Arming Teachers: A Response to Donald Trump

In the wake of the mass shooting last week at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, Donald Trump had this to say, “Let me tell you, if you had a couple teachers with guns in that room, you would have been a hell of a lot better off.”

We’ve heard this argument before, most notably after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.  As a high school teacher, and as a veteran of the U.S. military, I’ve finally had enough of this argument.  Arming teachers is not the solution.

Let’s look at this from a logistical standpoint.  Where do we store the firearms and ammunition?  In our classroom?  In a safe somewhere in the school?  It defeats the purpose of arming teachers only to have them run through the school during a shooting to get the ammunition, thereby leaving their students, and then to have to run back through the school to their classrooms.  Let me tell you, if somebody decided to begin shooting in my school, there is no way I would ever leave my students.  EVER.  For this preposterous proposal to work, both the firearm and ammunition would have to be stored in the teacher’s classroom.  “Hi kids, welcome back to school, it’s going to be a great year!  That?  Oh, that’s just my M16A2 in case of a mass shooting.  Don’t you feel safer now?”

Now that the teacher has both a firearm and the ammunition in the classroom, what’s going to stop students from overpowering the teacher and starting a mass shooting?  To make sure this does not happen, the ammunition would have to be stored in a safe somewhere else in the building, bringing us back to the point I made above.

In addition to the logistics of storage, we also have to discuss training.  We cannot just give teachers firearms and expect them to know what to do in case of emergency; now we need to have marksmanship training and qualification.  Would they have to break it down in a certain amount of time, just like in basic training?  How about cleaning the weapons?  That’s always a fun task with a bore brush and the little pads that leave the strings behind.  Would this be in lieu of professional development?  “No more pedagogy or content for us this year, instead, we’re focusing on Breathe-Relax-Aim-Squeeze.”  When would we go to the firing range- the weekend, after school?  It couldn’t be during the day because, oh that’s right, we’re busy teaching.  Of course, once school is over we have loads of free time on our hands, so this training would be a welcome respite from sitting around with nothing to do.

If arming teachers is not the solution, which it clearly is not, then what is?  More police presence in the schools?  We already have one police liaison at my school, do we need to add more?  If we do, who pays for that?  Since Mr. Trump and his ilk would like to lower taxes, that plan won’t work; therefore, we would have to eliminate teaching positions to bring in more police officers.  Why would we want more teachers, when we could have more police?

Maybe, instead of arming teachers, we should improve school infrastructure to keep students safe.  Build fences around the school at least ten feet tall with razor wire at the top.  After that, construct guard towers to make sure would-be assailants can be spotted before they get in.  Within the school itself, it would be wise to build doors that could be shut and locked (from some sort of central command structure) to limit mobility in case of a mass shooting.  Finally, we could increase police presence to get a ratio of 1 per 4-5 inmates (I mean students).

Since arming teachers and turning schools into prisons are not logical solutions, then what’s left?  Gun control?  That would be absurd.

Thanks for reading.

Lessons from Europe: Child Allowance

Governments in both the United States and Europe recognize that having children places greater financial burden on parents.  In the U.S., the federal government has in place the Child Tax Credit.  Taxpayers with children “may be able to reduce [their] federal income tax by up to $1,000 for each qualifying child under the age of 17.”  The problem with the CTC is that it is taxpayers might qualify for the credit, and even then, the amount might not be the maximum of $1,000.  In Europe, on the other hand parents receive monthly allowances to help with the costs of raising children.

Children’s Allowances
Instead of listing the amount for each country, I am going to use Germany, Great Britain, and Sweden as examples.   In Germany, parents receive an allowance called Kindergeld.  According to the German Embassy in the U.S., “In 2010 the amount paid for a couple’s first child was raised 20 euro to a sum of 184 euro per month [$207] per child. For a second child, parents receive an additional 184 euro per month and for a third or fourth child, 190 [$214] and 215 [$242] euro respectively.  Parents or guardians are eligible to receive Kindergeld at least until the child’s 18th birthday.”    So, a family with three children, for example, would receive 558 euro [$628] per month.  That makes the $1,000 CTC seem quite paltry.

In Great Britain, parents receive £20.70 per week [$32] for the eldest or only child, and £13.70 [$21] per additional child.  Going back to our family with three children, that comes to around £192.40 [$296] per month.

Finally, in Sweden, “Child allowance is SEK 1 050 per child [$124]. The amount of large family supplement depends on how many child allowances you receive.”  The allowance is paid every month up until the age of sixteen.  Under this policy, our family of three would receive SEK 3754 [$443.11] per month.  Here’s a helpful chart breaking this down:

Swedish Child Allowance
Swedish Child Allowance

For more information, the EU has a great website called the “European Platform for Investing in Children,” which includes country profiles and summarizes each Member State’s policies.

If American legislators were truly concerned about family values, they would enact policies to establish children’s allowances.  The CTC does not even come close to helping parents with the costs associated with raising children.  An extra $300-400 per month could mean the difference between a parent working a second job or not.  Receiving children’s allowances could also help improve child nutrition, which in turn, helps with the health of a child and could reduce healthcare costs.  According to UNICEF, the child poverty rate in the U.S. in 2012 was 32.2%, up from 30.1% in 2008.  A monthly child allowance could reduce our rate of child poverty.

Change in Child Poverty
Change in Child Poverty

It should be noted that there is one case where parents can receive a monthly children’s allowance in the U.S.- foster care.  Here in Wisconsin, foster parents can receive between $232 and $499 per month, depending on the level of care.  If a state government realizes that a monthly allowance is helpful to cover the basic needs of foster children, why doesn’t every family, regardless of whether they have foster children or not, receive one?

Thanks for reading.

Book Idea: Cycling The Iron Curtain Trail

I first learned about the Iron Curtain Trail last summer.  I don’t remember how I found out about it then, but it popped up again this year in an article from the German Embassy.  Both times I read about it I thought it would be great to bike the trail and then write a book about it.  Up until now, I’ve kept this idea to myself because I thought it would be too “out there.”

I envision focusing on three topics- the history of the Cold War, remembering the Cold War, and bicycle/sustainable tourism.  We learn about the American side of the Cold War but very little about the European states, especially the ones along the Iron Curtain.  Sure, we’re taught about Berlin (Airlift, Wall, 1989, etc.), maybe a little about East Berlin in 1953 or Hungary in 1956, the Prague Spring, and of course, the events of 1989.  With this book, however, I want to tell the story of the Iron Curtain states and the experiences of the people living there during the Cold War.  Perhaps I could also talk about the current tensions between the West and Russia, to draw some parallels.

I would also like to see how people living along the trail memorialize the Cold War.  What types of monuments or memorials do they have, if any?  If they don’t have them, why not?  What do they teach about the Cold War in school?

The third topic is more about what Americans can learn about bicycle/sustainable tourism.  I’d like to talk with government officials and citizens about the effects of cycling on their towns, villages, cities, etc.  How do they promote bicycle/sustainable tourism?  What’s worked, and what hasn’t?  Cities in Western Europe, e.g. Copenhagen, Amsterdam, receive a lot of attention for their bicycle-friendly cultures (and rightly so), but I would like to give these Iron Curtain cities a chance to showcase their achievements.  Finally, I want to explore the role of the EU and The Greens in this project and write about their successes and obstacles to the project.

As a side note- if this dream were to somehow become a reality, I would blog about the experience in addition to gathering material for the book.

While this sounds like an amazing idea to me, the reality is that I don’t even know where to begin with proposing it.  (That’s sort of why I’m writing this blog post and hoping that somebody has some ideas)  I would have to take sabbatical, but those aren’t paid, so I would need to find funding to take the place of my salary.  Do I look for sponsors in the cycling world?  European sponsors?

As for publishing, do I find a publisher before or after funding?  This isn’t a scholarly monograph, so university presses are out of the running, but then what type of book is it?  History/policy/travel/sport?

Finally, I have to take my family into account.  I can’t just pack up and leave my wife and kids for months while I cycle the trail (or can I? hhmmmm).  Do we take the year off and homeschool the kids while we’re in Europe?  I think it would be a tremendous experience for my kids, but could they handle traveling for an extended period of time?  We would also need to find money to make up for my wife’s salary, as well as lodging while we travel from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea.  What kind of sponsors could we find who are willing to pay for two teachers to take their children on a bicycle tour in Europe?

If anybody has any ideas about how to make this whole thing happen, I would love to hear them.

Thanks for reading.

Lessons from Europe: Political Gatherings

For the second post in my series, “Lessons from Europe,” I want to discuss the political gatherings in Sweden and Denmark- Almedalen and Folkemødet.  These two showcase what politics and democracy should be about, and they should be copied by states here in the U.S.

Almedalen and Folkemødet
Almedalen and Folkemødet are week-long gatherings for political parties, politicians, journalists, NGOs, non-profits, citizens, and more.  Almedalen has been running for over forty years and actually inspired Denmark to start Folkemødet.  The Swedish gathering is eight days and is organized by the parliamentary parties.  In 2014 it had over 3,500 seminars/panels in its program with topics ranging from foreign policy to healthcare to transportation policy.  In addition to the daily seminars, “the leaders from each of Sweden’s 8 political parties hold speeches every night. They use it as a opportunity to focus their party’s message, put forth new policies or take potshots at their opponents.” (Radio Sweden, “What is Almedalen?“)  Even the Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, spoke at the gathering.

The Folkemødet characterizes its gathering as “a meeting of people and politicians, where Bornholm provides the venue for Danish politicians to debate current political issues.”  This year the gathering was held for five days and included over 2,700 seminars/panels, with “767 parties, organizations and companies participating as organizers of events.” (2015 Organizers)  This year, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, Rufus Gifford, participated in a panel on TTIP.  In fact, the tweet below is how I learned about Folkemødet (and then Almedalen).


The lessons for the U.S. is that we need to have gatherings like Almedalen and Folkemødet in each of the states.  Here in Wisconsin, the two main political parties hold annual conventions over the course of a weekend.  When you’re limiting the voices heard to those of one party, that’s not really the foundation for substantial, vigorous discussion.  I attended one convention, and it was certainly energizing for members of the party, but that was about it.

Given the increasing cynicism of the American electorate towards our two-party system, we should strive to hold week-long gatherings with voices from all state parties.  In Wisconsin, that means including the Libertarian Party, Green Party, and the Constitution Party.  Additionally, we should also hear from the hundreds of non-profits and journalists in the state.  The more voices that participate and are heard, the better for our system.

While it would be great to have such a gathering, I have to wonder if it is even possible in our current political climate.  Polarization has increased over the years, and hateful, ignorant rhetoric makes civilized political discussions rare.  Can Americans move beyond that and hold a gathering like those in Sweden or Denmark?  If not, then what does that say about our future?

Thanks for reading.


Ways for Embassies to Engage America’s Youth

I recently saw a job posted by an embassy in Washington, DC, looking for someone to help with youth engagement across the United States.  Since this is an area I am passionate about, I immediately began brainstorming.  The three ideas that I think have the most potential utilize social media, Model UN, and teacher materials.

Most embassies already use social media as a tool for digital diplomacy.  Personnel could use that to engage with both students and teachers across the United States.  For example, I was able to have somebody from the Italian Embassy speak to my students via Skype (not exactly social media, but still a form of engagement via the internet).  Additionally, embassies, or their consulates, could hold Twitter chats.  If they have exchange programs, they could encourage students to post photos to Instagram or Flickr.

Model UN is an opportunity for students to be engaged in international politics, diplomacy, and global issues in an academic setting.  There are a number of conferences held across the country each year from coast to coast, including at least two in Washington, DC.  These would be great opportunities for embassies to hold sessions on their role in the world and international organizations.  As our school’s Model UN advisor, I try to set up trips to the consulates in Chicago when we attend the conferences there.  In the past, we’ve visited the consulates for Greece, Canada, and Mexico.  All of the trips were 1-2 hours long and provided students an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the respective countries.

Finally, one of the most effective ways to reach students is through their teachers.  Reaching one high school teacher, for example, means reaching approximately one hundred students.  If embassies had lesson plans on their country, relations with the US, or more, it would exponentially increase its reach among American youth.  For example, the UK embassy could create lesson plans for AP Comparative Government and Politics (as it is one of the six countries teachers are mandated to teach), AP US History, AP European History, AP English Lit, and so on.  When I taught my students about the UK under Thatcher, I used videos from The Specials and Madness.

These are just three ideas that embassies in Washington, DC, could use to engage American students.  If you’ve got any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.