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.

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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.

Lesson
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.

The Media and Bernie Sanders

I like Bernie Sanders.  I like his ideas, and I like his approach to campaigning.  Out of all the candidates that have officially announced their candidacy for president, only Sanders has outlined sensible policies to take care of the American people.  He is also the only candidate to have drawn a crowd of 10,000 supporters.  So why does the media label him an “underdog” or a “long shot?”  Here a just a few examples of what I’m talking about.

“Bernie Sanders has been running for president for two months, but Wednesday night in Madison, Wisconsin, his long-shot campaign got real.”- Dan Merica, CNN, July 2

“The haul marks a strong performance for the underdog candidate, but still puts him well behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.”- John Wagner, The Washington Post, July 2

“The Vermont senator is winning over progressive voters and has raised millions in small donations. Could this underdog campaign have a fighting chance?”- Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs, The Guardian, July 3

“Bernie Sanders an Unlikely Source of Competition for Hillary Clinton”- Good Morning America, ABC, July 3

I get that Hillary Clinton is the “big-name” nominee, and I understand that she has a well-oiled political machine already in place.  I also know that a lot of people have been waiting for 2016 to see her run.  When the media, however, has all but crowned her the Democratic nominee, what message does that send about our political system?  What does this mean for democracy?

I see the media portrayal as having two possible effects.  First, people love to root for the underdog.  As such, the more the media says Sanders doesn’t have a chance, the more support he’ll receive.  Second, it could take support away from Sanders because people also like the sure thing.  They don’t want to feel like their support is wasted on somebody who might not be the nominee.

What are your thoughts?  Will the media’s portrayal of Sanders help, or hurt, his chances?

Thanks for reading.

Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Kickoff

On Tuesday, May 26, Sen. Bernie Sanders gave his official campaign kickoff speech in Burlington, VT.  He spoke for about thirty-five minutes, first describing the problems of the United States and then outlining his agenda to fix them.  In the video clip below, he takes the stage at around 40:00.

One of the things that stood out to me was his perception of the American political process.  Early on he proposed, “Now is not the time for thinking small.  Now is not the time for the same old, same old establishment politics and stale-inside-the-beltway ideas.”  Given that many pundits and policymakers have argued either the U.S. is in decline or others are catching up, we need big, bold reforms.  The U.S. is no longer “Number 1” in many areas (especially social indicators).

Even though the U.S. is stagnating, Sen. Sanders has a plan to “revitalize American democracy.” The national voter turnout in the 2014 midterm elections was around 36 percent- the lowest since the Second World War.  The Pew Research Center conducted a poll in the wake of the midterms, part of which looked at reasons why non-voters did not vote.  Here is what they found:

Why Some Didn't Vote (p.21)

Although he probably did not plan on it, Sen. Sanders addressed the “Didn’t like vote choices/didn’t care/didn’t know enough” crowd during yesterday’s speech.  He talked about the lack of confidence and feeling of cynicism pervading the American electorate and how he wanted to reach out to voters.  His campaign, he argued, “will not be driven by political gossip or reckless personal attacks.”  He went on to say that the problems facing the U.S. require “serious debates,” and the media must not turn the campaigns into game shows or soap operas.  This kind of talk (and subsequent action) should help decrease that 20 percent who didn’t care or know enough.

Among the issues that ail the U.S., Sen. Sanders focused on wealth and income inequality, poverty, the decline of the middle class, campaign finance, and climate change.  He proposed to increase the current minimum wage of $7.25 (a “starvation wage”) to $15 (a “living wage”) over the next few years and to introduce a progressive tax system.  One way to create good-paying jobs, he said, is to invest in infrastructure.  Additionally, Sanders discussed the idea of universal pre-K education and making public universities tuition-free.  He lashed out at conservative donors the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson for their role in distorting the democratic process and argued for public funding of elections.

Sen. Sanders introduced his agenda as a “simple, straightforward progressive agenda which speaks to the needs of the American people” which would bring about a “very different America.”  If people took the time to listen to Sanders and read about his ideas, I think they would realize that he is exactly what America needs right now.  No other candidate has such a clear vision and agenda.  It is indeed time for a political revolution.

Thanks for reading.

College For All

On May 19, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the “College For All Act,” calling for the elimination of “tuition and related fees” at public universities in the United States.  In his speech he gave a number of reasons for his plan, including the fact that 40 million Americans have $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, and many European countries have eliminated their tuition and fees. In essence, he argued that a university education should be a right.

This last concept was introduced back in 1966 in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  Article 13(2)(c) states, “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”  Since then, all but a handful of states have ratified the Covenant– Comoros, Cuba, Palau, Sao Tome and Principe, and the U.S.  In other words, the U.S. is not keeping up with international standards.  We are an exception in the global community.

Since I previously wrote a post comparing the U.S. and Scandinavia, I will not go in to what he said about other countries.  Suffice it to say, he is correct that those countries have eliminated tuition and fees.

Let’s get to the nitty gritty of it all- the cost of eliminating tuition and fees at public universities.  In his plan, the federal government pays for 67% of the total tuition and fees, while the states pick up the remaining 33%.  In order for the federal government to pay for their part, Sanders introduced a tax on Wall Street.  This means that taxpayers have to foot the bill for the state portion.  Being the curious person that I am, I wanted to figure out what that would be here in Wisconsin.

Most of the data I used came from the UW System Fact Book, 2013-2014.  I started by calculating the total number of undergraduates (Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors only) at each of the UW universities and colleges.  The Fact Book was kind enough to have already split those numbers up into resident and non-residents, although it did not break down non-residents into reciprocity students and non-reciprocity students.  This is important because the cost of tuition for the former is cheaper than for the latter group.  The Fact Book also has the tuition/fees for each institution, again making my life a bit easier.  Since it did not break down students by full time or part time and reciprocity or non-reciprocity, I made everybody full time and the reciprocity students into non-reciprocity students.  This means that my calculations will actually be at the maximum level.  As such, the total amount of undergraduate tuition/fees paid in 2013-2014 for all 26 UW universities and colleges would be $1,513,092,675.  Again, that is higher than actual because of my methodology (making everybody full time and charging all non-residents the out-of-state tuition/fees.)  Under Sen. Sanders’ plan, the federal government’s bill would be $1,013,772,092, leaving $499,320,583 for Wisconsin residents.

To figure out the amount for Wisconsin residents, I used the population numbers from 2013.  Since I could not find numbers for the amount of taxpayers that year, I divided the $499.3 million evenly among those employed in July 2013 (2,887,850).  The resulting amount would be $172.90 per employed person.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that rate stays the same for 45 years (putting your employment age from 15-60) and that the employment numbers stay the same.  If you paid $172.90 each year for 45 years, you would pay a total of $7,780.50; the weighted average of tuition/fees in 2013-14 was $7,232.  Over four years that average amounts to $28,928, but you only paid $7,780.50; in other words you pay for one year over your working lifetime and get three years of university education for free.  On top of that, the average debt of borrowers for the UW system as a whole in 2013-2014 was $29,219.  Eliminating tuition and fees just about wipes out that debt, giving students a chance to get on their feet after leaving the university.

While this is not exact, it does give us a ballpark figure.  It clearly shows that eliminating tuition/fees at public universities is actually a better deal than our current system.  As such, I hope that the public will give Sen. Sanders’ plan serious consideration.

Thanks for reading.