June Letter of the Month
June's Letter of the Month is from Juliana Menke of St. Petersburg, who wrote about obstacles to school achievement.
Childhood trauma often ignored
As a licensed mental health counselor, I believe that one of the difficulties in finding school improvement answers lies in not asking this question: What is stopping kids from learning? One answer is probably the trauma of adverse childhood experiences.
Demographically, the listed schools struggle with high poverty. Where there is high poverty, there are high levels of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Criminal activity, violence, substance abuse and mental illness all take a toll on a child's ability to learn.
The human body is programmed to react to emergencies with a flood of cortisol and adrenaline. Emergencies do not allow time for reflection and thoughtful consideration. The thing is, if life is a permanent emergency, that same reaction interferes with higher learning. When schools try to handle difficult behavior with punishment, referrals and expulsion, they inadvertently retrigger the emergency reaction. And things get worse.
Across our country, school districts are recognizing that most challenged schools have to shift from a punishment to a problem-solving approach in handling difficult behavior and poor classroom performance.
And improvement, while slow, is happening. San Francisco's El Dorado Elementary used trauma-informed and restorative practices, and suspensions dropped 89 percent. Wellness centers, calming corners, buddy classrooms and, above all, trauma-informed staff — from the principal to the maintenance team — can transform a child's ability to learn.
Juliana Menke, St. Petersburg
Blessings at a crossroads | June 30
The spiritual and the civil
It's important to note that the Episcopal blessing ritual being discussed is not referred to as a "marriage." Its formal name is "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Life-Long Covenant." Anyone wishing to read the exact text may do so by Googling "Episcopal same-sex liturgy." The words and what they represent are really quite moving.
The word "marriage" has a particular meaning through many centuries of church liturgy. It is tied to the metaphorical marriage of Christ and his church, among other biblical precepts. At their last national convention, Episcopal bishops, priests and lay representatives from every part of the country wisely agreed not to wade into that thorny theological space.
Instead, by emphasizing the spiritual promises and responsibilities of committed couples to each other, this new ritual calls forth and celebrates the deepest and most relevant parts of our Christian faith — unconditional love, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, fidelity and mutual support.
Separate terms do not work in the civil sphere. For earthly rights and responsibilities, marriage is the only truly functional word in our legal system. As a majority of Americans are realizing, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed, marriage equality irrespective of gender is the civil rights issue of our time.
But as a gay Episcopalian, I do not need to overturn the more conservative theological assumptions of some of the people who share my prayers and worship. Traditional couples will continue to get "married" in the Episcopal Church. On the other hand, if I were partnered and seeking one of these blessings, I am confident this solemn ritual would meet our every spiritual need.
Jim Harper, Tampa
It's only a matter of time
I'd like to start by stating that I am among the many who would consider themselves fiscally conservative while being socially liberal. I too am concerned with the government wasting taxpayer dollars. Therefore, I feel compelled to point out that the legal fight against gay marriage is in fact a giant waste of taxpayer dollars. I think the majority of Floridians would agree that there are better ways to spend our money: health care, job training, transportation, helping the homeless, helping the sick, education. The list could go on and on.
The issue of whether we should allow gays to marry is no longer a question but a matter of time. It has spread like wildfire across our great country and I highly doubt Floridians want to be remembered as one of the few states that remain frozen in the fear of the past.
I think it is time for Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to open their eyes and accept the social movement that is clearly happening. We are all members of the human race and we should love and encourage one another. Love is love.
Shirah Levine, Tampa
School discipline under fire | June 30
It starts in the home
Parents are responsible for the disciplining of their children. Experience has shown that only they can be effective. The school system is not able to do the job, no matter how much money is thrown at the problem.
Parents complain to the schools while the schools should complain to the parents. Parents leap to the defense of their children, offering excuses and demanding that the schools do something that the schools have no ability to do while the parents shirk their responsibility.
Daniel Vogel, Tampa
Inequality under law
The United States faces huge changes in equality. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are becoming more wealthy. The middle class is rapidly disappearing. Supreme Court decisions now are exacerbating this equality shift.
Supreme Court decisions are shifting rights that formerly belonged to individuals to corporations.
At the beginning of the 20th century, many corporations engaged in behavior that did not recognize the rights of individuals — child labor, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions, ethnic and racial discrimination, etc.
By the end of the 20th century, individual human rights and labor laws saw a shift from rights of the corporation back toward respecting human rights and the dignity of each person.
Supreme Court decisions of the 21st century have seen a huge shift in removing the rights of individuals and shifting those rights to corporations. In the 21st century we now see individual human rights trumped by the corporation's rights.
Jay Hall, Tampa