TIME politics

Homeschooled Kids Shouldn’t Be Scapegoats for Sandy Hook

A man pays tribute to the victims of an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 15, 2012. EMMANUEL DUNAND—AFP/Getty Images

Quinn Cummings is a writer of three books, Notes From the Underwire, The Year of Learning Dangerously and Pet Sounds.

Fear of another school massacre is inspiring bad policies

Adam Lanza was a deeply troubled boy long before he set foot in Sandy Hook Elementary school. His father knew it. His psychiatrist knew it. His classmates knew it. What his mother knew or suspected, she has taken to her grave – one of the six adults and 20 children he shot to death that morning. So it’s reasonable that one focus of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is trying to prevent another troubled child from repeating this carnage.

But reports have surfaced that under a proposal being considered by the governor’s Commission, “Parents who home-school children with significant emotional, social or behavioral problems would have to file progress reports prepared by special education program teams.”

The impulse behind such a sanction is understandable. If someone had killed 20 children in my community, I’d be trying to put every safeguard in place. But it’s bad policy. For one, who defines “significant emotional, social or behavioral problems”? The parent? The child? An expert appointed to assess every homeschooler in the district?

My partner and I have been homeschooling our daughter since she finished fourth grade and we know dozens of families who homeschool as well. When I was researching the homeschool option, I became aware of the depth and breadth of homeschooling across America. Many of these children have never seen the inside of a formal classroom; some live as far off the grid as one can get in the 21st century, so besides the state’s mandatory annual testing (assuming the homeschooler resides in such a state), there may be no record of them in the education system. What is the school system going to do? Send a psychiatrist to each house to assess each child? I don’t know about your neighborhood, but the Los Angeles Unified School District is spending every dollar they have trying to educate the children within their walls. They have 640,000 students and 305 mental-health professionals dedicated to those students. If California were considering a similar proposal, would those numbers be increased to attend to homeschoolers, or would the enrolled students have to wait even longer for help?

There are quite a few families who homeschool because they believe, correctly or not, that the school system doesn’t understand or help their exceptional child. Homeschoolers aren’t overly concerned with maintaining the status quo, or they probably wouldn’t be homeschooling. If a stranger, even a well-meaning one, walked into the community and started handing out diagnoses and sanctions, they would get get hellish pushback. I’m not saying these families would be right. Many homeschooled children have been hurt by parental blind spots and many of these children could benefit from professional attention and therapy. But, as with bricks-and-mortar schools, there are always students who are quirky, or emotionally immature or just weird little kids. Most of them outgrow their weirdness and emerge quite nicely into adulthood; some will develop a passionate outlet or join up with other kids who are just as offbeat, and a few of these will change the world in meaningful ways. This group includes some of our greatest thinkers, artists and captains of industry, so we need to be alert to any potential for abuse by “special education program teams.”

But perhaps the most troubling element of the commission’s proposal is the adjective “significant.” Exhibiting a behavioral problem isn’t like exhibiting a sixth toe, which anyone would easily recognize, or a heart murmur that an EKG could spot in an instant. Mental-health diagnostics are as much art as science, and unless the community is prepared to not only diagnose but also help treat what they find, then the only yield of all this effort would be a paper trail of “progress reports” and very little else.

It’s important to note that Adam Lanza was only homeschooled during his last two years of high school. He hadn’t slipped through the cracks. He wasn’t one of those kids who never show up on the mental health radar. The school knew about him, his classmates knew about him and the people close to him cared and worried about him. Nevertheless, Lanza showed up that morning with a Bushmaster XM15 semi-automatic and started firing.

Since Sandy Hook, there have been 87 school shootings; at least 34 people have been killed. All of these shootings were by non-homeschoolers who had access to guns. Perhaps the unspoken tragedy of the Sandy Hook massacre, and its most bitter irony, is that a mentally ill homeschooler had easy access to a machine gun that he used to murder 26 people in less than five minutes, and the part they want to regulate is the homeschooling.

Quinn Cummings is a writer of three books, Notes From the Underwire, The Year of Learning Dangerously and Pet Sounds. Her articles have been published in, among others, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, TIME, The Huffington Post and Good Housekeeping. She is a passionate animal lover, an indifferent housekeeper and would eat her own hand if you put salsa on it.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

How the Legend of the ‘October Surprise’ Came to Haunt D.C.

The Nov. 8, 1968, cover of TIME
The Nov. 8, 1968, cover of TIME TIME

Ebola and ISIS and oil prices, oh my!

You may have heard of the ‘October Surprise,’ a news story that bursts onto the public consciousness shortly before Election Day. Legend has it this sort of event can swing votes and sway electoral outcomes. The legend’s propagators — pundits, mostly — sift through the news all October long, searching for that one event worthy of being declared the October surprise. Only this October, the surprises kept ducking and bobbing the punditry like a game of Whac-A-Mole. No sooner than one story had made front page news, a rival story bumped it to page two. As October draws to an end, consider just a few of this season’s contenders.

Nominations kicked off in late September, with Barack Obama’s declaration of airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Ebola stole the show as a patient in Dallas transmitted the virus to two nurses. ISIS came roaring back with an assault on the Syrian village of Kobani, until the interagency tussle over Ebola quarantine protocols got top billing. Then there were the dark horses: Secret Service slip-ups, plummeting oil prices, “dark money” swamping the campaign trail. As late as Wednesday, a headline on CBS News pleaded, “Why aren’t gas prices the Democrats’ October surprise?”

“We’re up to our necks in them,” wrote syndicated columnist Bob Franken, a seasoned pundit who has previously tried to retire the phrase as an outdated relic from a cynical era. Surely there are more rational ways to interpret the news than to fixate on events that immediately precede election day, as if the voting public had the collective memory of a goldfish. So the legend’s refusal to go away raises an important question: Where did it come from and why won’t it die?

It has been traced to various sources. Former New York Times columnist William Saffire recalled hearing the phrase uttered by a Nixon aide in the run-up to the 1968 presidential election. The aide predicted that president Lyndon Johnson would announce an end to hostilities in Vietnam, thereby boosting public support for democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey. At the close of October, the announcement came with great fanfare, taking the cover of TIME on November 8, as seen above.

It also appeared to confirm the Nixon aide’s suspicions, which by then were referred to in shorthand as the “October surprise,” according to Saffire. Historians have offered alternative narratives, some tracing the invention of the phrase to George H.W. Bush on the 1980 campaign trail.

Whoever coined the phrase, it didn’t come into popular use until 1980, when Reagan supporters began invoking it with rising alarm. Jimmy Carter, they insisted, would spring an announcement on the public shortly before election day. The announcement would relate to some modest policy achievement overseas. Carter would inflate its significance and rally voters to his side. They called it the “October surprise” and an early instance of that use was recorded by TIME in the July 28, 1980, issue.

It might have ended there, but the phrase resurfaced again in September. “The Reaganites talk nervously, and sarcastically, of an ‘October surprise,’” read one account from a TIME reporter. By October, it had become a common refrain. “All the Republicans now believe” it, read one story in TIME. A second story in the same issue noted that Republicans were “setting aside much of their warchest and buying up television time in advance in order to respond to an ‘October surprise’ by the President.”

With such a dramatic build-up, it’s no wonder that the phrase stuck after Jimmy Carter announced, as if on cue, the impending release of 52 American hostages from Iran. However, the release wouldn’t take place until after the inauguration, spawning competing theories that the announcement was timed to help Carter, while the release date was timed to help Reagan.

After that, the phrase took on a conspiratorial hue, referring to any event staged by a campaign to manipulate voters. Through gradual use, however, the phrase lost its potency. Today, it can refer to any surprise at all that falls within the calendar month of October. In short, it became a superstition. Anyone who has a Rube-Goldberg-like ability to connect world events to the electoral prospects of candidate so-and-so can play along. This month, the game was irresistible.

Read TIME’s 1968 cover story about Lyndon Johnson’s original October Surprise, here in the archives: The Bombing Halt

TIME People

Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino Dies at 71

Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino
Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino W. Marc Bernsau—Boston Business Journal

Menino was the city's longest-serving mayor, who led for more than two decades

Thomas M. Menino, the beloved former mayor of Boston who led the city for more than two decades, died Thursday. He was 71, and his passing was confirmed in a statement on his Facebook page.

Menino, who served five terms in office to become the city’s longest-serving mayor, was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer soon after stepping down earlier this year. Last week, Menino announced that he would stop chemotherapy treatment — and suspend a tour to promote his book Mayor for a New America — to spend more time with his family and friends.

“At just after 9:00am this morning the Honorable Thomas M. Menino passed into eternal rest after a courageous battle with cancer,” the statement said. “He was surrounded by his devoted wife Angela, loving family and friends. Mayor Menino, the longest serving Mayor of the City of Boston, led our city through a transformation of neighborhood resurgence and historic growth — leaving the job he loved, serving the city and people he loved this past January. We ask that you respect the families’ privacy during this time and arrangements for services will be announced soon.”

Menino is credited with overseeing the ascent of Boston’s skyline and leading the city through economic downturns to become a hub for business and technology. The city’s first mayor of Italian descent, according to the Boston Globe, Menino’s old-school political style won him the support of the city, leaving office with an approval rating of nearly 80%. A 2008 Globe poll found that more than half of the Boston respondents said they had met him personally.

Read TIME’s 2013 profile of Menino here: The Last of the Big-City Bosses

TIME #TheBrief

#TheBrief: Ebola Quarantines Get Political

While the federal government works to contain Ebola in the U.S., states are taking matters into their own hands—and butting heads with the White House and the CDC in the process.

The attempt to contain the spread of Ebola in the United States is becoming political, with governors imposing varying, stringent, and sometimes unclear quarantine rules that are hard to enforce across state lines.

President Barack Obama spoke out against these policies Wednesday, saying, “We don’t want to discourage our health care workers from going to the front lines. They are doing God’s work over there, and they are doing it to keep us safe.”

Here’s your brief on the science and politics of Ebola.

TIME politics

All of Your Female Heroes Teamed Up to Make a PSA Encouraging Women to Vote

"You're living in the past, it's a new generation"

People tend to overlook the importance of the mid-term elections, turning out in lower numbers for races that often have as much riding on them as the presidential election. But if it were up to Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein, Sia and the dozens of other women in a new PSA, that trend would be reversed next week, and it would be reversed thanks to women.

In the PSA, women and girls of all ages — and a few male friends for good measure — lip sync to Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” shredding and head-banging for a cause. The legislative landscape, the video explains, has not been kind to women. Last year saw more laws passed to restrict reproductive rights than in the previous decade combined. The wage gap continues to yawn lazily without effective laws to reduce it. And what’s a woman to do about all of this? Get out and vote, that’s what.

The video was produced by the Department of Peace, “an art collective geared toward creating consciousness-raising content and inspiring young people toward political participation and community-oriented action.” They remind women that access to reproductive health services is geographically uneven, highly dependent upon which state you live in, so high turnout from sea to sea (and especially in between) is as important as ever.

While most of the song’s lyrics work well as a feminist anthem, at one point Jett sings, “It never gets better, anyway.” Well, perhaps it does. That’s up to voters.

TIME Culture

Poll: Most Girls Think Politics Is a Man’s World

A Girl Scouts Research Institute study reveals that 37% of girls want to become a politician, but they need mentors

Teenage girls are interested in politics, according to a recent study, but the negative stereotypes of female politicians make them reluctant to pursue political careers.

According to the Girls and Politics Pulse Poll released this month by the Girl Scout Research Institute, 67% of American girls between the ages of 11 and 17 are interested in politics. But only 32% believe society encourages women to be politicians, and, perhaps most dismaying, 74% believe that if they were to go into politics, they would have to work harder than a man to be taken seriously.

With women currently holding only 18.5% of the seats in Congress, these results unfortunately aren’t entirely surprising.

“Girls can’t be what they can’t see,” Girl Scouts chief executive Anna Maria Chávez told the Washington Post.

But the girls who responded to the survey had some suggestions for how to change the perception of politics as a man’s world–they want more support from teachers, mentors and the media. A majority of girls said mentoring by current female politicians, after school programs focused on civic engagement and more positive media coverage of women in politics would encourage them to pursue a career politics.

TIME ebola

Chris Christie Defends Controversial Ebola Quarantine

"They don't want to admit that we were right and they were wrong"

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie defended his heavily criticized decision to forcibly quarantine a nurse returning from West Africa for Ebola on Tuesday morning, saying the state’s policy of mandatory quarantining of returning health workers will remain in place.

“I don’t think it’s draconian,” Christie, appearing on the Today show, said of New Jersey’s mandatory 21-day quarantine on health care workers returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. “The members of the American public believe it is common sense, and we are not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.”

Nurse Kaci Hickox was discharged and allowed to go home to Maine Monday after being held in isolation for three days at University Hospital in Newark over protests from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), members of the Obama administration, and her lawyer. “Governors ultimately have the responsibility to protect the public health and public safety,” Christie said, noting that when Hickox tested negative she was sent home.

Christie denied he had acted out of political expediency, arguing that mandatory quarantines are a nonpartisan issue, having been adopted by at least six red and blue states. “I will not submit to any political pressure in doing anything less than I believe is necessary,” he said.

The governor also said the CDC has been too slow to change its policies, and is now “incrementally taking steps to the policy we put in effect in New Jersey.” The CDC announced on Monday new guidelines for people traveling from West Africa, but still recommends voluntary at-home isolation rather than state-mandated quarantines.

“What’s the difference of telling someone who has been a health care worker at high risk that they can’t go in public places, public transportation and we want them to work from home, what’s the difference between that and a quarantine?” he said. “They don’t want to admit that we’re right and they were wrong.”

Read next: Ebola Quarantines ‘Not Grounded on Science,’ Say Leading Health Groups


Predict Who Will Win the Senate in 2014

Forget Nate Silver. Anyone can be a political handicapper. Place your bets on whether the Democrats or the Republicans will be victorious on Election Day

The professional election handicappers in Washington and New York are trying to cut you out of the process. They are using their fancy number machines to predict which party will control the U.S. Senate next year. The Washington Post says Republicans have a 91% chance of getting at least 51 seats, while the The New York Times and ESPN’s Nate Silver say there is a 63% chance.

But you shouldn’t let them do it alone. In America anyone can handicap an election. We’ve provided each candidate’s political strength and liabilities. And we’ve left out the political party to make you think harder about the individual candidates. So have at it. Tell us all who is going to win in each of the next ten races, and we’ll tell you who will win the Senate. Then share on Twitter and Facebook.


*Polling numbers from RealClearPolitics.


The South Korean Ferry Tragedy Has Exposed a Bitter Political Divide

Sewol Disaster Impact On South Korea Continues
A man holds a candle as protesters continue their fight at the Sewol ferry protest camp September 16, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea. Paula Bronstein—Getty Images

Incredibly, right-wing groups in South Korea have a problem with families of Sewol victims continuing to mourn their loved ones

When the Sewol ferry sank in April, South Korea was united in trauma over the tragedy of a routine ferry ride that somehow resulted in the deaths of around 300 people, many of them high school kids.

More than six months later, that grief has mutated into bitterness along political lines, and given rise to a slow-burn faceoff between antagonistic civic groups in the heart of the South Korean capital.

In Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul’s symbolic center, amid groups of tourists taking selfies, relatives of some of those who died on the Sewol and their supporters have, for more than three months, been camped out in a makeshift tent city. And on a sidewalk across the square, civic groups with a very different take on the issue of the sinking have set up their own camp.

The relatives are calling on the government to mandate a thorough investigation into the cause of the sinking. “All we want is the truth,” said Kim Sung-shil, the 50-year-old mother of a high school boy who died in the sinking. More than six months after her son’s death, Kim still introduces herself as “Dong-hyuk’s mom.”

The families and their supporters argue that corruption and corner-cutting were behind the sinking, and need to be rooted out. The company that operated the Sewol is believed to have violated safety regulations by overloading the ship and failing to train the crew in how to carry out an emergency evacuation. The government’s emergency response has also been criticized for being late and ineffective.

When it went down on Apr. 16, the Sewol was carrying 476 people, only 172 of whom were rescued, many by private vessels who went to the scene to help out. Ten bodies have still not been recovered.

“If we never find the real truth behind the tragedy, our society will just become a darker place where people fear for their safety,” Kim said.

In part because most of them came from a working class suburb, victims of the sinking have become identified with the political left, leading to a forceful backlash from right wing groups that have their roots in red-bashing. Across the road from where Kim is camped out, right-wingers argue that the grieving families have been at it long enough and it’s time to get back to business as usual.

“It’s time for someone to stand up and say enough is enough,” said Bae Sung-gwan, a conservative activist and retired career soldier. He added, “At the time of the sinking, everyone felt sympathy for them, but a long time has passed and that sympathy has run out.”

In late September, while Sewol families and supporters were holding a hunger strike, rightwing activists held a protest of their own where they feasted on pizza and fried chicken directly in front of them.

Kim Sung-shil said of her conservative adversaries, “I have no idea why they’re here. It’s like they don’t have families.”

The Sewol incident and its fallout even led Lee and some associates, all graying men, to revive the Northwest Youth Association, a conservative youth group with a history of anti-communist purges.

After the 1951-53 Korean War, South Korea was, for decades, led by military dictatorships who argued that harsh controls were necessary to protect the country’s fragile peace from North Korean communist infiltration.

Some far-right activists also still believe that South Korea could at any time be overrun by communists from North Korea. “The leftists are using this [the Sewol sinking] as a chance to seize power. If they come to control the government, our country will be vulnerable to communists,” said Kang In-ho, a rightwing activist manning his side’s main table, gathering signatures for a petition seeking for any special Sewol investigation to be cancelled.

Parliament was deadlocked for weeks due to disagreement over the composure of the investigative body and the limits of its authority. The ruling and opposition parties reached a compromise on the law in early October, but the families are refusing to accept it on the grounds that they weren’t given a say in choosing who will carry out the investigation. The bill mandating the investigation will be passed at the end of October, once parliament finishes regular audits of government ministries.

The outdoor struggle is therefore likely to continue, even as Seoul’s crisp autumn weather segues into the bitter cold of winter. Kim says she’s in for the long haul. “I know Dong-hyuk is watching,” she said. “I can’t give up now.”

Kang In-ho says it’s time to move on from the Sewol tragedy. “The economy is suffering because they’re trying to keep everyone sad.”

But, Kang says, he’s not ready to move on from his own activist camp just yet. When asked how long his group planned to keep their post, Kang points over his shoulder at the Sewol families and says, “One day longer than them.”

TIME politics

Russell Brand Explains How You Start a Revolution

"This is a revolution to make life more exciting."

Russell Brand’s new book, Revolution, begins in a bathroom stall before his now infamous interview with English journalist Jeremy Paxman. In the last moments of silence before the sit-down, he throws up a few prayers (not to mention a couple of Eminem lyrics) and plans for the best.

In the next hour, that interview (or more appropriately worded, that clash) with Paxman — wherein Brand expounded on his views about errant voting paradigms, the stifling power of oligarchies, and the exploitation of the underclass — would throw him into a political sphere no one was really expecting.

A year later, Brand is calling for a revolution.

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