This Day

This day, I’m thinking about Kendrick Castillo. And about Riley Howell. And about gun violence.

Kendrick Castillo was the high school senior, three days from graduating, who lunged at a fellow student who came into his classroom with a gun in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, this past Wednesday. He was shot to death. Eight other students were wounded by the two gunmen, one of whom was detained by a school security guard. Two other seniors tackled Castillo’s killer, and the other people in the classroom credit Castillo with saving their lives.

Riley Howell and another young man tackled another gunman at UNC-Charlotte on April 30. Again, it’s believed that their actions stopped the shooter from murdering more people, potentially many more people. Howell was shot three times, and died of his wounds.

We call them heroes.

We call them martyrs.

We grieve for them, we remember them, we hold military funerals and vigils for them.

And then we make more of them.

I had a brief discussion — not a bad one, though I was a bit rude and I made the other person upset with me — on Facebook about Kendrick Castillo and whether or not he was a hero. I said he was a tragedy, and I was told that his situation was certainly a tragedy, but that calling him anything other than a hero dishonored him and his leadership and his legacy. And I struggled with how I wanted to respond to that. At first I said that I understood the other person’s point, and I agreed with it, for the most part. But really, I’m not sure that I do. I don’t mean to rehash the argument without giving the other person a chance to rebut my points, so I don’t want to get too far into this specific topic, but — I don’t think that my consent and participation are necessary for someone to be honored. I’ve disagreed often with those we choose to view as heroes, as leaders, as those worthy of honor; I don’t think my opinion has much of an impact on their status or their reputation or their legacy. Especially not something I say in a Facebook comment, or even on this blog. I will say that I would not state my opinion directly to the person or their loved ones, I wouldn’t go to John McCain’s funeral and call him an asshole even though I wrote a multi-page essay to that effect during the 2008 presidential race. But I do also think that if I lost someone I loved, if my wife sacrificed her life to save her students from a school shooter, it would not make me feel better if people told me she was a hero. So if I ever spoke to Kendrick Castillo’s family, I think the first and last thing I would say is, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

But none of that is the point I wanted to make here; just the impetus that has me writing about this terrible topic, again. During that same discussion, I wanted to say that I would rather use my grief for the loss of Kendrick Castillo, and for Riley Howell, to try to ensure that this never happened again, that nobody else would ever have to make the choice that they made.

But I couldn’t say that. First because I don’t know that I am grieving. I’ve grieved for deaths before, and this feels nothing like that. I will say that, inasmuch as you can grieve for someone you’ve never met, I do feel genuinely sad and sorry about these deaths, and I have been thinking about them all day; so if that’s grieving, then I am. If it’s not grieving, then I’m doing whatever this is, and maybe that honors their lives and their loss.

More to the point, though, I don’t think I’m going to do anything to prevent this from happening again. I want to, I genuinely do; but I’m not sure what. I can post on this blog, or elsewhere on the internet, and maybe my opinion can sway some others — but first I have to know how to sway them (you)  in order to make a difference, to move us closer to this goal we all share of never again having to hear of a school shooting. I usually think that’s the most powerful impact I can have on issues; because I have this small platform, and I can use it. Though as I said above, I’m not sure how much this blog, my words, these posts, really matter. Probably not much. I could run for office, but I wouldn’t win nor want the job; I could work for a campaign — and I might — but I’d have to be sure that the campaign I was working for was the right one, the one that would help make this happen. Of course I can vote, and will  — but again, I have to know that I’m voting for the right person. And when it comes right down to it, if the options are between someone who doesn’t share my opinions about preventing gun violence, and, say, Donald Trump — well, I’m not fucking voting for Trump.

I suppose I could also carry a gun, and stand guard at a school building. But I don’t think that is the right answer.

So the first thing that I need to do, to actually accomplish, is to decide what I think is the right thing to do. And then look for opportunities to pursue that right thing.

I’m saying this because I want to help move other people to do the same. My opinions may not sway anyone, but I do hope that when I say things that make sense, that aren’t simply my opinions, then people will listen: and this makes sense. We need to figure this out. We should all decide what we think is the best thing to do. We should also be open-minded and willing to listen, and honestly think, about what other people say is the best thing to do. We need to do this thinking because if nothing else, the 20 years between Columbine and Highlands Ranch, and the incessant stream of similar tragedies that have paraded by us over those two decades, should show us that we don’t know what to do. Because we’ve done nothing. Nothing other than drill students in how to deal with school shooters: and that has led directly to this point, these two dead men, these — heroes. We made them. We taught them what to do, we encouraged them, we failed to do anything else to prevent these situations where they chose to sacrifice themselves for others. If they are martyrs, then we are not the inheritors of their gift, the beneficiaries of their sacrifice: we’re the ones who killed them. We’re the Romans, with the cross and the nails. We’re the Inquisition, with the stake and the fire. We’re Jack and the hunters, chanting “KILL THE PIG! KILL THE PIG!” while Simon comes down from the cave.

At best we’re the ones watching it happen. At best.


I actually intended this post to be about what I think we should do to stop this. But it hasn’t gone that way, and I don’t want to get into it now. And tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I don’t want to talk about ending gun violence on  Mother’s Day. So I think I will leave this here, for now, and come back to it next week — probably Monday.

I will end with this last remark. I do not think honoring dead men like Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell as heroes does one single thing to reduce the tragedy of their loss. In a perverse way, if they are heroes, then that makes their loss worse, because heroes are valuable people, people who improve the lives of others, and they shouldn’t have to die to do that: they don’t have to die to do that. If they die doing it, then that is the end of their heroism, and it is a loss, it is a terrible loss in addition to the unforgivable loss of their lives. I think they probably were heroes, because I think that fighting to stop or prevent harm to others is a good thing, one of the best things, and so people who try to do it are good; if they try to stop harm this horrific, then they are great. I can call them heroes for that.

But still, the only thing I can say is: I am so sorry for your loss.

Image result for kendrick castillo

Kendrick Castillo

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Riley Howell



[With deep gratitude to Judy Brady for her incredible essay, “I Want a Wife,” which was the model for this piece. You can read it here.]


I am a part – a cog – in that machinery called education. I am a Teacher. And I am quite fond of some of the individuals whom I teach.

A friend of mine has just earned his Master’s in Education – online of course – and has immediately stepped from his third year as an elementary P.E. teacher into an administrative job with a large suburban high school. The school is respected, well-funded, and effective; so as you would expect, my friend is looking to improve the staff with some new teachers in order to earn his new administrative paycheck. He’s searching for brand new teachers, of course, some of those with fresh energy and inspirational idealism. He has asked me to help him in his search for a brand new teacher, and I am always happy to oblige.

So what are the expected qualifications of this brand new teacher?

The teacher will be required to teach the classes. The teacher will be expected to manage a classroom full of 35 students, students grouped according to their birthday and where they happen to live around the beginning of the school year, students who represent 35 different levels of ability and interest in any given subject. When around 10% of these students will move out of the class partway through the year, and be replaced by a similar number of new students arriving in the middle of units, the teacher will be expected to bring these newcomers up to speed and familiarize them with the new material and the new learning environment. The teacher must do this gently, of course, because new students are under quite a lot of stress. The teacher will be expected to handle between five and eight classes of 35 students apiece, every day (five classes would be if the new teacher is part-time, a decision that will be made at the start of the new school year, or within the first six weeks of instruction); though next year, my friend told me, the school will be moving to an A/B block system: four classes one day and the other four the next day, with all eight on a shifting schedule every ninth class day, the day when the school will occasionally have special schedules for pep assemblies and school-wide activities such as the science fair. The teacher will be required to design something science- or STEM-related for the science fair. And the project will need to correlate to the teacher’s own subject. And also the project must draw new students to the school, so the school can compete with those charter schools. The teacher will also be expected to participate in the pep assemblies, preferably in some sort of costume provided by the teacher and related to the school mascot, the Phalanx. But that’s next year: this year the school has an eight-period day, so the teacher will be obligated to prepare for every class, every school day. Some of the classes will be identical courses, but the student makeup in each case will be radically different, and the teacher will be expected to find a way to keep all of the identical courses on the same pace despite the need to differentiate instruction. The teacher will be expected to reteach subject matter to any classes that didn’t master it, and to give extra enrichment activities to the more advanced students who did achieve mastery. The teacher is expected to make the extra work, both the remedial practice and the advanced enrichment, particularly engaging and rewarding for the students, who will not wish to take on extra assignments on top of the required work. There are three minutes between classes, shortened to ensure maximum instructional time; the teacher will need to avail themselves of that time to give students assistance if they fall behind the rigorous pace. The teacher will, of course, be expected to teach bell to bell. Before the beginning of each class, the teacher will be expected to be standing outside their classroom, with a pleasant but formal demeanor, and to personally greet every student as they come into the classroom. The teacher will of course have to make sure they don’t drink too much fluid, as they won’t have a chance to go to the bathroom until lunch at the earliest. Fortunately, lunch is only four hours after school starts. Unless the new teacher is given an early morning class before the regular start time. The teacher will also be expected to spend the lunch period supervising a public area to make sure students are not littering nor using inappropriate language or touching; the teacher can use the between-class intervals for attending to personal needs.

The teacher will be expected to know the content. The teacher will be required to answer all questions correctly and completely, while also encouraging students to do further research on their own, and to offer the students an organized and vetted list of appropriate resources the students could use to find their own information. The teacher will be expected to stay current with the newest developments in the subject, to attend professional development trainings in their free time, to learn the latest methods and strategies, which the teacher will be expected to incorporate into their lesson plans. All lesson plans must be filed with the administration at the beginning of each quarter, and any last-minute modifications must be approved by administration at least one week before they are implemented. The teacher will be mandated to be open to suggestions from administrators, and to be eager to benefit from administrators’ cutting-edge pedagogical training. The teacher is expected to know how their subject matter connects to other areas of instruction and other subjects, and be able to coordinate thematically with other classes. The teacher will be required to control the pace of instruction to match that of other subjects so that no student falls behind and has to suffer through overwork in order to catch up.

In terms of the students’ work, the teacher will be expected to assess baseline abilities, to place students along a continuum, and to develop individual learning plans for each student so that they can receive optimum instruction for their ability level. The teacher will be obligated to provide easily-read charts and graphs of all student progress, both in aggregate for conferencing with administration and for each individual student for parent conferences. Where appropriate, the teacher will be required to coordinate student learning plans with the Exceptional Student Services department; all ESS clients’ learning plans must adhere to all applicable laws and policies, and must receive approval from the ESS department and the parents of the ESS students. The teacher will be expected to issue surveys and to conduct ice-breaking, team-building, trust-fostering, and getting-to-know-you activities, so that the teacher can assess the students’ interests, their cultural backgrounds and biases, their maturity level, and their relative mastery of the curriculum so that the teacher can find  materials that the students will find engaging, but which will neither be offensive nor beyond their current developmental stage or ability level. Once all of the students are assessed and plotted, the teacher will be able to start differentiating instruction in earnest, in order to personalize each student’s learning for maximum improvement, ensuring at all times that all instruction is drawn from the district-approved curriculum and adheres to research-based best practices.

Most importantly, the teacher will be expected to communicate with parents, both about grades and about interesting and important upcoming events. The teacher will need to plan interesting and important upcoming events so that parents can be informed about them. The communication should be professional, such as (but not limited to) a desktop-published newsletter or a website that offers updates through social media interaction. The teacher should note that district computers are not to be used for social media access. The teacher will be expected to encourage parent participation: invite them into the classroom, to help supervise the class (Though of course the parent volunteer cannot provide the instruction, not being a licensed teacher; the teacher will be obligated to make sure the parent volunteers have security clearance, have their fingerprints and background checked by the FBI and ensure the parent volunteers have had a TB test and proof of a recent MMR innoculation); the teacher will be asked to recognize that having a few extra adults to help supervise activities can be very beneficial for students, even high school students, as well as a great help to the teacher. The teacher will be expected to plan class activities which the parents as well as the students will find interesting and educational. The teacher will be required to provide the parent volunteers with an outline, an observation rubric, and a teacher script so they can follow along with the teacher through the lesson, and help observe and chart the students’ responses, especially that of their own child, so the parents can be involved in their child’s ongoing assessment. The parents probably won’t know all of the students in their child’s class, but the teacher will be able to make a printout of the seating chart with student ID photos with only seven or eight steps through the online attendance database. The teacher will be mandated to ensure that the volunteers aren’t given too much information about the students, and to collect the seating charts at the end of the day, so as not to violate confidentiality. The teacher will be expected to make valuable use of the parent volunteers.

The teacher will be expected to prepare students for their futures, to ready them for college, or for the workforce – though of course the school prefers that all students attend college, as that is one of the administration’s own evaluation criteria. The teacher will also, therefore, be expected to make sure students graduate, even if that means simplifying the material and curving their grades; that way they can also participate in sports and extracurricular activities, which are important because they inspire students to work harder in school. Those activities do tend to take time away from school work; but the parents prefer that teachers not assign too much homework anyway, as that causes the students stress. This means that the teacher will be required to arrange to give the student-athletes all of their work during the regular class period, so that academic progress can be maintained without impinging on extracurricular studies; this is a splendid opportunity for the teacher to differentiate instruction. The teacher will also be expected to adjust grades as necessary to maintain athletic eligibility for our top performers.

The teacher will be obligated to sacrifice, voluntarily, for the children. The school has limited resources, and everything must be focused, unalterably, on the children. The teacher will be asked to give up money, time, healthcare, benefits, retirement, tenure, and all aspects of an individual and satisfying future, for the children. The teacher will be required to agree that they did not get into this to get rich, that they teach because they want to make a difference. The teacher will be paid commensurately with their willingness to sacrifice for the children, though regardless of level of sacrifice, the compensation will not be enough. The teacher is expected to have expected this.

In the unlikely event, which has recently grown significantly more likely, of a school shooting, the teacher will be expected to carry a firearm (Firearm, a state-approved method of securing the firearm until needed, and sufficient training in its use to be provided by the teacher) and to end the threat to the children. The teacher will be required to be aware that the school shooter is likely to be one of their current or former students, and the teacher must not hesitate to pull the trigger and put the shooter down. Though of course, the teacher will be obligated to not do anything to put innocent lives in greater danger. If the teacher is troubled by this turn of events, the teacher should consider whether the teacher could have done more to prevent the crisis before it reached this danger point. Perhaps the teacher should have paid more attention, and done more to build trust. And also reported any suspicions they might have of students to the administration, so the school can follow up with law enforcement. If only the teacher had paid more attention. And if the teacher is unwilling or unable to use a firearm to defend the students, the teacher will be expected to shield the children with their own body, and die. For the children.

This is what is expected of this brand new teacher. The question is: who the hell would want the job?