Teacher dies protecting students

A Marine veteran, Michael Landsberry survived two tours in Afghanistan with the Nevada Air National Guard. The Sparks (Nevada) middle school math teacher died trying to disarm a student yesterday. The 12-year-old shooter also wounded two boys, who are in stable condition, before killing himself.

“Mr. Landsberry’s heroic actions, by stepping toward the shooter, allowed time for other students in the playground area to flee,” said Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras.

Before opening fire, the boy said, “Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me?,” according to student Michelle Hernandez.

The boy used a Ruger 9 mm semiautomatic handgun that belonged to his parents, police said.

“The relentless, inflexible and unyielding focus on ‘test-taking’ and school rankings and scores” is to blame, writes Debra Feemster, a former Sparks principal, on Diane Ravitch’s blog. “If one teacher, counselor or administrator had had a few extra minutes to look into this student’s eyes and possibly connected with him in a meaningful way, maybe this catastrophe could have been averted.”

“Think of the children whose social and emotional needs are ignored in pursuit of test scores,” Ravitch writes.

Feemster and Ravitch are accusing Sparks Middle School staffers of ignoring students’ “social and emotional needs” and failing to prevent the shooting.

Let’s honor Mr. Landsberry’s courage and decency. Let’s not politicize a tragedy.

Calgary school: ‘We don’t condone heroics’

Seventh-grader Briar MacLean pushed a knife-wielding bully away from his victim — and was reprimanded for “playing the hero,” reports the National Post (Canada).  The Calgary, Alberta school “does not condone heroics,” the principal told MacLean’s mother.

Briar, 13, saw the bully poke and prod his victim, then put him in a headlock. He heard a flick and heard classmates “say there was a knife.” Briar shoved the bully into a wall, stopping the fight.

The teacher, who was at the other end of the room, noticed and called the principal. The boy with the knife was suspended. Several periods later, Briar was called to the office and kept there for the rest of the day. The police searched his locker. The vice-principal called Briar’s mother, Leah O’Donnell, to say he’d done the wrong thing by not waiting for the teacher.

“I asked: ‘In the time it would have taken him to go get a teacher, could that kid’s throat have been slit?’ She said yes, but that’s beside the point. That we ‘don’t condone heroics in this school.’ ”

O’Donnell says “she understands the school’s desire to keep students from getting hurt, but fears it is teaching the wrong lesson,” reports the Post. Students should learn to stand up to bullies and help each other, she believes.

Running away, tattling usually just make things worse. . . . Most of the time bullies back down when confronted, she added.

“What are we going to do if there are no heroes in the world? There would be no police, no fire, no armed forces. If a guy gets mugged on the street, everyone is going to run away and be scared or cower in the corner. It’s not right.”

“What are we teaching these children?” asked Briar’s mother in a letter to the Calgary Sun “When did we decide as a society to allow our children to grow up without spines? Without a decent sense of the difference between right and wrong?”

Update: An 11-year-old Maryland boy on a school bus said, “I wish I had a gun to protect everyone at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was suspended for 10 days. His son “wanted to be the hero,” said Bruce Henkelman.

The boy was questioned by the principal and a sheriff’s deputy, who wanted to search the family home for firearms, Henkelman said. He refused. The suspension later was reduced to one day.

After Sandy Hook, what can we do?

There’s little we can do to prevent another school massacre, writes Megan McArdle. Confiscating 300 million semi-automatic weapons now in private hands is unconstitutional and politically impossible. So is locking up mentally ill people who haven’t hurt anyone and probably never will. So is banning the media from naming killers.

My guess is that we’re going to get a law anyway, and my hope is that it will consist of small measures that might have some tiny actual effect, like restrictions on magazine capacity.  I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

But I doubt we’re going to tell people to gang rush mass shooters, because that would involve admitting that there is no mental health service or “reasonable gun control” which is going to prevent all of these attacks.  Which is to say, admitting that we have no box big enough to completely contain evil.

The odds that any school will be attacked are very, very small. The money elementary schools spend on armed guards or police officers is money that can’t be spent on a reading specialist to get struggling students on track, a music teacher to motivate kids, a counselor to work with kids years before they became angry loners, etc.

At the elementary school where I tutor, one of the first grade teachers had locked her door on Wednesday. I knocked and a kid let me in to pick up my tutee. My other first grader ran up to me as I was leaving, smiled and “shot” me three times with his finger. He smiled again and ran off to join the recess crowd. I have no idea what that meant. Probably nothing. Earlier, he’d pretended he was an airplane as we walked along. He’s a little boy.

The lesson of Sandy Hook for education reformers is to honor the heroism of teachers and administrators and “tone down any rhetoric that implies that a typical teacher isn’t committed to doing right by her or his students,” writes Mike Petrilli, the father of two young boys.

That’s not to say we should relax our efforts to identify and remove ineffective teachers from the classroom; just as there’s the occasional bad cop, there’s the occasional bad teacher. Like the police force, the teaching force is much stronger without them. But neither should we ignore indications from the field that many teachers, including great teachers, have been feeling unappreciated, villainized, and blamed.

“Let us commit to bringing America’s heroic teachers and school leaders along with us on the path to reform, not to view them as the targets of reform—or of our scorn.”

Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it

Celebrate boys’ boyness – and work with it writes Margaret Wente in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

I sat down with several people who think about this question every day – Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College; his colleagues Scott Cowie and Mary Gauthier; and Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

Our culture is deeply uncertain about the value of masculinity, says Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition.

For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents? When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.

No wonder so many boys are so miserable. The modern world of extended years in school and delayed adulthood cuts them off from what they need most.

Boys also need to imagine themselves as heroes, says Jim Power, the principal of Upper Canada College. To girls, Vimy Ridge is a “horrific” place where many Canadian soldiers died in World War I.  When boys are asked about Vimy Ridge,  they imagine themselves there. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”

These days, “boys are often treated as a problem,” Wente writes.

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening. Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

Boys’ schools take another track, celebrating “boyness,” Wente writes.

Several public school systems have launched all-boys’ schools for failing boys. In New York, the Eagle Academy for Young Men is achieving impressive results for minority boys in a tough neighbourhood. These schools demand a lot. Their ethos is: We’ll help you succeed, but we’ll be tough on you, and you must claim responsibility. (By contrast, the attitude of Ontario’s public schools toward difficult boys is: We’ll let you pass if you leave us alone.)

But schools can’t give boys what they really need, Wente writes. They need “men who will guide, instruct, esteem, respect and understand them,” that is, fathers.