by going to school.  That shame is ours to own.

And it isn’t only students.  Last month it was reported that teachers in a Monticello, Indiana elementary school were traumatized and physically hurt after being fired on with plastic pellets by local sheriffs during an active shooter drill.  You can see that story here.  Yesterday, a friend posted that a local suburb in Chicago would be conducting an active shooter drill for first responders that would include a military grade tank.  The community of Plainfield was notified ahead of time.  “Do not be alarmed,” they were told.  You can see that story here.

Well I am alarmed.  I am furious and I am alarmed.

When did we decide that it was more important to be prepared for school shootings than it was to prevent them?  When did we decide that SWAT drills with military tanks rolling down our suburban streets were okay?  When did we decide that it was normal for kindergarteners (like my son) to walk through a metal detector security gate  every day and that was nothing to be concerned about?  When did we decide that bullet proof backpacks were something worth investing in?

None of this is normal, but it has become normalized.  We are numb to it now, this new America of mass shootings.  Bit by bit, the news of them hits us less hard.  The next one, and there will be a next one, will be just another in a long and growing list.

I cannot assure my son that a bad guy with a gun will never shoot him, but I can guarantee, I feel it in my mother bones, that the way to help these kids is not to traumatize them with preparedness drills.  The help our children need is a government and culture that stands up and says enough.  Enough.

Beyond the Cover: What to Look for in a Children’s Picture Book

This is a guest post by one of my former high school English teachers who is now retired and a published author.  She was wonderful then and is wonderful now.  I hope you enjoy her words and wisdom as much as I do!

By Saralyn Richard

Before I wrote and published Naughty Nana, I selected a children’s book based mostly on the cover. If it was appealing, I was good, and I ended up with some real duds. Now, like a connoisseur of gourmet foods and fine wines, I’ve developed a more sophisticated palate, so I thought I’d share some of my new-found criteria for what makes a fabulous picture book.

1. How well is the book constructed? Whether the book has a hard or soft cover, it needs to be durable enough to withstand many page-turnings by hands, both big and little. Is the binding secure enough to keep the pages intact? What kind of paper does the book have? If the book is flimsy, it’s just not going to hold up.

2. Is the book colorful? Many picture books have only one or two colors, while others have four. In my experience, children enjoy books with multi-colored illustrations that come from combinations of red, yellow, blue, and black. If the paper is coated, it will take the inks and produce vibrant and shiny pages, the kind children are attracted to.

3. Does the book have at least one relatable character? Most picture books have a target audience of children aged 1-3, 3-6, or 3-8. The main character should be someone who is similar in age to the person who is reading or being read to. It’s also helpful if there is some age, gender, race, or religion diversity among the characters, so the book has a wider appeal and teaches children about people who
are different from themselves.

4. Is there a compassionate message? Most children’s books are entertaining and/or educational, but not all of them present readers with a positive message, something that points the way toward ethical behavior, kindness, friendship, or love. Children’s minds, after reading a bedtime story, should be filled with uplifting thoughts and the importance of doing the right thing. I’m convinced that is key to making the world a better place.

5. Does the book lend itself to conversation between the child and the adult reading it to her? Are there questions that flow naturally from the story? Can the child draw conclusions, make inferences and predictions, generate explanations, compare and contrast, and evaluate the story? The best picture books are open to interpretation, providing room for healthy discussion.

As you shop for quality books for the youngsters on your holiday list, keep these five criteria in mind: Construction, Color, Character, Compassion, and Conversation. Hit all five, and you’ll know you’ve got a winner!

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Saralyn Richard is a former educator and author of Naughty Nana, a children’s picture book, ranked #30 on the Goodreads list for Best Picture Book. For reviews and book orders, GO HERE.

So, You Voted for Trump

The U.S. presidential election was an upset of epic proportions.  It was also a wake up call for millions of white Americans whose African American friends and neighbors are just shaking their heads, because for people of color, this election was simply business as usual, a Tuesday in America.

As a white woman, I am working hard today to understand the appeal of a President Trump, just as I have been throughout the election.  The thing is, no one has really taken me up on that offer to educate me.  I’ve been able to identify just a handful of folks in my orbit that will admit casting their ballot for him, fewer did so proudly.  Three that I know to be exact.

That left me with seeking other explanations, typically online.  Sometimes the Internet is an amazing resource for seeking out information, and sometimes, not so much.  I have not been comfortable with the narrative that Donald Trump was elected by uneducated, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, isolationist, evangelical bigots.

Don’t get me wrong, here.  I believe that candidate Trump appealed to all those basest of instincts that still hold America captive in too many ways and in too many places.  I have watched enough footage of his rallies to not dismiss the ugly river of hatred that flowed freely.  JEW-S-A!  JEW-S-A! JEW-S-A! comes to mind, as does seeing Hillary Clinton referred to as a bitch and a cunt more times than I could count, and the image of President Obama with a noose around his neck is forever imprinted on me, as will be the call to kill and imprison journalists for simply doing their job.

So if Donald Trump’s voting base extended beyond the ill informed stereotype of the gun toting redneck living in the trailer at the river’s edge, who did vote for him?  The breakdown might surprise you, though, again, my friends of color will shake their head, unruffled with what the stats show.

  • 63% of white male voters
  • 54% of white female voters
  • 13% of black male voters
  • 4% of black female voters
  • 33% of Latino male voters
  • 26% of Latino female voters

That’s the racial breakdown, but it only tells us part of the story.  Here are some additional important stats:

  • Hillary won the youth vote, but with significantly smaller margins than President Obama’s victories
  • 81% of Evangelical Christian voters cast a ballot for Trump
  • Trump outperformed Clinton with college educated white voters by four points (49% to Hillary’s 45%)
  • 67% of non-college educated white voters backed Trump

These stats help bust the myth of just who it is that cast a ballot for Trump, and that is important information to have.  I am hoping that some of you who voted for him are reading these words, because I have a challenge for you in the days ahead.

White Americans don’t like the idea or characterization of being racist or bigoted.  It is distasteful and ugly and pretty damn easy to think that the word doesn’t apply to you.  There is a sense, I think, that being a racist involves the addition of behavior — engaging in some kind of hateful activity like we saw was commonplace at Trump rallies, rather than the subtraction of behavior — remaining silent or complacent in the presence of racism or bigotry.

It is very easy to be a racist or bigot in America even never having uttered the N word or other perjorative terms for Latinos or gays or Jews or Muslims or the poor or uneducated or rich and educated — anyone else that evidences difference.  Something that comes to mind is the idea of white people who claim they are colorblind, “I don’t see color, I just see people.”  Hog-freaking-wash.  If you don’t see color, you deny people of color their experience of being treated differently because of their color.

And just so you don’t feel so alone here, or put on the spot, let me be the first to say that I think of myself as a racist.  I am not asking the white folks reading these words to admit to anything I do not admit to myself.  Growing up white in America in the 1970s and 1980s on the south side of Chicago, it was pretty much a given that I grew up in a racist environment.  That culture is part of my fabric and I intend to write about it at some point.

Because I think of myself as a racist, coming from a racist history and environment, I work hard, very damn hard every day, to challenge that part of myself.  To see it and identify it and sit with it and understand it for what it is.  How racist or bigoted notions and ideas and prejudices are something to be acknowledged so they are not acted upon or do not influence behaviors.

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And this leads me to the real point of this blog post, my challenge to those of you who are white and voted for Donald Trump.  He is a man who has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.  He is a man who picked a running mate that endorses conversion therapy for gay and lesbian people.  He is a man who clearly values women based on their level of attractiveness, through his own admissions.  These are factual statements.  I will not include his comments or actions that can easily be interpreted to demonstrate his racism or bigotry towards African Americans or Latinos or Muslims, because I have seen, repeatedly, how they have been rationalized or justified too often.

If you cast a ballot for Donald Trump because you are frustrated with the American economy, or our health care system, or the rampant corruption within our political system, or are a one issue voter championing the Second Amendment or the right to life movement, if you cast a ballot for Donald Trump despite his rhetoric rather than because of his rhetoric towards people of different colors or religions, what have you done to condemn those things and not excuse them?

You voted for a man that is endorsed by the KKK.  Is this okay with you?  Or should I ask, is this O-KKK with you?  If not, please speak up.  Silence is complicit.  Silence is acceptance.  Silence is tolerance.  Disavow the association, because from where I stand and from what I see, too many people who cast a ballot for Trump do accept and tolerate the hate that is so closely associated with him.

Whether you like it or not, whether you accept it or not, whether you want it or not, the idea of what America is is changing, moving forward, expanding, and accommodating that melting pot that was such a proud symbol of who we were as a country.  Do not pay lip service to loving America and being a patriot if you do not respect all Americans.  The American melting pot contains more than Northern European immigrants from several generations ago.

You have an opportunity to make America great again by disavowing that part of Donald Trump that tolerates and promotes and champions hate and bigotry.  Are you up to that challenge?

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Elections stats provided can be found here and here and here.