The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Why Teachers Shouldn’t Carry Guns

Like many other people who have already spoken up, I am against the belief that teachers should carry guns and be ready to use them if the need arises. In this country too many times children have picked up guns that were carelessly left lying around the house thinking they were just toys. And angry or frightened adults have shot someone they cared about when they only meant to get his or her attention. I think those are pretty good reasons why children should not be introduced to guns in schools as if they were ordinary tools.

Can you imagine what a teacher with thirty students in her classroom would feel like if she just got a message from the school office telling her that a man with a rifle had stormed into the school and was on his way upstairs where her classroom was? Of course her students would have heard the message too, so most of them were up from their seats yelling to each other and trying to figure out if it would be better to hide in the classroom closet or make a break for the library down the hall, which was much bigger and had several closets.

The teacher called for everybody to be quiet and sit down as she fumbled with the desk drawer where her gun was stored for safety. Unfortunately, most of the students didn’t even look at her or listen to a word she was saying. About seven of them scrambled out the classroom door and headed for the library, while the others tried to hide under their  desks. Two boys who knew a lot about guns from hunting with their fathers stayed with the teacher and tried to help her open the desk drawer. They had seen her do it before in  practice sessions and felt that they knew the process better than she did.

Just then the classroom door swung open and a tall skinny boy with a large gun stepped in. “I thought you guys were in here” he said. “Remember me? You used to grab my lunch box in the cafeteria and eat all the good stuff. Have a taste of my bullets now”. Then he lifted his gun and swept it around the room letting the bullets fly everywhere. The teacher was the first to be hit because she was still standing at her desk. Several kids who were also standing fell to the floor. The shooter looked around the room, but no one else was standing or moving. “Goodbye kids and Miss Teacher. I’ve got more to do.” he yelled as he left the room and slammed the door behind him.

I imagined this gruesome scene because I was a teacher in several different schools. I think I know how I would have acted–and my students too– in a situation like the one I described.  I would have been so nervous that I couldn’t control my students or remember the combination to my desk drawer. Even if I had finally got the gun out, I can’t imagine holding it still and actually pulling the trigger.

Putting aside the discussion of the bad things that might happen in a school under attack and how best to handle them, I think it is more important for teachers, school officials, and parents to focus on making all schools safe all the time. Although the schools I have worked at or visited looked clean and neat, none of them had any supervision to keep outsiders from entering the building and walking around freely. If a person happened to be well dressed and act confident, he or she could roam the halls and peek in the classrooms for as long as he wanted without being questioned.

Moreover, the technology needed in schools’ main offices is old and unreliable or missing altogether. Not one school I’ve been in had a camera at the main entrance or a switch to lock its door automatically. In addition, systems to send messages to classrooms were often old and their messages were hard to understand. Worst of all, there were times, especially during the lunch hour, when the office was left open with no one inside to manage it.

What we Americans still believe, almost universally, is that local schools are a part of our  community and we are part of them.  After all, we pay taxes, vote, attend school meetings, contribute our time and money, and put our children under their care for several years.  What we have not yet figured out is that those schools and our children may be the targets of some very sick and angry person who wants to punish us for not treating him right. We have the same responsibility to protect our schools as we have for our homes and families.


How Can We Make Schools Safer Without Putting Guns in the Hands of Teachers?

As I finished writing this piece I felt that there was so much more that others could say, depending on the particular needs of their community. I would really appreciate the opinions and new ideas of people who know schools from the inside out

While eating breakfast this morning I turned on the television to be entertained. But the channel I went to enlightened me instead. On the screen were about twenty people, half of them were teachers and half were high school students, all of them from a school in Florida where an angry student with a gun killed 17 children and teachers last week.

Only the students on the screen spoke to the audience, describing their fear while hiding during the time of the killings and their anger when they found out about the deaths of their friends.

All of the students spoke with power and conviction. On the day before their appearance they had visited the offices of local and state officials to find out what steps they could take to keep other schools from suffering similar attacks.  A couple of the officials were sympathetic and willing to take positive actions to protect schools better in the future, but others refused even to talk to them.

Every one of the students who spoke expressed a strong intention to keep putting pressure on local officials and to harass the National Rifle Association, government leaders, gun sellers, and gun owners; all of whom have been standing strong against any action to limit the selling or use of guns for a long time and getting away with it.

To be honest, I must admit that I am not optimistic about the power of students and parents to change the current gun policies. They will be bound to their families and the demands of their education. It seems unlikely that the students will get any action unless their parents and many other adults share their feelings and support them. It would also take a lot of time, money and adult supervision to make it possible for them to travel around the country

I wish I could be more optimistic, but I’m afraid that the rich and powerful gun lovers have more support on their side than the wounded children. There will have to be a countrywide rebellion to make guns harder to buy and get gun owners to give theirs up. The only hope for change I see is a big switch in government power in the next election,

On the other hand I feel there is a good chance to improve the safety in schools. Even if I’m wrong I think it’s worth advocating. There are too many old and rundown schools with kids confined to dilapidated classrooms that are not warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer.

What I think schools need the most are up-to-date internal communication systems that enable those in the school office to contact all classrooms quickly when it is necessary and to see anyone who is at the front door trying to get in. Other signals, such as ones for fire or a broken water pipe would have to be signaled differently from others so that teachers and students would recognize their meaning immediately. For any large school it would also be a good idea to have a full time guard walking the school halls regularly, talking to kids in their classrooms about personal safety, and being responsible to report any problems they see. The guard would also stand inside the school entrance during student entry and leaving times to make sure that no stranger is going in or out. The main idea is that the guard would provide safety to all kids, and be trusted by them.

When the time comes to build new schools it would be important to design them with more safety than most current schools have.  One thing to be considered is not putting in windows that someone could shoot or climb through from outside.  Perhaps having the entire main floor of a school for offices and storage would be a good idea.

There is so much to be said about what a modern school should be like that architects should consult principals, teachers, and students to find out what is needed in each place.  I also welcome the observations of readers on those points, hoping to get many good suggestions for school change. What we really need are the views people who have lived through good and bad experiences and now know what to do.




Let’s Think About Saving Our Children instead of the Gun Manufacturers

I  was not interested yesterday or today in writing about education.  All I’ve wanted for the past 48 hours is for Americans to get smart and save this country from the millions of guns that threaten our children and adults..  Although I am not accomplished enough to make the case for changing the Second Amendment I found an article by someone who is.  So I will repost an essay by Jeffrey Sachs, “Overcoming Delusions About the Second Amendment ” which originally appeared in  the Huffington Post.

The 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller shows definitively that the Second Amendment is about an archaic issue relevant to 1790, not to 2012. The Second Amendment reads as follows:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The purpose of the Second Amendment was to prevent the new Federal Government established in 1789 from disarming the state militias and replacing them with a Federal standing army. It was a concern that was relevant perhaps for a few years around the birth of the country. It is irrelevant today. Americans do not rely on state militias in 2012 for our freedom from the federal government.

Though Justice Antonin Scalia tried in the majority opinion to use the Second Amendment to defend gun rights, the many sources that he cited are clear that the purpose of the amendment was to protect state militias. One source, for example, declares, that the purpose of the Second Amendment is “to secure a well-armed militia… .” Another source Scalia cited indicates that the amendment covers only arms that “have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.”

Therefore, Scalia acknowledges that the Second Amendment — even in his pro-gun interpretation — only protects arms that would be used in a militia, not the weapons of a formal army. He makes clear that “M-16 rifles and the like” have no Second Amendment protection and may be banned.

There is thus no constitutional protection whatsoever for the semiautomatic rifle that killed the kids in Newtown. Even Scalia is explicit on that point.

The Second Amendment is a relic of the founding era more than two centuries ago. Its purpose is long past. As Justice John Paul Stevens argues persuasively, the amendment should not block the ability of society to keep itself safe through gun control legislation. That was never its intent. This amendment was about militias in the 1790s, and the fear of the anti-federalists of a federal army. Since that issue is long moot, we need not be governed in our national life by doctrines on now-extinct militias from the 18th century.

More basically, the idea that unregulated private gun ownership and trade protects us against tyranny, or that gun controls would threaten tyranny to us all, is baseless. Democracies around the world regulate guns, preserve their freedoms, and achieve firearm murder rates that are a tiny fraction of the rates suffered in the United States. Other countries, like Australia, have made themselves much safer from gun massacres. Only the U.S. has a political class, on the take from gun manufacturers owned by Wall Street, that stands by while the nation’s children are slaughtered. Yet perhaps the stench is getting even too great for some on Wall Street.

In the name of humanity let’s free our country from the trap of history and the greed of gun-manufacturers.


My Experiences in Teaching Reading and Being a Member of the National Reading Panel

After posting a video I loved  about how children learn to read  I decided to be completely open with readers and describe my experiences with teaching reading and being a member of The Nation Reading Panel.

I began my career by teaching first grade in an elementary school near my home in New Jersey. My only training was a summer–long course in the basics of education that I took just after graduating from college where I had majored in “The arts”. Although I was far from knowing what and how to teach anything but drama, I had strong opinions about what should be happening in a primary grade classroom,

The text book I used for my beginning readers was “Fun with Dick and Jane”, a very popular choice in 1952. It told a simple story about the activities of a boy, his younger sister, their parents and their dog. Each page had a large picture of one or more of the characters in action. The written story below was just two or three sentences that described what was pictured above.

Although “Fun with Dick and Jane” was widely criticized by many experts, and finally abandoned by schools, it seemed to work for my students. I kept our reading lessons short and tried to make them enjoyable. I also read aloud other books from our school library and had the children learn to recite poems and sing songs that I knew. As I remember things, in my first year of teaching my students presented three plays in the school auditorium. The first one was a song. accompanied by movement: “Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go”; the second a dramatization of “The Little Red Hen” and the third was a student produced version of “Hansel and Gretel”.  I will never forget the girl who played Gretel having trouble pushing the witch into the paper furnace and shouting, “Get in there you Battard”!

Above all, my students saw most of the pieces I read to them as gifts they could sing, recite, turn into a puppet show or read again on their own. Although I still did formal teaching of reading throughout the year, and my students still filled out the usual workbook pages, I saw their learning as the result of their pleasure in literature. At the end of the year I felt confident about promoting all of them to second grade. All of them could read!

Much later– almost fifty years later–as the superintendent and principal of a small rural school district, I was invited to be a member of the “National Reading Panel”, a group of 15 people who had been selected to judge the best pratices in the teaching of reading in order to set standards for good teaching throughout our country. Some members of the Panel were reading researchers, others were university professors in a variety of fields, and two were parents of children with reading difficulties. However, I was the only member of the Panel who had experience teaching reading to young children. The panel’s job was to examine reputable studies on reading and produce a report that would identify the most effective teaching practices. The only assistance we received were lists of the most popular studies, drawn from more than the 100,000 studies published between 1966 and 1998.

Less than a year from when we began our investigation, Congress requested that we submit our report. Explaining our difficulties we begged for more time, and one more year was granted. Still, it was clear to us that we would have to cut our consideration of many studies. What the majority of the panel voted to do was to examine only the studies selected previously by “The National Research Panel” and published in their book,  “Preventing Reading difficulties in Young Children”. Although their selections were relevant to our task, they certainly did not cover the entire field of teaching reading. I and some other members objected to that limited review, but the majority disagreed.

I emphasize this decision because the work of the NRC clearly limited and re-directed our original intention to examine the entire research field which included types of studies beyond what the NRC had used. Although that fact was significant, it was not mentioned in our final report, giving the impression that we had examined a much broader field of research than we did.

It was this decision to narrow our field of study that moved me to write a minority report and request that it be included in the the final report of the National Reading Panel.  Most of the members of the panel were not pleased with my decision, but they consented.

Although the National Reading Panel’s report was released by the federal government in 2000, and its recommendations have influenced teaching practices in countless schools since then, it has not managed to raise the level of reading competence for ordinary students or helped teachers to improve the reading skills of those students who are struggling. I still believe that our recommendations were too narrow.


How Children Learn to Read

Rather than produce something on my own today I am offering you a powerful and well done video created by Debbie Stone Bruell and sent to me by Steve Krashen.  I send it on to my audience because we all need to know the truth about how young children learn to read. On Sunday (or Monday) I will write about my own experience in learning to read and watching my own children learn.

Here is the link:


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