Child shootings

Too many kids get “accidentally” killed by guns all the time.  And somehow we just accept it.  It is the seeming “cost” of the “benefit” of the freedom of virtually unfettered access to guns.  I know people love  their gun freedoms.  Personally, I love it even more when kids don’t needlessly die. To each his own, I suppose.  But let’s not pretend there’s not a very real trade-off here.  Slate’s Justin Peters’ (who to his credit, just won’t let this issue go):

In a piece that went up today on Mother Jones’ website, Mark Follman writes that at least 194 children aged 12 and under have been shot and killed this year in America. Follman’s piece is just one part of a larger package that also includes a downloadable spreadsheet of the death data, and an affecting interactive photo gallery that goes deeper into each individual child shooting death this year. Some of these were unintentional shootings. Others were suicides, or murder-suicides. None of them had to happen.

Child shooting deaths are a huge problem, and a specifically American problem at that. Follman cites a Children’s Defense Fund study that found that America’s rate of child shooting deaths is four times higher than Canada’s and 65 times higher than the United Kingdom’s. And he notes that, in cases of unintentional child shooting deaths, the relevant gun-owning adults are almost never held responsible…

All around the country, when a child unintentionally shoots and kills himself or another child with a parent’s gun, prosecutors are reluctant to press charges against the parent and thus add to the family’s misery.

This is misplaced compassion, and it renders these laws meaningless. By refusing to apply existing child access prevention laws, authorities waste the opportunity to promote responsible gun ownership, and thus theoretically reduce the number of deaths fostered by irresponsible firearms owners. Many of the 194 deaths catalogued by Mother Jones are products of this reluctance. How many more children will die before we see a change?

Sadly, I’m pretty sure the answer to that is lots and lots.

The dumbest policy in education

There’s a lot, but I’m going to go with the absurdly early start times for high school.  It’s 7:25 when I’m posting this– the start time for many Wake County high schools.   I’ll forgive my elders for making me start high school at 7:30 from 1986-1990.  But now we know better.  The adolescent body is simply not programmed to be up that early.  The result is less physical health and worse cognitive functioning.  Nice NPR story on this recently:

Sleep scientists argue that early high school start times conflict with teens’ shifting circadian rhythms. Beginning in puberty, “adolescents are programmed to fall asleep later,” says Dr. Judith Owens, who directs the Sleep Medicine Clinic at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. And she says many teenagers can’t fall asleep before 11 p.m.

Because teenagers need eight to nine hours of sleep, waking up at 6 a.m. can lead to a pattern of sleep deprivation. And that puts them at higher risk of a whole range of potential problems, from depression to automobile accidents.

So Owens says it makes sense to move school start times later. As it is now, “we are asking [teens] to be awake and alert at the time in their 24-hour clock when their alertness level is at its very lowest.”

A new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health finds that 50 percent of parents of students in high school report a start time before 8 a.m. And almost 1 in 5 parents report school starting even earlier, before 7:30 a.m. (See the full results here.)

Hmmm, well, why the continued late start times then?  Path dependence and status quo bias and semi-lame excuses:

Parents opposed to later school start times point to issues such as day-care schedules and after-school jobs. Coaches say later dismissal times would interfere with team practices.

But given the fact that many schools have already overcome these obstacles and moved to later school start times, Ziporyn Snider says, “the real problem isn’t sports or jobs or day care; the real problem is fear of change and failure of imagination.”

And failure to act, advocates say, is putting high school students at greater risk.

Hey, I managed to get straight A’s in high school while being chronically sleep-deprived (a fact that I did not realize till I got to college and never took a class before 9:10, but just because many kids can still succeed under the circumstances doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.  Would there be some hardship in the change?  Absolutely.  But in the cost-benefit, this is such a huge win that it’s just insane that there’s not more movement in this area.  You want high school test scores to go up?  Let the damn kids get some sleep!

(I’ll conclude by selfishly mentioning that next year David starts high school which will be the beginning a period of 15 out of 17 years where at least one of my kids– and thus often me– has to get up way too damn early).

Welfare stereotypes

Really intrigued by this research summary in the Monkey Cage the other day.  It’s not that Americans are particularly selfish when it comes to welfare, its’ just that they hold particularly nasty stereotypes of welfare recipients:

Aarøe and Petersen conducted survey experiments in the United States and Denmark to investigate whether stereotypes shaped Danish and European attitudes. They randomly exposed some participants in both countries to canned information suggesting that a welfare recipient was lazy, others to information suggesting that a welfare recipient was motivated to find work, and others to no substantial information about the recipient. They then asked people to evaluate social welfare benefits.

On average, Americans were considerably more likely to associate welfare with laziness than Danes. But what’s interesting is that these stereotypes were largely overwhelmed by the canned information when it was available. When the man on welfare was described in the following terms:

He has always had a regular job, but has now been the victim of a work-related injury. He is very motivated to get back to work again

the differences between Americans and Danes disappeared. Both were largely willing to support social welfare measures. As summarized by the authors:

(1)… individuals in two highly different welfare states — the United States and Denmark — have different default stereotypes about whether welfare recipients are lazy or unlucky; (2) … these differences in stereotypes create differences in support for welfare benefits to a recipient when no clear information about the recipient is available; (3) but … the effects of these default stereotypes are crowded out when direct information is available and, hence, support among Americans and Danes becomes substantially and statistically indistinguishable — despite a lifetime of exposure to different welfare state cultures.

Well, how about that.  So, I suppose this can also be taken as further evidence that when it comes to American’s far less readiness to help others, it comes back to white ethnocentrism.

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