Monday, February 26, 2018

Why I Am Against Arming Teachers

Why I am Against Arming Teachers

I am 100% against arming teachers as a way to resolve the mass shooting problem. Below are seven of my reasons. As a former public school teacher in Houston, Texas and father of two children. 

Arming teachers puts the power of death in the hands of teachers and puts the power of death into the classroom in an escalated way. 

There are some teacher-student relationships that are already very adversarial. Bad teacher? Bad student? Bad student-teacher chemistry? I am not really sure it matters, but introduce a gun into the most contentious student-teacher situations and the conversation can go to places when there is a gun present that it could not have otherwise. 

Sets yet another burden on already overly burdened and undercompensated teachers. The skill set of teaching is a complex and focused skill set that must balance content and standards with creativity and as many learning styles as there are children in the classroom. Setting a law enforcement burden on teachers is too much and run counter to the creative impulse teachers need. 

The training of teachers to be as good as they would need to be given an active shooter situation is very high. What is the cost teaching someone how to engage in an active shooter situation? For their specific school? In coordination with other teachers who also have guns? School specific training with policies and procedures would have to be written, trained, and maintained for the life of the school for teachers who are and are not armed. Would the costs for guns, ammunition, and training come out of the teacher's pocket like school supplies do? Are taxpayers going to foot the bill? 

Hit Rates
Teachers will not be as good at policing as actual police. When the NYPD has a hit rate under 1 in 5, and that is their job, then how are teachers going to do any better? Furthermore, the context is chaos with a dense population of children. 

When the heart rate tops 100 beats per minute, rational thought is replaced by fight or flight. Humans cross the physiological arousal state and get flooded. This will always be the case in an active shooter situation. Now put a gun in the hands of people whose training is to teach, not kill, and expect shooting accuracy to be perfect when a bullet always hits the shooter and never hits a child or other teacher or staff. 

Were a student to show up intoxicated, high, or in a very bad mental state and knew there were guns on campus, they may have an impulse to get that gun. They may not have the planfulness to do all that would be needed to be a premeditate school shooter, but the emergence of spontaneous school shooters would be an elevated risk. 

Perpetuates Myth
Further perpetuates the myth that the answer to violence is more violence. It doesn't. More violence is by definition not less violence. 

Simple Answer To Complex Problem
Presumes that there is one way to solve the problem of mass shootings. There is no simple answer to mass shootings and school shootings. Not only is arming teachers not part of the solution, it increases and complicates the problem. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

On Being Single and the Marriage Assumption

Even as much as the legitimization of the diversification of individual development, relational development, and family formation has entered into American culture, the marriage assumption continues to hold great sway. The marriage assumption is an intergenerational process, religious process, cultural process, and economic process that many people between the ages of 20 and 40+ are almost required to navigate so long as they remain unmarried.
In short, with a few exceptions, there are few pathways for being single that appear legitimate. The marriage assumption seems to require families, churches, and society to be anxious until the single person gets married. Once the single person person gets married, everyone (usually highlighted in family and in church) can finally take a sigh of relief, clap the dust off their hands and say "our work is done here." It is as if the final task for parenting, for socialization at church, and for broader cultural structures, pronounces marriage as ultimate goal. Marriage crowns the adult ascent to total and complete legitimization.
For the person heading into their 30's without being married, family, church and culture seem poised to leverage energy and resources to help solve the singleness problem.
By the time someone enters their 40's without being married, it is as if family, church, and culture looks at them holding back the tears trying not to say, "How have we failed you?"
By the time someone enters into their 50's without being married, family, church, and society just hopes they are a viable economic unit with some spoken and a lot of unspoken regret.
What is ironic about the marriage assumption is that it assigns the problem of developmental legitimacy to the unmarried individual when the reality is that these institutions themselves are finding it difficult to see themselves as legitimate while the marriage assumption is being broken.
The question that social systems must face is this: Can a family, a church, and even a culture that depends heavily on the marriage assumption broaden its identity allow for legitimate singleness? Can the structure itself survive without the marriage assumption? Can social structures shift from the marriage assumption to broad and diverse acceptance?
If individuals who are single and social structures that have singles in them want to survive together in healthy ways, there needs to be legitimate ways for single people to be single and legitimate ways for a social structure to be sustained where people who are single have meaningful and legitimate status.
One way to help individuals and social structures broaden their scope of legitimate ways of being, narratives for singleness legitimacy must exist and be widely accepted.
Here I offer 4 simple narratives of singleness. These are by no means that end of the matter, but hopefully a way for a conversation to start in some areas where it is stuck inside the marriage assumption. I want these to offer some relief for people who are single and are tired of constantly having to outflank the marriage assumption. I want these to be grist for families, churches, and other social systems to think through in order to become self-aware of their systemic and perhaps invisible support for the marriage assumption, but also to broaden their scope and perhaps rewrite some unwritten rules. Here goes:
Narrative #1: Single For A Reason:
This narrative for singleness highlights the need for a person to dive into their vocation, career, or service in ways that are incompatible with marriage. This person realizes that they may owe the world something, but that thing is not marriage. It is not that this is a narrative of marital incompetence, but rather of choice. This person resolves that the best things they have to offer the world are not found in marriage, but rather in some other vocation that marriage would only diminish.
Narrative #2: Single For A Mission:
This form of singleness can be due to a specific ministry or service call from God, perhaps like the Apostle Paul. Mother Teresa never married and gave her life to the sick and dying in Calcutta. This form of singleness is because there is a mission so great and so necessary to accomplish that being married would absorb too much energy and the mission would never make it. There are people who are clergy, nuns, monks, and many non-clergy people who determine that they simply must respond to God giving their everything to the mission or cause.
Narrative #3: Single Forever:
This form of singleness is a choice to be single, but not necessarily due to a specific mission like Mother Teresa or for any vocation, but rather because it is the preference of the individual. There might be some reason, but there might not be. It does not have to be justified to the world.
Narrative #4: Single For Now:
This form of singleness is for a season or time period. It could be to accomplish something in life that is time limited (e.g. a two year mission) or to become mature enough to marry or perhaps to heal over some past experience. It could be an effort to become financially more stable or to find oneself. It is understood that whenever whatever needed to be accomplished is accomplished, then marriage is available. This is a way of being single that seeks growth, healing, and improvement while keeping marriage open as a possible, but not determined, future.
There are certainly more narratives that exist, but these are four legitimate ways to be single.
One final note: I am a Christian who loves the church and believes that Jesus started a very good thing in the church. It has so much potential to bring about peace and justice in this world. With that in mind, I think churches should be a social system that is the most hospitable for people who are single to be safe and accepted. The theological impulse from the singleness of the Apostle Paul and Jesus himself should be enough to push back on how fully and completely too many churches have become dependent upon the social force of the marriage assumption - often to the point of practicing a kind of marital idolatry and family idolatry that places an undue, inappropriate, and theologically bankrupt burden on people who are single. Clergy, church elders, and other religious leaders should be actively and aggressively solving for how to expand the identity of their congregations to be so safe for single people that they are not marginalized, not tolerated, but embraced as fully legitimate members who do not have a singleness problem to be solved. If their congregation is incapable of making such a change, these leaders should consider how they might start a new church where singleness is as much in its DNA as marriage.
PS: As a married man of over 20 years, a father, and a marriage and family therapist, I affirm marriage as a beautiful, meaningful, and legitimate decision for many people to make. I reject the notion that there is something wrong with someone who does not get married. Marriage can be a gift. Being single can be a gift. It is not about your status, but rather it is about who you are in that status.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Family Systems and Cancer

Here are the notes from my talk on cancer and family systems. Rough draft and needs help, but it got me through. 

Family Systems and Cancer

a.     Contemplating the impact of cancer on a family is a complex endeavor. A family is a social system of two or more people that are inter-related and is itself a unit of analysis that behaves differently than an assortment of random people. A family is different than a random assortment of people in that it has developed its own pattern of interactions, its own set of rules, each person in a family is nominated to fill particular roles. A family both inherits and constructs its own forms of homeostasis and seems to know instinctively how to maintain its own patterns of functioning and seems to know instinctively how much change it can tolerate through a complex set of mostly unwritten rules that are somehow both invisible to the family and at the same time followed with a fierce allegiance.  

b.     But each individual in the family is herself or himself a complex psychological system comprised of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and spiritual impulses comprising what some call a personality. These complex cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual subsystems are at times unified and whole within a person while at other times are in deep conflict. And while each individual human has their own psychological complexity, these become even more complex when one person’s psychological complexity interacts with another person’s psychological complexity to form relationships, construct shared meaning, and reside situated within the larger social contexts such as family, church, neighborhood, and workplace.

c.     Focusing in even further, these complex psychological systems are contained within a complex physical system called a body, an amazing assortment of interrelated subsystems: respiratory system, digestive system, skeletal system. These systems are meant to work in an amazing harmony in order to grow and sustain this miracle we call life.

d.     But these bodily systems do not always function as intended. One of these dysfunctions comes at a cellular level: cancer. When cancer develops in the bodily system, the effect of that bodily dysfunction does not simply reside only in the body. There is not just a physical effect of cancer on the body, but there is also the psychological effect of cancer on the individual. It touches the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and spirituality of the person. Panning out further still, when cancer touches the body of a person and the psychology of a person, it also touches the social systems in which each individual resides. Marriage, family, family of origin, church, workplace, neighborhood – this abnormal cell activity, that for the most part cannot be seen by the naked eye, has a powerful and often fierce impact on the many systems in which it is contained. Cancer is biological of course, but is also psychological and social. It is biopsychosocial.

e.     For each of these levels, there are tasks that must be accomplished.
                                               i.     At the level of the body, the task at hand is to stop the cancerous growth with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, special diets and a whole array of physical interventions. If the body is not taken care of, the cancer is likely to kill the body.
                                             ii.     At the psychological level, there are many tasks of belief, emotion, behavior, and spirituality. Beliefs about health, the medical community, the course of cancer, how much to accept or not accept the diagnosis and many others touch the cognitive part of the individual. Fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, and all manner of emotion must be engaged or suppressed – there is no way not to manage these emotions, some of which can be all-consuming. There are decisions to make, hundreds and hundreds of decisions. The extent of one’s faith in God are challenged. Bad faith systems and bad theology are exposed, if the person is fortunate, but also not easily replaced with better ones.
                                            iii.     At the relational system level, the social context must reorganize in order to heal. The rules, roles, patterns of interactions, relational boundaries, and homeostasis in general must all be renegotiated because cancer has imposed so much that the system cannot remain the same. Even if the social system is determined to remain the same, to keep all the same patterns and rules and roles, it shifts from supportive to unsupportive, from honest to dishonest, from responsive to non-responsive. If the social system does not reorganize, then the system itself has become a threat to the health of the individual.

f.      Within each systemic level comes along with it a level of abstraction.
                                               i.     On the physical level there is actually a thing, or so it is perceived, that is the cancer itself. It is the collection of cells that are driven to behave in an abnormal and threatening way. They are something that can be seen using medical and scientific procedures.
                                             ii.     On the psychological level, there is more abstraction, but the experience is no less real. Fear is real, but much harder to see. Denial is a real thing and can be threatening to health, but again is not easily grasped. These psychological abstractions are hard to detect, but even more so are hard to evaluate. What is the wrong emotion or right emotion to have in response to cancer?
                                            iii.     On the social system level the abstractions can be even more abstract. There is no way to put a family rule under a microscope, but a family rule that is followed might be the difference between life and death. The meaning a social system constructs in response to cancer and assigns to cancer and each other is not simple to detect or comprehend while at the same time it cannot not happen.

g.     The more abstract the unit of analysis, the more it may be subject to metaphor, comparison, and social construction.

h.     For example:
i.      Cancer, the Systemic Bully. When the diagnosis of cancer is given to an individual, it is also given to a set of social systems. Cancer barges in and, in a moment, assigns everyone a new identity like a bully gives a really lousy nickname that just happens to stick and now that is how everyone knows you. It changes your name and how people understand you. It intrudes and renames every relationship you have. Cancer can turn a marriage into a cancer marriage. Cancer can turn a family into a cancer family. A small group at church could become a cancer small group. A workplace may become, at least in part, a cancer workplace. When knowledge of this cellular abnormality seeps into the awareness of a social context, it leaves its mark like a bruise, or perhaos like a drop of red food color into a clear glass of water – you can’t uncolor it. Identities change. Relationships change. Priorities change. You can add more color to the mix, but you can’t uncolor the water once it is colored. What must be highlighted and what must be obscured are reorganized in such a profound and urgent manner that whatever was once considered normal appears no longer accessible. The Bully, Cancer, is located inside a person, but it is by definition also located inside every social system containing that person.

Another Example of metaphor to help understand the biopsychosocial reality of cancer:
j.      Cancer, the Dark Inquisitor. Cancer is the Dark Inquisitor that comes without invitation to interrogate the essence of your life: your body, your mind and your social context. Under interrogation, everything must be renegotiated and re-ordered. The Dark Inqusitor comes to interrogate the mental toughness, interrogate the emotional stability, and interrogate the spiritual sustainability of a person. And this interrogation is not in isolation. No. It is a socially situated interrogation within a marriage and within a family and within a collection of social systems. But further still, the interrogation is not just for the individual, but also it is for everyone connected to the person with the diagnosis. The social system is diagnosed with cancer and therefore the social system is also interrogated.

What questions does this Dark Inquisitor of cancer ask? What is the interrogation like? It might go something like this?

Questions of Diagnosis and Acceptance:
1.     How long will it take to accept this diagnosis?
2.     Will you ever accept this diagnosis?
3.     How many different strategies will you use to deny the reality of this diagnosis?
4.     Will you change in order to comply with treatment?

Questions of Meaning Making:
1.     What meaning will you make of this diagnosis?
2.     What does it mean to be a cancer family? A cancer marriage? A cancer church?
3.     What does it mean to carry death with you everywhere you go?

Questions of Relationship Durability:
1.     Will cancer heal or further exacerbate the existing relational fissures that already exist in your family system?
2.     What communication strengths will be accessed?
3.     What communication weaknesses will be exploited?
4.     How will the family reorganize in response to this diagnosis?
5.     Who are you going to tell and when? How?
6.     How will you tolerate it when word of your cancer is new to someone, but painfully old to you?
7.     How will your identity change in your social contexts? Friends? Church? Work?
8.     Who no longer knows how to relate to you?

Questions of Self-differentiation:
1.     How emotionally mature are the individuals of your family?
2.     How emotionally mature is the family as a system?
3.     How will your assumptions about medical professionals be given voice?
4.     Will you have the courage and clarity to advocate for your own healing?
5.     How does hope and despair ride on the relationships in the family?
6.     How will existing family roles deepen?
7.     How will relational pathologies be exposed?
8.     How will you manage other people’s empathy failures?
9.     Are you ready to be more gracious than the people trying to comfort you?
10.  How will you tally the losses?
11.  How will you manage the griefs?
12.  Where is your courage while staring fear in the eye?
13.  How will you process the guilt of everyone else having to take care of you and everything costing too much?

Existential and Spiritual Questions:
1.     Can you make friends with uncertainty, ambiguity, and powerlessness?
2.     Will you let them be your teachers?
3.     What will you have to say when cancer threatens to take it all from you against your will?
4.     Are you able to drill for hope in a desert of despair?
5.     Do you have anything worth saying?
6.     How much do you love?
7.     How much are you prepared to lose?
8.     What do you really value?
9.     What is your life truly about?
10.  What is your theological fortitude?
11.  Are you ready to relearn everything you ever thought you knew?
12.  Are you ready to relearn it all with no promise of ever getting to use any of that new learning?
13.  Who are you when you are perpetually, completely, and totally exhausted?

Are you tired?
Are you tired, yet?

The interrogation of the Dark inquisitor is relentless.
How could a relatively small cluster of cells cause so much struggle – and make us so tired?

And yet there are stories of life that emerge from this sickness of death. From the millions who rally and run and wear pink to find a cure to the raw and honest comedy of cancer survivor Tig Notaro. Yes, cancer humor is a thing – if we can laugh we are alive. As individuals embedded within social systems, we respond to cancer. We rally each other. We rally the medical community. We rally technology, researchers, hospitals, philanthropists, and devise all manner of ways to push back against this monster. Cancer and the death it wields against humans and human systems gets a response and that response is an indicator that life matters. Cancer does not seem to be giving up too easily, but neither are we. We have taken on many casualties in this brawl with the bully, we have been buried in questions by this Dark Inquisitor, but we keep on trying to live. In response to cancer, we seek life at the cellular level. We seek life at the psychological level. We seek life in our relationships.

I also experience moments when I feel triumphant: "Cancer---You. Are. Not. Going. To. Win....ANYTHING." And I have moments when I feel so defeated: "You have taken everything." Most of the time though, I dwell somewhere in between, and this "Dark Inquisitor" forces the question perhaps we ALL should really be asking often and that is, "However long or short it may be, how do we live this Life well?" Not such a bad question to ponder I suppose. ---Kathy