Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Three R's of Alaskan Education"

Reposting here a recent editorial panel + process sketches that was originally published in the local paper, along with some additional commentary below the fold.

Why is it every time the Alaskan Legislature meddles in public education everything gets stupider?  “Emotional arguments, fantasy scenarios, and “scare tactics” should not satisfy the public seeking answers” – and yet that is precisely the tactic, in that exact, same order no less, employed by Alaska Senate Majority Leader John Coghill within the opening section of his recent commentary on his newest bill, SB 176.
But the compelling interest of public safety needs to be properly balanced with the bedrock, constitutional rights guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution.
What happens when that young woman out there needs her firearm to defend herself against an attacker who outweighs her by 120 pounds? What happens when a vulnerable individual is attacked by a pack of predators?
Sophie Sergie was murdered in Bartlett Hall on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus in 1993. She died via gunshot (evidence that the university’s “no gun policy” doesn’t work). Would the scenario been different if Ms. Sergie qualified for lawful concealed carry?
Coghill’s cognitive dissonance between bolstering his manly NRA rating and an otherwise obsessive Pro-Life stance has led him to some transparently posturing on this completely fabricated “issue.” Coghill et al constantly like to tell us that the merest possibility of there being other armed people present is somehow a magical deterrent to campus shootings. A cold fact of the matter is that the overwhelming number of shootings occur in Alaska where guns are already allowed, namely private residences. That right there kinda undermines the basic premise, that adding more firearms will resolve the issue, and there doesn't appear to be any serious proposals to address any relevant facet of the problem: the answer is always, uniformly to add more guns to fix everything.

But locally and on the national level, Republicans seem to generally follow a basic plan of attack when it comes to dealing with such things, especially for example when it comes to anything related to education: 1) never help 2) never try anything different or new 3) invariably make it worse, and 4) afterwards point to the smoking wreckage and proudly say “see – it doesn’t work!” which in turn all helps them to justify taking their extremist positions, all the while simultaneously perpetuating the cycle of self-fulfillment. Indeed, the perversity of the situation dictates the NRA and its governmental operatives have a vested financial and political interest in there being an ever-increasing demand for even more guns.

About those facets: most importantly Coghill completely fails to take into account how, along with incidences of (reported) rape, Alaska has the highest rate of gunshot deaths - twice the national norm of gun death rate - and the highest rate of suicides per capita in the United States - additionally our rate of suicide using a gun is two-and-a-half times the national average. Again, rather than seeking solutions, the obvious answer to all of these problems, according to the Alaskan Legislature, is to simply to add more guns. Now if Coghill & Co. are so concerned about supposedly protecting the sanctity of life, why not any serious effort at addressing any of these inconvenient and glaring statistics? This disconnect with reality is sadly evident with two telling articles immediately following Coghill’s opinion piece in the Alaska Dispatch that served to reinforce a point that the overwhelming, vast majority of these are acts of domestic violence, largely committed by men:
“Frank Manivong was sentenced to nine years in prison for shooting his wife in front of their children; he told police he had to do it because of her constant disrespect.” (link)
“He said he told her not to sneak up on him as he was on edge, and his first instinct would be to fire his gun. He allegedly said that someone had done so, but was unsure if it was Millsaps.” (link)
It’s a common refrain on comment threads for men to mansplain to the ladies how they could prevent rapes by being armed, which, like gun violence, avoids the source of the problem in the first place… namely stop raping. Similarly it follows you usually won't read anything from 2nd Amendment fetishists in any of the fallout from Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine etc. on how bad it is to shoot people... you will only hear how more people need to be shot. Like rape culture, that is gun culture encapsulated.

Arguably the Fourth "R"

But meanwhile Republicans seem to have a vested interest to stoke paranoia and fear over non-existent problems, perhaps catering to the pathologically insecure who feels the need to be armed at all times, everywhere - which is just as worrisome as any accompanying dark fantasies of getting to play the heroic vigilante crimefighter. Instead, here’s a reality check from a different perspective: it’s not normal to carry guns around everywhere you go, it’s not normal to take them to class with you, it’s not normal to live in constant fear, and it’s not normal to inflict that state of fear on everyone else around you.

But it seems the legally operative term “normal” is debatable with regards to firearms in Alaska. In defense of SB 176 Coghill was quoted citing his concerns with theoretical campus shooters who “have lost their cognitive thinking abilities and … may have some mental problems.” Coming from him this concern is hypocritical at best, since, along with all the other senators and representatives, he’s complicit in ensuring basic firearm background checks are rendered ineffective in Alaska. Specifically, non-compliance with the mandatory 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act: Alaska has yet to provide any mental health records to the federal database of its residents who are mentally ill, insane, and/or certifiably dangerous, including domestic abusers. Compounding this hypocrisy Coghill also recently voted for the “nullification” law (SCR 6) in 2013, and sponsored the mirror-image bill SB75, exempting Alaska from any enforcement of Federal gun laws and further ensuring this loophole is left wide open.

A case in point on relative "sanity" and "normalcy": in 1998 Alaska state law was amended in regards to an individual who claimed, among other things, to have been “implanted with a computer chip in his head” and “injected with deadly chemicals.” A judge initially denied this defendant his gun permit, but an appeals court reversed the original ruling saying Alaska’s concealed-carry law does not allow general concerns about mental illness to play a role in deciding whether someone should have a gun, and the amended law was enacted over the veto of former Governor Tony Knowles. The defendant was represented by none other than past vice-president and current board member of the National Rifle Association (and former Alaska attorney general nominee), one Wayne Anthony Ross.

Coghill bagged another NRA hired gun Mouth of Sauron spokesman, Brian Judy, to weigh in on his bill in an attempt to rebut the potential issues of a rise in accidental shootings on campus: “The facts are that accidents involving firearms are relatively rare.” Yet even though these incidences are of a far greater magnitude than the specter of campus shootings, it’s more than a little odd that rare, isolated incidences of mass murder are somehow enough of a hypothetical to merit reactionary legislation. Connect the dots on this legislation and all of the other related bills and it becomes obvious that it represents quite a different picture than each individual initiatives taken on their own.

There’s also absolutely no distinction in Coghill’s reasoning that would also prevent a fourteen-year old student (or is it sixteen?) - legal open-carry age in Alaska - from being armed in their classrooms, which, in line with the reasoning of SB176, are also by definition functionaries of the state. Funny how he doesn’t publicly advocate for this as well… yet. “Yet” because the very same logic being used for open carrying on campus in their minds applies equally to all Alaskan schools and every other state facility, and this bill is the first step down a slippery slope that will eventually result in open carry being allowed everywhere. In fact, this is not an overreaction, it’s already begun.

A prime example of this is in how many folks were quick to point out the pure hypocrisy that Alaskan citizens can’t carry a firearm into the legislative offices in Juneau. They forgot that we are dealing with a mentality that agrees one-hundred percent with this idea: the problem is that these folks argue that it is, or should be, completely normal to bring a firearm to committee meetings, churches, bars, probably even to bed with them – and including classrooms. They see absolutely nothing wrong with this position, and will readily, happily concede the point. So while the premise of unintended irony is a great take on the issue from an interesting perspective, Coghill et al already agrees, and the legislature will now presumably seek next to allow guns in the capitol... so now what? Far better to address the underlying, comparative lunacy of allowing firearms in classrooms in the first place, and to keep on pointing out how, for either teachers, students and staff, that it isn’t normal – or safe, or necessary - to pack heat on campus. As has been astutely pointed out, this presumably already happens to a degree, and yet like picking at some mental scab of perceived injustice, some of these folks presumably just want to be able to whip it out in public any time and any place they feel the need.

Another main talking point that keeps getting raised over this bill should be clarified: it’s more than a little disingenuous to suggest this proposed legislation is the result of the student body rising up in protest. In actuality it’s the cultivated project of one specific individual, a current Coghill intern (who is also the Vice-Chair of the UAA College Republicans and member of the Ron Paul group Young Americans for Liberty), and who is tasked specifically with the mission of shepherding this non-existent issue through the legislative session. It’s entirely manufactured and contrived: yet another politically based, calculated whipping post to promote outrage and manipulate through division and fear. More dots to connect: this supposedly local initiative has been co-opted by the big guns of the NRA's Institute For Legislative Action - it is decidedly not a grassroots uprising.

Lastly, there seems to be comparatively little input on this issue from actual educators (aside from some notable exceptions): as a teacher I am concerned at the inevitable scenario of constant disruption when security is called each and every time anyone anyone not in uniform is seen openly carrying a firearm on campus. But according to Coghill’s logic behind SB176, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so 911 calls will presumably tax the resources of emergency officials on campus. Additionally, university officials had also be concerned about incurring increased insurance liability to the institution, along with the costs of training of safety officers, faculty, staff and students on how to distinguish between a potential campus shooter and a defender of the 2nd Amendment.

Because in the end, it all comes down to the classroom. Here’s a sampling of situations faced in the university by a fellow teacher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks:
“Re: SB 176... I have taught sociology classes for over 15 years in two states. I have never encountered the "packs of predators" about which Coghill is concerned. During that time, however, I HAVE escorted two students to the student health and counseling center because they came to office hours to say they were profoundly depressed and couldn't face their lives any longer. I have had to intervene between students who, in class, stood up, shouted, and physically threatened each other. Once I had to ask the campus police to remove a student from my class because the student had been communicating threats to others. I have had to ban students from online discussion boards because they threatened and bullied each other (and me), including threats of death. I have had to withdraw a student from class because the student repeatedly came to class zonked out on drugs (meth, I think.) I have had many students shout at me, and once had a very aggressive and angry student stand up in my office and wave his balled fists in my face. I shudder to think how any of these situations might have turned out if the student(s) had a gun.” - Sine Anahita
Remember, this thoughtful, compassionate legislation is being brought to us by the very same politician who also birthed the infamous “state sponsored rape” bill SB191 in 2012, that sought to forcibly insert devices into women’s vaginas against their will. Ironic that he doesn’t trust women with private medical decisions made with their doctors, yet presumably he’s happily advocating for more guns for them. And also keep in mind this is Coghill's stance (reposted in comment thread here) in response to a plea for increased UAF funding from a voter in his district:
“I have to tell you though, I have been a critic of the University in areas such as its propensity to undermine our patriotic spirit by focusing heavily on the Marxist style of socio-economic thinking. I also am a critic of the academic dishonesty of the geology and related sciences with regard to evolution.” 
Juxtaposed against Coghill’s championing (along with some notable Alaskan Democrats) both Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine legislation, it’s fairly evident the target of this latest bill has absolutely nothing to do with practical reality, or safety, but is more likely the partisan advancement of a warped political agenda, and perhaps a personal vendetta against what is seen as that bastion of liberal indoctrination, education.

So all I have to say is… not in one of my classes. Critiques are hard enough, and as an instructor I’m tasked with ensuring a safe, respectful environment to facilitate learning. And no, you don’t get any of that with a gun.


  1. Thanks John - and the countdown continues apace for our own species eh?