Open Letter to Secretary of Education, Mr. Arne Duncan
The AMERICA’S ANGEL® Campaign
Raising the Bar on Raising America
Mr. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
January 20, 2013
RE: Request to join President Obama’s Call to Action on gun violence
Dear Mr. Duncan:
I am Principal of Lincoln High School, an alternative “Trauma Sensitive” school in Walla Walla, Washington. Our staff is trained to use compassion to defuse potential violence in our students whose fear-based childhoods put them at-risk. As an Administrator, my concerns include student outcomes, discipline, and decreasing both dropouts and school violence. In June, 2012, journalist Jane Stevens featured Lincoln’s disciplinary model in her Huffington Post article, Suspension Rates at a Washington School Drop 85%: Does Kindness Play a Role? In every day statistics, the 85% decrease meant 800 suspension days dropped to 135, thus for 765 days students attended class rather than roam the streets.
The article received 370,000 responses, the most significant from Morgan Rose, a progressive educator, author, and Executive Director of The America’s Angel Campaign. The mission of this research-based Campaign stands on:
Hilary Clinton’s call to action in her book, It Takes A Village, and Michelle Obama’s goal, “The children of our Country must know they come first.”
Mission of The America’s Angel Campaign:
To establish the well-being of America’s children as our nation’s highest priority, ensuring their birthright to be safe and nurtured in their own homes and homeland.
Ms. Rose contacted me because of our shared support of the Adverse Childhood Effects (ACE) Study, noted in Ms. Stevens’ article. The ACE Study, a co-research study of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, San Diego, overwhelmingly demonstrates that early stress damages brain development, most dramatically altering a child’s developmental abilities to attend, learn, and feel empathy. These three issues are the building blocks of a civil society.
I researched the Campaign’s mission, and found it aligned with mine – that neurological research holds the key to solve our nation’s pandemic of children without hope. With Ms. Rose’s invitation, I joined the Board of Directors.
This letter was prompted by your PBS interview with Gwin Ifill following the Sandy Hook tragedy. For the first time, I heard a national leader call each of us to take responsibility for the complex problem of youth violence. You rightfully noted that our communities must come together to seek the solution so our kids can go to school without fear. Personally, just eight weeks ago my wife, three daughters and two grandchildren were shopping at a large mall in Clackamas, Oregon. Three weeks later a gunman murdered three people in that mall.
In 1998, I attended an Educators’ conference where a judge from Massachusetts was the keynote speaker. With conviction and urgency, he shared that until America started to protect her children, youth violence would continue to rise. That was fifteen years ago and his statement has been proven true with the blood and lost innocence of our children.
About that same time, Dr. Robert Anda, co-researcher of the ACE Study, spoke to a Congressional panel. Sharing his research, his voice shook with urgency, “We must protect our children.” Following his presentation, a congressman told him, “In America, that’s just the way it is. Parents have the right to raise their children without interference.”
In 2001, Morgan Rose was invited to WashingtonD.C. by a member of Congress to speak to our national leadership about children, families, and the escalating social trends that were plunging our children’s futures towards disaster. That presentation, scheduled for the last week of August, 2001, was cancelled due to lack of interest: “No one in Washington is talking about children and families these days.”
T. Berry Brazelton, Harvard’s renowned Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus, stated in 1989, “America is the least child and family-oriented society in the civilized world.”
In your PBS interview, you stated, “The time is now to find solutions that prevent violence, not just protect ourselves from it.” I agree. As violence is now the defining feature of modern America, we must first answer why our violence is becoming more frequent, pervasive and terrifying, and why this escalation is unique to our standing as a 1st world nation. Why does every other industrialized nation recognize what we are blind to see?
The reactive, and often reckless rhetoric – assigning “evil” or “mental illness” as the genesis of mass murder – does allow us to distance ourselves, but also defies three decades of neuroscience, including The ACE Study. We can spend billions of tax-payer dollars on armed guards, mental health services and gun control, but to credit massacres such as in Aurora, Tucson, Oklahoma City, Columbine, Sandy Hook and the streets of Chicago to mental illness and guns aborts our nation’s ability to finally recognize our fatal flaw that is dismantling our very foundation – the indisputable link of conscious parenting to the creation of a civil society. Children with damaged brains and broken hearts are incapable of the optimum development that was their birth-right. No matter what their age, hurt people hurt people. Likewise, a child raised in peace does not pull the trigger.
The America’s Angel Campaign connects the dots of neurological research with our alarming social trends to bring forward the root cause behind the violence. More importantly, the Campaign shifts our reactive paradigm of investing in pathology to proactively investing in the optimum potential of every child by empowering the ones who ultimately hold our future in their hands – America’s parents and educators. More than a matter of policy, this is a matter of promise to our children.
Mr. Duncan, as educators and concerned citizens, we recognize that America is only as ethical, compassionate, and hopeful as the children we raise. To that end, Morgan Rose and I sincerely request the opportunity to bring research and the strategic mission of The America’s Angel Campaign into the national debate on violence in order to create the change our children can believe in.
Due to the urgency of these issues, we will arrange our schedules to meet with you at your earliest convenience. My contact information is listed below.
Thank you for your sincere attention,
The ACE Study: http://www.AceStudy.org