Still Holding the Wrong Conversations

“Kanai, the dreamers have everyone to speak for them,’ she said, ‘But those who try to be strong, who try to build things – no one ever sees any poetry in that, do they?”
Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide


My social media feed continues to be overridden with calls for “reasonable” gun control laws, or some other variation of that. The heightened calls come in response to the recent tragedy at Covenant School here in Nashville.

Seven lives were lost that day, and three political careers were jettisoned forward. Some of you may object to that statement, but it’s the reality.

The day wasn’t even over before marches were being organized and rallies were being planned. Families affected were provided scant time to mourn before the tragedy was co-opted.

Later in the week, three politicians – Gloria Johnson, Justin Pearson, and Justin Jones – were so overwhelmed by concerns over gun safety, that they took over the well of the Tennessee State House to draw attention to the danger posed by guns. They positioned themselves as representatives of a community, that sans tragedy, they would never interact with.

There is no affinity between those who attend the white Christian conservative private school and those lawmakers who frequently call fellow lawmakers “racist” and decry anyone who chooses a charter school as working to undermine democracy.

Yet, here we are.

The three are now hailed as folk heroes, perfect representatives for an era that celebrates style or substance. The only thing accomplished this year by the three is to disrupt proceedings – nearly every bill they objected to still passed – and perhaps energize a few Democrats that were previously lethargic. They have also forced fellow Democrats to spend large amounts of political capital that they’ve spent years building, with little in return. The only question left is will this affect elections in 18 months.

Maybe, but remember we are in an age of diminished attention spans. How much of what happens today will merely be a footnote in 18 months?

I just thought of something…I wonder if it is too late to copyright “fascist”…you know like, Pat Riley did with ‘three-peat”? Note to self.

Here’s the thing, without the tragedy at Covenant, we are not even talking about new gun laws right now. As much as the three decry a lack of concern over the safety of constituents by their political opponents, prior to the shooting they weren’t offering much themselves. There were no laws brought forth by any of the three activist lawmakers that addressed gun access, let alone any proposed actions that would have prevented the events at Covenant.

Yes, there were some bills from the Republicans addressing school safety, that would have arguably mitigated the threat had they been in place, and a few actual common sense gun bills, brought forth by Democrats, about securing guns that likely would have passed sans the political theater that ensued after the shooting. But we were not holding the conversation that we are holding right now focusing on semi-automatic weapons and red-flag laws. A conversation that I would argue, is the wrong conversation.

A Washington Post article from 2018, revealed the long history of school violence by pointing out that the first recorded school shooting in the United States took place in 1840 when a law student shot and killed his professor at the University of Virginia. He closes with a warning, “The real lesson we need to learn is this: We need not just reasonable gun control, but also a bit more self-control over our emotions and instincts if we want to keep ourselves and our kids safer.”

The article’s author, David Ropier, a retired Harvard Instructor and a risk communications consultant further warns of the danger of focusing on the wrong thing:

Another effect of this disproportionate fear is to direct attention to the risks we’re most afraid of and away from those that actually pose the greatest threat. Far more kids are shot outside school than in one — 7,100 a year between 2012 and 2014 , or 19 every day (compared with about 60 shootings at schools each year, according to the Gun Violence Archive). More than 1,000 of them die. Fear focused on military-style “assault” rifles diverts attention from the larger issue of gun control, which has much more to do with the lethality of guns generally than with what the machine looks like.

All the focus, and all the interviews on MNBC, address automatic weapons and the threat of a mass shooter. Despite such an occurrence still being considered a rarity. You know what’s not a rarity, yet nobody is talking about it? Guns brought to school by students.

According to Metro Nashville’s Police Department (MNPD), 18 guns have been recovered at Nashville schools since the start of the 2022-23 school year. That averages out to more than two guns per month since the beginning of the school year eight months ago in August 2022. That’s twice a month for 9 months that students were at a heightened risk of either being shot or killed.

Thirteen reported seizures occurred at Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) schools. Two occurred at private schools – Covenant Elementary and Ezell Harding – and one at a charter school – KIPP High School. Officers recovered two guns from one individual at Whites Creek and East Magnet.

How many of those involved semi-automatic weapons?

None. Per the MNPD:

8/25/2022 Whites Creek HS Ruger .38 Rolver
8/25/2022 Whites Creek HS Smith Wesson .38 Revolver
8/25/2022 Kipp HS Smith Wesson 9mm
9/6/2022 Glencliff HS Taurus 9mm
9/19/2022 Maplewood HS Smith and Wesson 9mm
9/23/2022 Pearl Cohn HS TCP 380
9/28/2022 Pearl Cohn HS ACP High Point 380
10/20/2022 East HS Smith and Wesson 9mm
10/20/2022 East HS Glock 19 9mm
11/16/2022 Ezell Harding Not listed
11/21/2022 Hunters Lane Ruger .22
11/29/2022 Hillwood HS Beretta 9mm
1/18/2023 Whites Creek HS .38 Caliber
1/18/2023 East HS Glock . 40 cal
3/3/2023 Maplewood HS        Smith and Wesson 40             caliber
3/20/2023 Hillsboro HS Springfield XD9
3/27/2023 Overton HS Taurus 9mm
3/27/2023 Covenant HS Active Shooter (listed on Twitter)

Metro police recovered 13 guns over the entire 2021-2022 school year. With two months remaining in the school year, the number of guns recovered to date by MNPD equals those of last year. In 2023, gun reports have been confined to high schools, unlike last year, where guns were found in middle and elementary schools.

Yet, from the city and from the school district there is silence.

How would a single one of the proposed “common sense” gun laws protect students put at risk by a fellow student who brings a gun to school?

Now consider the school safety bill that passed the General Assembly this Spring. In response to parent concerns and the recent tragedy, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), and legislative leaders passed additional legislation to strengthen safety at public and private schools across Tennessee. These measures include enhanced legislation and funding to place an armed security guard at every Tennessee public school, boost physical school security at public and private schools, and provide additional mental health resources for Tennesseans.

Do I like the bill? Not particularly, but it is an effort and it reflects the challenges of the times.

Do I like that these are the times we live in? No.

Do I think the implementation of Security Resource Officers is the ultimate solution?

No. Funding an initiative is not the same as implementing it. There is funding for a full-time nurse in every school, but that has not come to fruition because attracting qualified candidates is difficult, as is the actual work.

The same will likely hold true with SROs.

According to MNPD, 38 SROs cover all 13 comprehensive MNPS public high schools and a magnet school that was not named for security reasons. These same SROs also rotate among the district’s middle schools.

Per Mainstreet Nashville, a police spokesperson said that in addition to SROs, overtime officers are working the School Safety Initiative in the mornings and afternoons at many elementary schools, a plan begun after the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.

So we have a ways to go.

Immediately after this year’s General Assembly recessed for the year, Governor Lee announced that he planned to call lawmakers back for a special session to consider gun legislation, or in his words, “strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights.”. What that means is anyone’s guess.

Publicly he embraced his version of “red flag laws”, or as he calls them, “order of protection” laws. Remember, this guy is the same one who refers to “vouchers” as “educational savings accounts”.

I’m a little wary of any special session proposed by Lee. The wounds from the last special session are still a little too fresh. Where do you think “third-grade retention” and increased oversight from the TDOE came from? What makes you believe a special session on guns won’t produce even less desirable legislation?

If the Governor does actually set a date, I’m going to secure a food truck and prepare to rake in the bucks.

You know every advocacy group in the nation from the far right to the far left, and everywhere in between, will bring their 72 slide trombones and big bass drum to the Capitol. So I might as well make something productive come out of it by serving up some vittles.

in the wake of Covenant, some have accused me of being a tool for the Right. Well, you are free to believe what you like, but rest assured I have no allegiance to either party. My allegiance lies with doing the right thing, as opposed to just doing something. Right now, we are in danger of doing the latter, at the expense of the former.

It’s kinda ironic, Jerry Springer died this week. It’s a shame because what we are seeing these days is a direct descendant of what he fertilized with his show and he would have loved it.

Rest in peace Jerry, your legacy lives on and only grows.

– – –

This has been a standardized testing week for Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). Two solid weeks of TCAP. ELA, and Social Studies last week. Math, and Science this week. At my kids’ school they are having so much fun, that they’ve added I-Ready today, and Monday it is the state’s required screener, Fastbridge.

Let me tell you, that the report from the backseat of the KIA Sorrento is…the kids aint happy. And if the kids ain’t happy, or at least open, how are you getting reliable data?

Don’t blame the schools, they’ve tried to keep students engaged. My kids’ school has started each week with a pep rally. God bless those teachers, because if I had to lead a cheer of, “you say T”, “I say Cap”, “TCAP”, I’d likely start drinking again. Hell, I might even consider smack.

The problem is easily explained, there are too many tests, that are too long, and kids don’t see too few tangible results in a timely fashion. My son, who never buys into these assessments, said to me earlier in the week, “I wish we saw results back sooner.”

Hmmm…do you think he might be more engaged if he did? Nah… let’s lead another cheer.

What about those high achievers? Do you think those 8th graders feel like they have anything left to prove to you? Or are they just counting down the minutes until they are done with this chapter?

Yet…once again…here we are…staging more Kabuki theater, which does nothing but set up more Kabuki theater.

Now don’t assume, I’m opposed to an assessment that allows me to compare student grades with kids that attend a school other than theirs. Just a quick check to ensure that there is alignment. I’m on board with that.

But this, it ain’t working. And now we are threatening to hold 8 years olds hostage because they maybe don’t buy into our flawed measurement system.

All you adults in the back row, raise your hand if since you’ve left school, you’ve been submitted to 2 straight weeks of assessments in your professional life?

Yea…I thought so.

– – –

Mayor John Cooper gave his last State of Metro speech this week. The speech offers a preview of the city budget that he’ll present to the Metro Council this week. Cooper’s 2023 budget proposal will feature an additional $100 million for Nashville schools.

Now the Mayor can’t tell Metro Schools what to fund, but the $100 million should cover just everything on the aspirational budget put forth by the MNPS school board.

Keep in mind that federal ESSER money runs out after the next school year, and hard decisions about what to keep and what to let go of will need to be made. Those kept will need to be funded through a combination of city and state dollars. With the budget now stretching to nearly $1.25 billion annually, those will be hearty conversations.

The increase comes at a time when MNPS’s student population growth is flat and areas around Nashville are experiencing rapid growth. Tammy Sharpe, Chair of the Rutherford County School Board (RCS) recently told The Star Network, “Rutherford County seems to be currently the “it” county and the donut ring around Davidson County and we are literally scheduled to have about 7,000 more students come to our area between now and 2026, and we are already busting at the seams.”

This growth factored into their decision to approve a charter application for American Classical Academy to open up in 2024, “So I think my board member saw it as a way of a partnership and a relationship with someone who wants to come in and provide the money upfront for the brick-and-mortar. That’s something that taxpayers don’t have to pay and help us because our county is in debt.” Sharpe added, “We just went to the county commission and asked for $160 million for three annexes, and those annexes are really only going to get students out of portables on those school campuses. We’re excited. It’s a different curriculum.”

It’s safe to say that other LEAs in Tennessee will face similar decisions, and ultimately MNPS may be forced to reconsider their approach to charter schools. This week they denied three applicants.

– – –

Well, the legislative session is over, so it’s back to speculation on Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. Despite her recent purchase of a $1.8 million house, common wisdom is that her time is short at the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE).

Despite the uncertainty, Schwinn is still out on the speaking circuit. This week it is the Women Leading Education Summit. Not sure where this event is held, but I don’t think it’s Tennessee.

– – –

Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be greatly appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying, Christmas is right around the corner.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier but equally informative.

Categories: Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: