Is this a good guy with a gun, Mom?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

Do we really want our kids seeing threats everywhere?

If you send a child to school in this decade, you know the feeling that creeps up on you. Will my reality be shattered by another — the fact that this country offers little protection against someone breaking into my kids’ school and firing off multiple rounds of ammunition with the intention of killing as many people as possible?

This is one of those things you simultaneously try to bury in your subconscious to protect your sanity and emotional fortitude to send your child to school and also keep top-of-mind so that you can do your civic duty of participating in a collective force against the gun lobby.

Maybe you don’t want to believe that guns are the problem. Maybe your political and social views have had you favoring lawmakers who happen to support your values but also are funded by gun manufacturers through the NRA. Maybe you are beginning to understand that conflict of interests. My guess is that you still feel the same fear most parents these days do. If this is the case, I am still talking to you. In fact, I am especially talking to you.

We’ve seen many articles and opinion pieces — lockdown drills have been added to the fire and tornado drills we grew up with. Kids shouldn’t have to know how to barricade themselves in a closet because someone armed like a terrorist has come to kill them. Teachers shouldn’t have to devise way to squeeze 20 little kindergarteners into a cubby space to hide them from a disturbed individual with dozens of rounds of ammo. Armed combat should not be part of the requirements for being an educator of children.

Today I saw something just as unsettling — a photo of a man exercising his open carry rights in a donut shop, taken from the perspective of a family sitting 20 or so feet away.

It didn’t appear that this man was participating in a staged protest. He was simply buying a donut, or some coffee, and he happened to have a sizable weapon sticking out of his pocket.

In the foreground of the photo is a child. I think about what this looks like to him.

If I was sitting at that donut shop, what would I have done?

The gun lobby protests that in a world where there are so many guns, more guns are needed — that to be armed is to be safe, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to be a good guy with a gun. But research shows that this is very, very rarely the case.

Look at the photo. What do you see? If you love guns, you might see a piece of gear you admire. If you want responsible gun control, you see someone whose mind you want to change. If you are the NRA, you see dollar signs.

Do you see a good guy with a gun?

I don’t know this man, as is the case for the thousands, perhaps millions, of people who will see him on social media in the coming weeks. I have no idea if he has any intention of harm. He could simply be a misguided individual who is otherwise kind and thoughtful — a real good guy.

But if you are a child drilled in the art of hiding from people with guns, I think what you might see is the monster who, rather than hiding in your bedroom closet, lurks outside the door to your school. And now he’s in the donut shop. Is it time to hide under the table? Can you barricade yourself in the restroom before he opens fire?

If you are a parent, how likely is it that you will stick around to find out?

I don’t want to demonize this man. It has been my policy to avoid name-calling and assumptions about people who own guns, because I believe that putting people on the defensive won’t support change. This image isn’t about this man. It’s about the gun, and what it represents to our children.

The gun lobby may find reassurance in this scene, but my guess is that most people don’t — especially our kids. Isn’t it time that we make guns less a part of their lives?

One question about Ahmed and his clock

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Good for Ahmed! But we still have problems.

Last week 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a clock, because the circumstances of the situation led those in charge to believe that it might be a bomb.

It looks like it’s going to be a better Monday for Ahmed this week, but I still have a question:

Are we really living in an era where a home-made clock created by a high school student with a passion for inventing has no place at a school?

The home-made clock

I’m not sure if in the history of our public education system there has been a more confused time for striking the right balance of quantifiable measurement and intuitive teaching, standards and freedom to explore, serving the gifted and addressing the challenged and giving the best opportunities to everyone else, and providing the right learning environment for kids who have abundant resources and those who are simply just hungry. Perhaps my teacher friends can confirm or deny this, but judging from all that is said and written about education today, we are faced with a crushing number of issues. Many of our educators disagree with how political leaders are addressing them.

Thanks to my teacher friends and family, I read a lot about how standards impact those who have a hard time in the classroom, whether due to abilities, home environment, racism or otherwise. But I also see how creating a narrow channel for our teachers to draw from debilitates kids who aren’t fully served by what happens in the classroom.

Should we expect someone like Ahmed Mohamed to stifle his excitement for what he discovers, what he can do, and not share it with his teacher because it is atypical?

Has our educational system has become so rigid that kids are no longer expected (or welcome) to “color outside the lines”?

This boy, like other “maker” kids, goes beyond the standards to take ownership of his learning experiences.

Some might call it inspired.

The student

Ahmed Mohamed is Muslim. He lives in a community where the mayor has had a strained relationship with the Muslim community. Some of the things that were said to him when questioned indicate that his religion had some influence on how the situation was being treated.

My son attends an enrichment program for kids who like to and have the talent to invent, run by one of this country’s most prestigious universities. The requirements to attend are fairly narrow, so I can’t say it is a diverse group on the whole. But when I show up to drop him off and pick him up from his classes, the kids, parents and teachers I see have different skin colors. The groups are not fully representative of all the major world races and ethnicities, but there are kids there who look like Ahmed Mohamed and others who do not look like my white son.

It’s not the perfect picture of diversity, but isn’t this the kind of direction we want head toward for our kids?

The school

What shouldn’t have a place in school are the hard decisions administrators have to make about how to keep their students safe. Obviously in some places they need more guidance on what should be perceived as a threat. A simple home-made clock lands a kid in police questioning, but in some states his father wouldn’t have to leave his gun in the car to come in and pick him up from the principal’s office. We need another phrase to describe this inconsistency of logic, because “messed up” is inadequate.

Shouldn’t we be more afraid of people who have made it easier to bring weapons into schools than adolescents who like to tinker with circuit boards and digital displays?

Ahmed’s story has a fortunate ending. But even after he gets back from the White House and Facebook headquarters, the factors that influenced what happened will still be the same. Looks like this incident will turn out fine for him. And like so many others, #IStandWithAhmed. But we all know that there will be other kids like Ahmed who won’t be so lucky.

What are we going to do about that?

Thinking of Sandy Hook

I almost didn’t write this post. The act of clicking the Publish button makes me uncertain. I have no claim to the tragedy that happened a year ago in Sandy Hook, beyond being a parent… a citizen of this country… another human being. What happened in that school has so many layers, and it seems artificial to write about it given the depths of its consequences for the families who lost children and loved ones that day.

There is no doubt to me that millions of people will remember this day, and it will bring despair to hearts and tears to eyes, even among people with no personal connection to those involved. But like so many other horrible events, we’ll catalogue it among the other great massacres of our generation, like 9-11 and the tsunami in Asia, and in the company of similar events, like Columbine and Virginia Tech.

“Where were you when…?” is a question people ask once a major tragedy like this is a safe enough distance away to begin thinking of it as a marker. Maybe people are already beginning to ask this about Sandy Hook. My question this year is where are we now.

I imagine most of us are bewildered, still, that something so horrible could have happened.  Some of us have those scars that form when you see what kind of pain people can inflict on each other and how inhumane our political system can be when it comes to protecting the interests of people vs. sources of funding. Many of us are disappointed that we couldn’t move the needle on an issue that — if you look at statistics — actually unites vs. divides us in one of the most polarized states our nation has ever been in.

By the time one makes it into their forties, there is that understanding that life offers no guarantees. Safety is a relative and unreliable concept, something that slips into our minds when, perhaps, we are boarding a plane. Should we really feel that way when we drop our children off at school? We do now, even if it’s fleeting and blocked from our conscious mind by some sort of mental self-preservation. If we really thought about how vulnerable we all are, we’d probably go crazy.

Certainly, there are tragedies where far more people suffer, places in the world where children die in great numbers. And something like this can’t be judged by numbers. Loss of even a single child’s life is very sad. What makes this one stand out, for me at least, is how those children were supposed to be in one of the safest environments available to them. They were learning to read or add or maybe just enjoying story time. It’s such an innocent world inside a first-grade classroom… rather, it should be.

A year later, I  sit on the couch helping my son study his spelling words. Looking out the window, I become aware that I’m the parent who gets to do this. Those parents do not. I’m checking the closet taking inventory of what Christmas presents have been delivered. For those folks, there will always be an empty space where gifts would have been.

There is no yardstick for that kind of pain. It’s unknown to the rest of us. One year later, it still seems unbelievable. I can’t image how it feels for the families and friends of Sandy Hook.

Land of confusion

Lately, the song “Land of Confusion” by Genesis has been in my head. Trapped between political leaders who refuse to set policies that most people support and the lunatics who make it their mission to kill and injure innocent people, I disagree with only one line in this song. There is much love to go around.

There are more of us than there are of them.

Let’s not forget that.