Abortion: Due Consideration

Recent bills passed in our country have resulted in social media posts that are ridiculously short for such a complicated subject. They tend to be things like “Her body, her choice” or “abortion is murder.” Both sentiments are such oversimplifications. This post is long, because this subject deserves deeper thought. Hang with me. If it appears I am taking a standard “pro-life” or “pro-choice” side, you’re not reading far enough or carefully enough.

To begin with (and the beginning is important), I believe human life begins at conception. We all start out as zygotes, then become embryos, fetuses, infants, then toddlers. If all goes well, we move through early and late childhood, then adolescence. Our adult years are often categorized as young adult, midlife, and late adulthood. If we get a full lifespan, we die at the end of this process. I just don’t see any logic to deciding that our status as humans begins arbitrarily somewhere else along this spectrum. I had two very planned, very wanted children, now both wonderful young adults. They started out as zygotes. I started out as a zygote. So did you.

The problem with “her body, her choice” is it ignores the fact that there’s another body here, and that human has no choice. So many responses are some form of “if you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one, but don’t interfere in my choice,” which ignores the choiceless, voiceless human being involved.

Too many on the “pro-life” side insist that the answer is simple: Make abortion illegal. The Republican party has made Supreme Court selection, with an eye toward overturning Roe v Wade, part of their platform. Many pro-lifers insist that by voting Republican, they’ve taken care of the problem. They will get the judges they need and outlaw abortion. Job done. They will have saved all those poor, unborn babies.

Which is just as shallow as “her body, her choice.” It focuses 100% on the means (outlawing abortion) while, ironically, ignoring what they claim to be the end, preventing the abortion of unborn babies. By ignoring that critical piece, they actually do pitifully little to prevent abortions. Empirical evidence strongly suggests that outlawing abortion doesn’t stop it. There is a better, more effective way.

It is vitally important that women have power over their own bodies and their own lives. They are, after all, also human beings. Reproductive power is a huge piece of this. We know from our own past and from other countries with extremely restrictive abortion laws that women will take this power one way or another. For those of us who believe that life begins at conception and that women should have power over their own bodies, the solution is very clear: A lifetime of scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education and free, reliable contraceptives readily available. These two things will actually prevent the vast majority of abortions.

Switzerland and the Netherlands, which have made these two things a priority, have abortion rates of about 5 and 6, respectively, for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. In Mexico and Pakistan, where abortion is banned except to save the life of the mother, and sex education and contraceptives are discouraged, the rates are 50 and 34 per 1,000, respectively. In the US, where abortion is generally legal, sex-ed exists but is controversial, and where insurance has only recently fully covered contraception, the rate is about 12 per 1,000. Clearly, the legality or illegality of abortion is not the main factor in deciding whether or not women get abortions.

In countries where women have access to no-cost contraception, abortions fall between 52 and 78 percent. People (men and women) who know about and use effective contraception have agency over their lives without much need for abortion. They can have children when they are emotionally and financially ready, or not have them at all, if that is their wish. This is where “their lives, their choice” is utterly valid. No other human being is left voiceless in this choice. There is no moral reason for an outsider’s opinions to matter. Further, women taking the pill or using long-term contraception need not add a decision about abortion to the trauma of being raped, so even that controversially mitigating factor is addressed in many cases.

Of course, as wonderful as it is to drop abortion rates by 78 percent, that’s not 100 percent. Human lives are still ending in early developmental stages. What can we do about this? What should we do? This is where laws and policies matter. This is why voting Republican makes one no more pro-life than voting Democrat. (In fact, the argument can be made that voting Democrat is more in keeping with an anti-abortion stance, as Democrats generally support the two most effective pieces of abortion reduction: sex ed and contraception.)

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 21 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur because the mother has inadequate financial resources to have and raise a child. A pro-life party would support a health care system that reduces the current average cost in the U.S. of an uncomplicated vaginal birth (over $10,000). In the Netherlands, with their low abortion rates, it’s just over $2,000. Switzerland, another country with very low abortion rates, comes in at just over $8,000, fully covered by insurance everyone is required to carry. In fact, Switzerland’s policy looks a lot like the ACA. You know, that policy the GOP has been chipping away at. The Republican party believes people should have a choice in whether or not they carry health insurance, driving up insurance costs for everyone. This makes insurance inaccessible to many women. Even with insurance, they are often forced to pay thousands in copays, a cost that could be reduced if spread  more thinly across all those insured. Either way, childbirth is economically devastating to too many women.

And that’s just the beginning of the economic aspect of pregnancy. If a political party were truly pro-life, as the GOP professes to be, then it makes sense it would support programs like WIC, which provides resources, financial and otherwise, to women with infants and young children. It would support SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). It would offer support to families in need. The Democratic party supports both, while the GOP has made cuts to both programs.

Financial stress causes—that’s right, causes—21 percent of all abortions. In America, we average around 650,000 abortions per year. Refusing to make even having, much less raising, a child financially feasible because you believe people should have choices about whether or not to have insurance or to help needy families means the end of 136,500 human lives before they are born. That is not anti-abortion. Combine hurtful financial policies with laws banning abortion and you don’t get an end to abortion. You get an increase in illegal, unsafe abortions. In this, the GOP  is actually pro-abortion, provided it is done with a coat-hanger or dubious medicines ordered on the internet.

Another 68 percent of abortions can pretty much be summed up as “I don’t want a baby right now.” They include things like not being ready, being too young, having as many children as they want already, that kind of thing. This is where knowing about and having access to free contraception comes in. Implants, IUD, the ring, the pill, shots and patches are all over 90 percent effective. They would prevent most abortions performed for these and financial reasons, over 90 percent of 89 percent of all abortions. Wow! Contraception empowers women and prevents 520,000 unborn babies from being aborted every year.

Kudos to all you pro-lifers out there who get this and support sex-ed and affordable, reliable, accessible contraception for all sexually active people. For those who refuse to go any further in  your approach than making abortion illegal, for shame! If you oppose sex-ed and contraception for whatever reason, religious or otherwise, you make imposing your beliefs on others more important than over half a million unborn babies. That is not pro-life.

Now we move into the gray areas, and there are gray areas, places where no option is the clear moral high ground. Around six percent of abortions occur because of issues surrounding the health of the fetus or mother. Contraception might help in some of these cases, provided the health issues involve a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. Other situations, especially when it comes to a non-viable pregnancy, are definitely a “her body/family, her choice.”

What does it matter if a fetus with anencephaly (some or most of the brain missing) leaves the womb before or after full gestation? It will die either way. Why must a woman carry a baby with trisomy 18 full term, only to have it suffer and die? She may decide she wants to carry to term, and she should certainly be able to make that decision, too. I just don’t see anyone else having moral authority in those cases.

What if she goes into preterm labor so early the baby cannot live? It’s fairly rare, but it does happen. And what if the baby doesn’t come easily on its own? In a country where abortion is illegal, a woman in such a situation may not go to the doctor for fear of being accused of intentionally causing what is, actually, a spontaneous abortion. A miscarriage. She may bleed out or die of sepsis as a result of that fear. If she does seek treatment, the doctor or hospital may refuse to help her, afraid of being accused of performing an illegal abortion. This happens all too often in countries with abortion bans. The fact that it would affect relatively few women is beside the point. Those women matter! The babies wouldn’t live, anyway. The moral high ground is actually clear here. If a woman having a miscarriage needs help, she should be able to seek it, and a doctor should be able to provide it without fear.

And then there was the young woman in a support group I once facilitated. She was struggling with addiction, and then she became pregnant. When she told the group, several girls immediately piped up with “Oooh! I’ll be happy to babysit” and similar comments. There was something about the look on her face. “Wait a minute,” I said, and reminded them that she had decisions to make. Being pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean being a mother. She burst into tears. “I can’t stay clean for a day. How am I supposed to stay clean for eight months? And what have I already done to this baby?” I had already offered the kids with drug issues resources for treatment, and I suggested that she could get support in trying to get clean. She nodded but said nothing and didn’t respond to my overtures after group. The next week, when one of the kids asked where she was in her decision, she didn’t want to talk about it. She never talked about it again, but the weight was palpable. She didn’t make the decision lightly. You can wish she had gotten clean and given the baby up. I can wish she was in treatment and had an IUD. We can moralize all we want, but I think any true addict can understand why she did what she did. It’s not our place to judge her.

There are a thousand health issues that impact pregnancy. I don’t know all of them, nor do I know how they should be handled. Neither do you. The best course of action is best decided, case by case, between a woman and the medical professionals working with her. Will they always make the right call? No. Neither will you.

Finally, there is this uncomfortable concept we refer to in war: collateral damage. You see, in any war, innocent people die. (Sometimes they are pregnant women and their unborn babies.) This means that, in deciding whether to go to war, attack a village, or launch a drone attack, we weigh the cost in innocent lives against the gain in that hostile action. Why do we ever decide in favor of attack? Generally because we believe threats against our liberty, safety, and/or economic well-being merit the loss of innocent lives. Look at that again. We believe threats against our liberty, safety, and/or economic well-being merit the loss of innocent lives. Now look above at all the reasons women get abortions: not being ready, being too young, having as many children as they want already, and the one percent of abortions performed because of rape or incest (liberty), financial stress (economic well-being), health issues (safety). Just as we don’t take war lightly, neither should we take abortion lightly, but it is hypocritical to suggest that collateral damage in a war to protect these things in your life is fine, while collateral damage to protect women you may or may not know is not.

Look, I’m no more comfortable with this than you probably are. Collateral damage is ugly, whether it’s war or abortion. That’s why I support prevention, through diplomacy for the former and contraception for the latter. But if you have ever voted for a politician whose actions caused any collateral damage, you are already not the purely pro-life voter you may wish you could be. None of us is without sin, so maybe no one is in any place to throw stones.

Four pages, single spaced. Did you stick with it? The issue is just too complex and too important for throwaway labels like pro-choice or pro-life, if all you mean by that is either abortion is a morally neutral choice or you just want abortion to be illegal so you don’t have to think about it anymore. The analysis it merits doesn’t fit on Facebook or Twitter. The moral solution for roughly 89 percent of abortions does: Sex-ed and contraception.

I realized I throw a lot of stats around. Below are sources for most of them. I wasn’t really thinking about it as I worked, so some sources may not be included. Also, sorry, this blog is not friendly to MLA formatting.

“Abortion | Data and Statistics | Reproductive Health | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 Nov. 2019, www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm.

“AbortionFacts.com.” Fact #8: Less than 1% of All Abortions Are Performed to Save the Life of the Mother. – AbortionFacts.com, AbortionFacts.com, 2019, www.abortionfacts.com/facts/8?fbclid=IwAR0ZCSf7RmsjPq-RM1R4eQgDL2uaVneKKyWMrBFbZbbyCKgfuNdFsoZDD4I.

Fox, Maggie. “Abortion Rates Fell as Countries Made It Legal and OK’d Birth Control.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 Mar. 2018, 5:52 a.m., www.nbcnews.com/health/health-care/abortion-rates-go-down-when-countries-make-it-legal-report-n858476.

Oi, Mariko. “How Much Do Women around the World Pay to Give Birth?” BBC News, BBC, 13 Feb. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/business-31052665.

 

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Fraying at the Edges

It’s getting warm; the 20th anniversary is coming and tension around that is filling the ether that holds the social media universe suspended, more so than most anniversaries. I wake up feeling anxious. I cry at the drop of a hat. I am fraying at the edges. I can feel it. I’m not unraveling, but if something catches one of those loose edges…

I am realizing that I have done more media interviews than I should, so if you are a journalist coming to my blog to contact me for an interview, the answer is probably no. I can’t tell my story anymore right now. I cannot talk about how I feel about legislators who just don’t give two shits about keeping guns away from children and the places children learn or how ironic it is that these legislators are generally part of the “pro-life” party. At any rate, I’ll fulfill the obligations I’ve already made to journalists, and then I’m going into self-protection mode.

Also, this is the first time in many, many years that I have not been at Columbine leading up to the anniversary. On the one hand, I am grateful not to be literally surrounded by reminders. On the other, I miss being around people who “get it.” I am certainly not opening up this can of worms in my new office. It’s a mixed bag, being away.

In no way do I want this post to discourage my MCHS and MSD friends from reaching out to me. I know you’re struggling, especially MSD with everything going on. But I think it’s good for you to know that it’s OK to say I’m not OK. It’s OK to set boundaries. And sometimes we fray at the edges, but we don’t have to unravel every time.

Posted in Columbine, Life, the Universe, and Everything | 8 Comments

Not-So-Happy Anniversaries

Having visited and bonded with survivors at Marshall County High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, I am seeing more and more posts about the upcoming first anniversaries of their school shootings. I see a marked difference between posts of people planning public acknowledgment and those of survivors. The planners talk about healing. The survivors talk about the daily effort of surviving. It’s weird to be looking at it all from this vantage point–from being the somewhat objective “helper” and the utterly subjective “fellow survivor.”

Everyone is trying so hard to use this marker as a way to contain what happened and its aftermath. Those are two different things, the event and its aftermath. The event is already pinned into place. It has an anniversary. That day comes and goes year after year.

The aftermath is amorphous. There are triggers leading up, and it is not over when it’s over. It doesn’t fit into a day. At least, not for a long, long time.

I can give hope, but I have little to offer in the way of comfort right now. That first year was just so, so hard. I don’t know of any way to change that. I ache, literally ache, for these good people.

Anyway, here are some of the questions I had on our first anniversary, and the answers I would give myself if I could go back in time almost 19 years:

Old Me: I used to feel deeply connected to God–not a personified, singular, sentient deity, but a Whole greater than the sum of Its parts. Now I feel utterly adrift in the universe. Will I ever feel reconnected?

New Me: Yes, and in a deeper and more meaningful way. You will become more aware of how vast the Whole is. It will make you feel bigger and smaller at the same time. It’s a trip. Eventually, you’ll love it.

OM: I became a teacher because that’s what God called me to be. Have I lost my calling along with that connection?

NM: You haven’t actually lost your connection to God. That’s not possible. A person can’t break off from the universe. You feel disconnected. That’s different from being disconnected. You’ll be called to do a lot of things in your life. You didn’t worry about it before; it just came. Don’t worry about it now. You have smaller fish to fry, and that’s OK for right now.

OM: I used to be one of those teachers who really loved and bonded with kids. Now, I only feel really connected to the kids I had bonded with before the shootings. I feel like there’s this wall between me and my new students. Is that wall there forever? Will I ever be able to love another student the way I used to?

NM: Just wait until one of the kids you think is on the other side of the wall seems like he is going to kill  himself. You will find out lickity-split how much you love that kid. You feel that love now. You’re just too busy freaking out about that first question to realize it.

OM: It’s always there. I mean always. Even if I’m having a semi-OK day or moment or whatever. It’s always there, like an albatross around my neck. Sometimes I think it’s become my key identity. I used to be Paula–a teacher, a wife, a mother, a daughter, all these things. Now, I feel like all I am is Paula–a Columbine shooting survivor. That’s it. Is everything else lost?

NM: No! Right now it’s unavoidable. The whole school is no longer Columbine–a school with sports teams and a speech team and a drama department and a thousand other things. Now, it’s Columbine–not a school, but a mass shooting event. There’s a whole mythos evolving about the school that is hard to even recognize. The whole place is having a massive identity crisis, and you’re swimming in it; you feel like you’re drowning in it. All those old identities are still there for the school and for you. You’ve just lost your sense of proportion. You’ll gather those old identities back around you, plus add things like author and union activist and all kinds of other great things. Then you’ll retire and start to reinvent again. You’ll like who you become.

OM: But I feel changed on this deep molecular level. Like a synthetic version of myself. Plasticized almost. Like an imposter. What good are my old identities if they don’t feel like me anymore?

NM: Just as there are many possible versions of teachers, wives, and mothers, there are many possible versions of you in those roles. When you let go of who you were before, you will begin to see who you are now. You will brook less bullshit. You will prioritize differently. You will appreciate life more–you know, as soon as you’re done kinda hating it, and that will be a while yet.

OM: I don’t want to do this anymore. Not any of it. I don’t want to teach, but I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t want to hurt anymore. I’m tired. How can I make it stop?

NM: The only way out is through. You’re not on a treadmill. You only feel that way. Keep going.

OM: It’s exhausting. I feel broken.

NM: I know. You can do it. Hemingway was right: “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Right now you simply have no idea how strong  you are.

OM: Will April 20th ever be just another day? Will I ever suddenly realize it’s April 21st and I forgot?

MN: No. At least, not that I can tell, after nearly 20 years. It’ll be OK, though, after a while.

If I could talk to myself almost 20 years ago, I would promise myself that I would do more than survive. Be more than a survivor.

And my almost 20-year-ago self would not feel much better, I don’t think, but it would be good to hear.

 

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Sexual Abuse in the 70’s–One Story

I could tell a few stories, but I’ve chosen the one that pains me, personally, the least. One where I am no longer in contact with anyone involved, so I am least likely to cause pain to others. At the same time, in many ways, it’s pretty horrible when you think about it.

The summer between 5th and 6th grade was typical of suburbia in 1973. I roamed the neighborhood with a small pack of other kids all day long. At lunch we’d converge at someone’s house, and whichever mom was there fed us peanut butter or bologna sandwiches and sent us back out into the sunshine. Along about dinner time, moms would step out onto porches and shout children’s names. Only vowels carry at those distances, so when a mom was heard, we all listened intently. “EEEEEEEE–ahhhhhhh,” was Lisa, “AAAAAAAAH–aaaaaaaah,” was me, and so on.

After dinner, as dusk crept over the backyards, we played games of Red-light, Green-light and Mother May I. After dark, we moved on to Truth or Dare. We were very innocent back then. Truth was questions like “Have you ever stolen anything?” or “Have you ever told a friend’s secret?” Dare usually involved ringing someone’s doorbell and running away or filching cookies for everyone from home.

The family next to me was big–five kids. The oldest was boy a year younger than me, then three girls, followed by another boy still in diapers. The older boy (I’ll call him Jack) and I were friends, and one night as we played our innocent game of Truth or Dare, his father joined us. The dad dared Jack to go to the far side of the dark yard and count planes flying overhead for five minutes. With Jack on the other side of the yard, the dad said he had a dare for me. I told him it didn’t work that way; I was supposed to choose. He said he was changing the rules. He told me I was very mature for a ten-year-old. I explained that I was almost 11, so you know, of course I was pretty mature. Eleven. His dare was for me to lie down and let him walk his fingers over my body. I was to tell him which place excited me most.

Gross! I said no. He said, “C’mon, I thought you were so mature.” I said I thought I’d better go home, and he grabbed my wrist–hard–gave me this fierce look, and said, “This is our secret. Do not tell anyone.” Well, nothing had actually happened, and he kind of scared me, so I didn’t tell.

Later that summer a bunch of us had finished lunch at Jack’s house. It must have been a weekend, because the dad was home during the day. One of the neighborhood girls, a few years younger than me, said she had to go to the bathroom and asked me to go with her. I asked why, and she said she didn’t like going to the bathroom at Jack’s house alone. I was a kid. No red flags showed up for me. Who knows why little kids do anything? I said sure and sat on the side of the tub talking to her while she peed.

Pop! went the lock of the door, and in walked Jack’s dad with the skinny little pen knife he’d used to pick the simple bathroom door lock. The other girl screamed, and I jumped off the tub to push Jack’s dad out of the bathroom. He said, “I just wondered what you two were up to.”

“Going to the bathroom!” I shouted. He was much bigger than me, of course, so I couldn’t budge him. The neighbor girl pulled her pants up without even wiping, and we ran out to where all the other kids were. We said nothing.

At the end of the summer, my mother came to me and said Jack’s dad was upset with me because I had told Jack “the facts of life.” I told her I had not, which was true. I had only told him about the baby chick unit he would get to do in 5th grade. It was a unit where the class had chicken eggs in an incubator. Periodically the teacher would carefully cut a hole in one so we could see the stages of development. Eventually, the eggs that hadn’t been sacrificed for science hatched into fluffy, peeping, yellow chicks. It was pretty cool. Anyway, I said, after the stuff Jack’s dad had done, he had no business getting mad at me. “What?” my mother asked.

So I told her about Truth or Dare and the bathroom. She told my dad. Now, my dad was maybe 5’10” and not muscular. He was also an introverted electrical engineer. Jack’s dad was huge and loud and pretty intimidating. My dad went next door and asked Jack’s dad to step outside, in part because he wasn’t entirely sure Jack’s dad wouldn’t get violent behind closed doors, and in part to keep Jack’s family from overhearing the conversation.

When my dad got home, he was visibly upset. (My dad was seldom visibly upset. He was always calm and soft-spoken.) Jack’s dad had not denied what I’d said. He’d only claimed that he didn’t recall these incidents. “If someone claimed I did these things, I would know I hadn’t done them,” Dad said. “It wouldn’t be a matter of whether or not I recalled them.”

My mom spoke to all the other moms of little girls on the block, who in turn spoke to their daughters. Of course, now I know that pedophiles who prey on prepubescent children often do not have a preferred sex of child. It is only the hairless, immature body that is the object of desire. Those were more innocent times. I think the idea that Jack’s dad might also prey upon boys was inconceivable to the adults around me. Long story short, Jack’s dad had touched, peeped at, or otherwise behaved inappropriately toward every little girl on the block. Every. Single. One.

The adults conferred, and the consensus was this: No way could Jack’s mother, a stay-at-home mom in the 1970’s, ever hope to get a job that would support her and five children. Turning Jack’s dad in and having him go to jail was not an option. So little girls were forbidden to ever play at Jack’s house when his dad was home. That was it.

Jack had three little sisters.

I think the idea that a man might prey upon his own children was inconceivable. We kept using that word. I do not think it means what we thought it meant.

A year later, my parents divorced and I moved. I never saw Jack or any of his family again. If they’d stayed in the old neighborhood, we would have ended up in high school together, but we didn’t, so they must have gone somewhere. Did the little girls in their new neighborhood, or his daughters, or possibly even his sons, ever tell?

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Maybe, Maybe Not

As a certified control freak, I do not do uncertainty well. If a tsunami is coming, I can plan for that or brace myself. If a tsunami washes over  me unexpectedly, well, I’m in it now, so all I can do is swim or drown, and which one it will be is going to be pretty clear pretty quick. But if a tsunami may be coming, but maybe not…

Or if something great is coming, even if it’s a lot of work, like a wedding, there are a lot of moving pieces, but I can organize the hell out of it, so it’s stressful, but there’s an outlet.

But man, this thing of selling a house. A house you weren’t ready to sell, so you know there are issues, but the only thing you can do is try to price it right and pray… And that last thing really doesn’t help when you don’t believe in an interventionist God. I mean, if there’s an interventionist God, it really needs to be working on a lot bigger things than the sale of my house.

Thank God I’m not teaching right now. I have the kind of flexible schedule that allows me to run home and get the dogs for showings. I can work in inspections and that kind of thing. Plus education feels like one huge, deep pool of uncertainty right now, so if I were teaching, I’d probably be gibbering to myself in a corner.

There’s nothing to do about it. I keep telling myself this, but I seem to be awash in stress hormones anyway. That’s it. If you were hoping for insights on how to deal with the stress of uncertainty, I got nothin’.

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Back to School After a Shooting

Between a conversation with a Marshall teacher last week and another with a mental health care worker in Parkland, it’s clear that teachers in schools recently affected by gun violence are thinking about going back to school. Some are contemplating that first year back after the summer.

The summer after a shooting is a mixed bag. You miss your colleagues and have been worried about your students. You feel a little like a lifeline was severed, even as you are so relieved to have some of the pressure off. A colleague of mine put it best in May of 1999: “I just want to come have breakfast with you all every morning this summer. We can just be together, eat breakfast, and go home.” That would have been perfect.

I could write pages and pages about the first year, but instead, I’m going to condense to the most important things I can think of off-the-cuff:

  • You know that “new normal” everyone tells you is coming? It ain’t coming this year. And that’s a good thing, because this is going to be a hard, hard year. We kept stopping and looking at each other and asking, “My God, is this the new normal? Because if it is, I want off the ride. Now.” It is not the new normal. Give it a few years.
  • Personally, I recommend finding a good therapist. My husband was an awesome support system, and I was sure I could make it without a lot of outside help. (I didn’t really gel with the therapist I tried; I should have kept looking). The thing is, I didn’t really take into account what supporting me was costing my husband. Turns out it was a hell of a lot.
  • On that note: Form support groups for partners and spouses. The teachers are going to be hard to deal with, especially at home after giving everything they have at school all day. Partners need a place to vent where everyone gets it and no one judges because they are sick and tired of their messed-up partner/spouse.
  • You won’t be messed-up forever. I’ll say it again: You won’t be messed-up forever. Say it with me: We won’t be messed-up forever.
  • You will mostly be a basket case this year. It is not your new normal, and you won’t be messed-up forever.
  • You and the kids will hug and cry a lot. It’s OK. One time I was crying in the girls’ bathroom with a student while two other girls put on makeup and barely seemed to notice us. It was our temporary normal. We all got each other through.
  • While you can’t fall apart in front of your students, it’s OK to get weepy, and it’s OK to be honest about your own feelings. It’s vital to be honest. When they see you acknowledge and express your feelings, you give them permission to acknowledge and express theirs. If this makes outsiders (i.e. anyone who wasn’t there with you) uncomfortable, tough shit for them. Do NOT let anyone tell you that you have to be Iron Man in front of the kids.
  • Cut back on the workload for you and the kids. Don’t dumb-down, but do strip down to the most essential learning. Everyone’s attention span is at a low. New learning is difficult for traumatized brains, and you won’t have energy for the usual grading and planning load. If anyone tells you that you must continue to deliver instruction as you always have, tell them to take a hike.
  • You’re going to struggle in a tug-of-war between compassion and standards, knowing that the kids need all the skills they need for college and career. This year, err on the side of compassion. Next year, up the expectations. If you go too long on the compassion thing, it’s hard to come back. It’s complicated.
  • High schools need to remember that freshmen are in a weird place. They may be traumatized by proximity and family connections. They may not. It’s hard for them to blend into high school already, but one bound by tragedy? Even harder. Help them out. Admin needs to facilitate this with great attention and intention.
  • Don’t let anyone give you a timeline to “get over it.” There’s no schedule. Besides, you’ll never get over it. In time, you will be OKI absolutely promise that—but you will never “get over it.”
  • Hug each other. Love each other. Forgive each other and yourselves. Forgive it all—the times you bite each other’s heads off, or you think someone did something inappropriate, or you don’t get someone’s feelings or they don’t get yours. Breathe in the pain, feel it, acknowledge it, don’t judge, and breathe out love.

If you are an educator who has survived a shooting, and you have other questions, leave it in the comments, email me (use the contact button above), or ask on Facebook. BTW, if you haven’t joined The Rebels Project and The Rebels Project for Educators on Facebook, look into it. The groups are nothing but support for survivors.

Posted in Columbine | 8 Comments

What’s Good About Facebook?

We have a love/hate relationship with this social media giant, don’t we? I see friends post about cleaning out their own friends list or unfriending because Facebook has made relationships toxic.  The news is rife with stories of data mining, privacy violations, and fake news. There is clickbait and cyberstalking. No wonder people check out for Lent or a host of other reasons.

But I see something else more often. I see people post their vulnerabilities. Expressions of depression or failure or pain. I’ve watched names shift as young people struggle with their identity and gender expression. And I know some see this as TMI, too much sharing, all that. But when I see these posts, I hear, “I am fundamentally flawed. Does anyone love me anyway?” And I see comments that express love and support. I see numbers ticking up next to tiny hearts and thumbs up. I see little round faces shedding sympathetic tears.

I suppose I could be all cynical and say that support isn’t real, but I’m not cynical, and while I know the depth of those responses is varied, I also know each one is a whispered, “I do. I love you anyway. Like you, I am fundamentally flawed, but I can offer some small measure of comfort, and so I will.”

There’s not a damned thing wrong with that. I know it does a lot of good sometimes.

To all my friends who have found themselves calling out into the wilderness of social media, “I am fundamentally flawed. Does anyone love me anyway?” I offer this poem, which was read in church this morning:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

translation by Coleman Barks

 

Posted in Life, the Universe, and Everything | Leave a comment

Red for Ed

After a weekend at a Labor Notes conference, I sit here in contract negotiations and reflect upon the fact that I have never done the most important things in my life alone. Having and raising kids was a team effort, not just between my husband and me, but other friends and family, as well. My classroom is synergy between my students and me, and my colleagues have made a huge impact, too. Of course, there was the recall in 2015. There are bigger things on the horizon, and for me, they start with wearing red to school tomorrow.

In 2013, when I joined a fairly small group of people who were determined to keep three people from taking over our schools and undermining our kids, I knew a lot of people thought we were taking on a Sisyphean task. “What’s the point of wearing blue on Thursdays?” they asked. “That won’t make any difference.” Actually, blue Thursdays was the start of something big. Red Tuesdays are even bigger.

Red for Ed Tuesdays began in West Virginia. I had the opportunity to hear a number of West Virginia’s teachers last weekend. You know about West Virginia, right? The lowest paid educators from some of the most poorly funded schools in the country, when the state decided to make major incursions into their health insurance, the educators decided to do something. They started with Red for Ed.

Why? What difference could a bunch of red shirts make? Well, for one thing, it built solidarity. It told every educator who was frustrated and scared, both of losing health insurance they could afford and of getting in trouble for making a fuss, that they were not alone. Later, it let their leaders know how many people were prepared to take action.

Teachers don’t usually do things that will impact their classrooms unless they think the impact will ultimately be positive. The state legislature of West Virginia may have thought a bunch of educators in red shirts was no problem, but they soon learned differently. For one thing, it wasn’t just licensed staff. It was bus drivers, food service workers, paraprofessionals–you know, the people who make the everyday operations of a school possible.

Eventually, a bunch of harmless red shirts escalated into a strike from February 22-March 7. Health insurance is a work in progress, but the strike brought the legislature to the table prepared to offer a 5% raise. As I write this, the Oklahoma teachers (after following the Red for Ed Tuesday message set by West Virginia) are in their second week of striking.

Do you really think red shirts on Tuesdays won’t deliver a powerful message to Colorado elected leaders? I think at this point those shirts could make leaders sweat on sight.

Colorado is in the bottom 5 states for educator salaries. If you think that the Colorado State legislature should make education a budget priority, if you think Jeffco’s school board should raise teacher salaries before they fund new positions in the Ed Center, then you know what to do tomorrow and every Tuesday after until we see action. Will one red shirt make a difference? Probably not. Thousands of red shirts? That’s power.

And while I’m talking about power, if you want attracting and retaining quality teachers to be a priority in Jeffco, let’s start seeing more of us at negotiations on Mondays.

Posted in Life, the Universe, and Everything | Leave a comment

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There are seven weeks left in the final semester of my classroom career. It’s been a difficult year. Teaching ACE has always been a challenge, and there have been countless rewards. One of them has been the often hard-earned respect of my students.

For well over twenty years of teaching this class, I left the classroom door unlocked so students could find a space in the school that felt like home. They could come use a computer for another class or just get a little peace and quiet. In all of those years, I have never had a single incident of vandalism or theft. This year, I have had to lock my door during lunch because of things being stolen from my office and issues with computers.

It is not uncommon at the beginning of the year to have to teach my students the basics of showing respect. Getting them to understand that promptness is a sign of respect. That owning it when you make a mistake is a strength and a step toward relationship building. One of the incredible rewards come spring has been looking out at kids who get to class on time and take responsibility in ways they didn’t before. There have always been kids who didn’t reach that point, but they were the exception, not the rule.

This year…

Don’t get me wrong. I do have some very respectful kids trying hard to get their lives on track. I often wonder if they get tired of walking into a classroom every day where respect is so undervalued by so many of their classmates.

I don’t know what’s changed. Is it me? Am I just tired and more sensitive than I used to be? Is it the world of adults that kids are modeling? A president who accepts no responsibility for anything? They come from rough backgrounds, and I get that, but I’ve had lots of students from rough backgrounds, and somehow we managed to eke out solid relationships built on mutual respect. Many of my students this year consider themselves disrespected whenever they are corrected. A significant number of them lie and talk back without compunction. Despite a year of trying to build them up, they still don’t understand that expectations are, in themselves, a sign of my respect–respect for their intelligence and potential. I used to be able to convince most kids that this was the case.

The hearts of kids have not changed. One-on-one, I get along well with almost all of my kids. I hear them speak so genuinely of their desire to achieve, to make something of themselves, to be respected by their peers and teachers. Some have figured it out, and they are on their way. Most this year are saying all the right words alone in the ACE office with me or the ACE paraeducator, then going out into the room and intentionally messing up the cooperative games we play or refusing to do any sort of work that is challenging, perfectly happy to take the F, even in an environment where, if you try, you cannot fail.

I’m feeling sad in this last year of my career, and because it is the last, I am sadder still. I am proud of the students who are succeeding. I just wish I had managed to figure how to get more of them to that place.

Addendum (March 22)

I don’t give up. It’s just not in me. Today, my students and I worked together to really dive into the idea of respect, into the specifics of moral values (which are fixed) and rules (which are too often twisted). They seemed engaged. One kid said it was the best lesson all year. Did it make a difference? Tomorrow will tell…

Addendum (March 23): Nada. Sigh.

Posted in Life, the Universe, and Everything | Leave a comment

To Arms?

Would I want to carry a gun in the classroom? I’ve been giving this some thought lately, in part because I’ve been answering this question for journalists, but more since I talked to my students about it Friday.

With journalists, I have started here: 1) The only way a gun is really of any use in a crisis is if it is loaded and on my person throughout the school day. 2) Given what I (and most teachers) wear, I cannot really conceal a weapon. 3) I am a 5’2”, 55-year-old woman. 4) Teenagers are developmentally impulsive. In a fit of pique, they are mostly just difficult, but a 6-foot, angry, impulsive boy can easily overcome me. 5) If I have a gun, and he takes it, you now have 6-foot, angry, impulsive boy with a gun he would not have otherwise had, and he is dangerous.

The response I often hear is that if I am not comfortable with a gun, I would not be made to carry one. Great. What if I decide that I am comfortable carrying a gun? How does that change any of the above? It doesn’t. It just means I’m armed and I have bad judgment.

That’s been my standard response, until I found myself talking to my students about it.

I looked into all their faces, and this is what I know: If one of my students pulled out a gun, I could not shoot him dead on the spot. Now, before you wonder whether or not I care about my other students, I want to ask you this: If your son or daughter pulled out a gun in the presence of your other children, could you shoot your child dead without hesitation? No? It’s no different for me. I would definitely hesitate. I would say, “Wait, Johnny, don’t make a decision that…”

And then I might well be dead, and that child would have a second loaded weapon that he did not have to begin with. And I’m sorry, but there would probably be other deaths to follow, and I’m even sorrier if they are any other children in that classroom that I love (which means any other child in that classroom, period). But if it’s your child who is holding the gun, and I don’t die, but manage to talk him down, you’ll be damned glad I couldn’t shoot.

If I have a gun, and I just shoot, none of us will ever know whether I could have talked him down, but that child’s parents and I will wonder for the rest of our lives, and honestly, mine would be pretty short, because I just couldn’t live with that. Then again, going through a shooting unarmed was very nearly the end of me anyway.

Now do you understand what you ask of a teacher when you ask her to carry a gun, or if you ask her not to?

This is why we have to do better at keeping guns out of kids’ hands. I don’t have immediate suggestions. Honestly, I don’t feel like I have enough information, but this whole “it’s too soon to talk about it,” and “don’t politicize it,” and our refusal to contextualize the Second Amendment (either in today’s terms or in the terms explicitly stated by the framers of the Constitution) is absurd.

Don’t ask me whether I love my students enough to defend them with a gun or too much to shoot one of them. Ask this country whether we love all of our children enough to get serious about objectively gathering the data we need to make good policy and then making good policy.

Posted in Columbine, Education, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Politics | 5 Comments