Let’s get High: Legal Marijuana and the Fight for Arizona Schools

On Thursday, April 26th, the teachers in Arizona are planning a state-wide walkout. They have had enough of low pay, ignored support staff, and crumbling buildings. Their textbooks, and their classrooms, are falling apart. Currently, teachers in the state have seen a 12% decrease in pay over the last ten years. Every state-funded area has been funded to reach pre-recession levels. Except for education. So far, Governor Doug Ducey has done nothing more than throw out a lame attempt at a cease-fire. His compromise was met with increased derision. Locked in a game of chicken over the conditions of education in Arizona, the teachers prepare to strike. Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana might solve these problems. 

School Bus Background

Currently, the sales tax on legalized marijuana helps to fund public education in the states of California, Oregon, and Colorado (among others). In 2015, critics warned that Colorado was getting their hopes up that the sales tax from recreational marijuana use would make a difference in the problem areas of crumbling school buildings, teacher pay, and classroom materials. These same critics warned that Colorado was setting itself up for failure. 

Fast forward to 2017, when the state of Colorado saw $300 million put into improving and building new school buildings, since the sales tax system for marijuana was approved by voters in 2012. Teacher pay has also increased, and public education is able to expend resources to improve the academic environment for their students – especially in underserved rural communities. 

aged and worn vintage photo of marijuana sign with palm trees

But would this work in Arizona? Based on a data fact sheet, legalizing recreational marijuana might just be the answer that legislators are looking for to solve their problems. Essentially, legalizing and taxing marijuana would create those extra funds that Ducey cannot seem to find. According to this fact sheet, by 2019 around “$38 million would be available to be distributed to schools” with $69.6 million being available by 2020. Out of these projected numbers, 40% of the funds would go directly to school districts and charter schools. Based on these findings, Arizona would be looking at a financial gain from the sale of recreational marijuana in the state – despite what critics are saying. 

Phoenix Arizona

The country waits and watches what will unfold this week in the state of Arizona. The teacher walkout is imminent and school districts are sending out letters and posting to social media, in an effort to warn parents of potential school closures. Governor Ducey will be forced to face the music of an educational shutdown. He may find a solution in a controversial recreational drug.


Glock Blocked: The NRA and the Fight Against Research on Gun Violence

In 2015, Congress quietly extended a ban on gun violence research following the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Lifting the ban would have allowed the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to move forward in studying the underlying causes of gun violence. There is no lack of evidence that this study was blocked by the influence of NRA lobbyists. In 2012, President Obama lifted the ban, and ordered the CDC to “get back to work research gun violence in America”. Yet, the CDC did not jump to conduct research, as if someone (or some group) was keeping them from doing so. As the mass shootings continued to claim lives – of adults and children – the blocking of research into gun violence by the NRA is becoming a conflict of interest with the very American people that the gun-advocacy group claim to want to protect. 

America has a long history of blocking research on gun control and gun violence. This has lead to studies done on violence by the CDC that strongly omit the mention of statistics directly related to gun violence. As the protests calling for tighter gun control grow in volume, this omission becomes evidence of just how much pro-gun propaganda controls the information that we receive – alarming when this information is connected to the safety of children.


The National Rifle Association (NRA) has built their philosophy around telling people that owning a gun will keep your family safe. To the NRA, gun ownership is the key to protecting the lives of people you love. A study in 1993 by the CDC changed all that when it found that owning a gun actually increased the chance of death within the home. Panicked, the NRA jumped to lobby for the passing of the Dickey Amendment. The Dickey Amendment, passed in 1996, stopped the research into gun violence by slashing the budget the CDC spent on this type of research. 

For decades, the Dickey Amendment kept the truth about gun violence from gaining any research-based traction. Instead, people watched as news story after news story reported on the deaths that guns were causing – from domestic murders to massive school shootings. 

The absence of research from the CDC on gun violence has again become a popular focus of interest. The mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School and the March for Our Lives movement has caused many to point out that the Dickey Amendment doesn’t actually ban the CDC from conducting research on the causes and results of gun violence, only that the CDC cannot advocate for gun control. 


This realization about the specifics of the decades-old Dickey Amendment begs the question: What is the NRA so afraid of? Common sense will tell you that the NRA is afraid the research into gun violence will speak for itself – that it is, in fact, the gun that kills people.  

Sending Dangerous Messages to Kids: The Power of the Walk Up Movement

On March 14, 2018, kids across the country showed their solidarity with Stoneman Douglas High School students by walking out of school for 17 minutes. These 17 minutes symbolized the 17 lives lost in the school shooting that occurred in Parkland, Florida in February. According to USA Today, hundreds of students from 2,800 schools walked out at 10 a.m. on March 14th. These students ranged in age from elementary school to high school. The student leading this movement are quickly becoming the future of American leadership. They have the power to change what we have become. And they know it.

The Walk Out movement was not embraced by all. A teacher in Virginia, named Jodie Katsetos, posted an image that went viral. The Daily Beast reported on the image that Katsetos shares. Her image pushes for a movement called Walk UP not OUT. Counter to the school walkouts, the Walk UP movement encouraged students to stay in school and “walk UP to someone and JUST BE NICE.” This idea of Walking Up and not OUT soon went viral across social media platforms. On March 14th, several schools across the country shared images of their students walking up to others and working to stop bullying. Others on social media were quick to point out the dangers of the Walk Up movement. Not only was it too naive and simple a solution to a complex problem, but it worked to invalidate the students protesting by walking out of school. Invalidating the Walk OUT movement sends a message to the future leaders of our country that their voices are not powerful when, in fact, they are.


As the Walk Up movement gained momentum, individuals on social media were quick to share their own stories of the reality of walking up to students and being nice. As a adults, it can sometimes be hard to remember the reality of social situations in junior and senior high school. We work hard in our later years to forget earlier memories of awkward cafeteria seating arrangements and being bullied by classmates. Luckily, there were adults on social media that reminded us.

One of the first to advocate against the Walk UP movement by sharing their own story was a writer for The Daily Beast. Mandy Velez recounts to her readers a story of walking up to one of the outcasts at her school. She was fifteen and the experience did not go as planned. The outcast student, a boy, asked her out. When Velez declined, he told her that he would shoot her. Various other posts on social media echo Velez and her story, proving that it is not as easy as it sounds to just spread kindness.

Another social media post shared the negative effects of the Walk Up movement from the opposite perspective: the outcast. This former student tells of an experience being “reverse bullied” by the student spreading kindness. Constantly, the “outcast” was asked if she would shoot up the school. The student working to be kind even asked if she would be spared “since I have been nice to you.” The former “outcast” ended her social media post by explaining that she was just a quiet kid with social anxiety and that she just wanted to be left alone. The author of the (now) viral post explains that the Walk UP movement towards kindness only was effective in heightening her social anxiety at school – not making her feel more welcome and comfortable.

Making students feel that they are directly responsible for school shootings based on how nice they act to their peers is not a healthy message to give to kids. Students must be reassured that school shootings occur because of various factors outside of their control, such as lax gun laws, mental health issues, and security around campus. It is entirely possible that students who do go out of their way to be kind to others may feel guilt following a school shooting because they have been told they have the power to stop it from happening. Studies already show that students that survive a shooting on their campus suffer from PTSD – we do not need to add levels of guilt to this.

One of the more dangerous factors that comes out of the Walk UP movement is that it invalidates the voices of students. As a result of increasing incidents of school shootings and gun violence on campus, students across the country are becoming more and more afraid for their safety while in school. Statistics say that they should be. However, the message that the Walk UP movement sends is one of silence: go back to class and be nice to students. Stop bullying and you won’t get shot. Students are not buying into this rhetoric as a viable solution to their fears.


Students, and adults that support them, are calling the Walk UP not OUT movement what it is: a form of victim blaming. Glennon Doyle, author of Love Warrior, explains that the movement is “another way for [adults] to deflect responsibilities [and] it is not our children’s responsibility to protect themselves from gun violence. It is ours.” These students are taking a stand because they feel that they are not getting the support that they need from adults. By victim blaming, the movement started by Katsetos is only fueling their anger at adults. Can we blame them?

Malcolm Gladwell Explores a Theory on School Shootings

In 2015, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article for The New Yorker called “Thresholds of Violence”. In his article, Gladwell explored the motivations behind school shooters – using his trademark combination of interviews, data, and psychological theory. Gladwell is a renowned journalist, popular for the insights he brings to issues of the social sciences. This article is not the first time that he has explored topics of social psychology ahead of current events. In his book Blink (2005), Gladwell explored the mistakes that police officers can make when they are in the heat of the chase. As we know from the current Black Lives Matter movement, these mistakes can often have very controversial and tragic ends.

It is fitting to revisit Gladwell’s article in 2018, as the students of Parkland, FL have begun a massive movement to change the gun laws that are to blame for the epidemic of school shootings that occur in America. These driven teenagers are angry. Why shouldn’t they be? But as the marches and school walkouts sweep the nation, there is still an ongoing debate revolving around the cause of these mass shootings. Malcolm Gladwell had a theory on what was behind the motivation of these killers – and he shared that theory with the world more than 3 years ago.

Gladwell pads his article with massive emotional appeal, laying out the psychology of the issue using the power of storytelling. In this piece, Gladwell is telling his audience the story of John LaDue, a seventeen-year-old kid from Minnesota who almost became a school shooter. Gladwell isn’t interested in how police were able to stop this event from occurring, instead he is fascinated with the motivation that drove LaDue to the point of murdering his fellow students.

John LaDue

LaDue tells police officers in his formal interview that he “just wanted as many victims as possible.” As a motivating factor for murder, it is a pretty weak one. Gladwell seems to find it weak as well, and probes deeper to find a more substantial reason that LaDue wanted to murder, not only his classmates, but also his own family. In the interest of hooking into the emotions of his readers, Gladwell stops LaDue’s narrative for a moment to review the painful history of American school shootings.

There are a lot of school shooting incidents to offer up as evidence that this issue has become a major problem for Americans. Tragically, since this article was published in 2015, there are many more incidents of school shootings that Gladwell can add to his list. According to Gladwell, “since Sandy Hook, there have been more than one hundred and forty school shootings in the United States.” Sandy Hook occurred in 2012. These statistics hit the reader hard. They are supposed to.

One of the elements of school shootings that Gladwell’s article aims to explore regarding this “modern phenomenon” is that the shooters do not appear to fit into any pattern. This is a problem because it makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to prevent school shootings. Gladwell provides narrative evidence of this puzzle by showcasing the individual backgrounds of various shooters – some were the products of “chaotic home life,” while others “had not been traumatized.” He mentions that Eric Harris, the mastermind behind the massacre at Columbine High School, was a “classic psychopath” that was able to manipulate and fool everyone around him. At the conclusion of this psychological survey of school shooters, Gladwell returns his audience to the story of LaDue. LaDue also does not fit any profile that law enforcement and professional criminal psychologists have created to explain school shooters.

It is here that Gladwell finally presents his social psychology theory on school shooters to his audience. He has effectively reached readers and connected to them on an emotional level. It is time for some logical reasoning and social science.


Gladwell carefully unfolds a decades-old theory for his readers. This theory, developed by Stanford scientist Mark Granovetter, seeks to explain “a person or group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are and what they think is right.” Gladwell sees an instant connection between this phenomenon and the school shooters of modern America. He acknowledges that Granovetter’s theory was an attempt to explain riots – but that it can be adapted and brought into the future.

The key element of Granovetter’s theory about riots is that it diverged from the popular (at the time) idea that the motivation to join a riot occurred on an individual level. Unlike others that believed individuals altered their personalities while in the moment, Granovetter saw riots as “a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around him.” This theory hinges on another social science theory – the threshold. Gladwell explains that Granovetter described the concept of thresholds as “the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them.” Gladwell continues to explain that thresholds build on each other in levels, until the group becomes so large that it pulls in more and more individuals that would have never even conceived of joining the group.

This is a very powerful theory. As the reader begins to see how Gladwell connects it to the puzzle of school shooters, a figurative lightbulb begins to turn on. The implication that these acts of group violence (riots) can grow and evolve means that “they have depth and length and a history.” Something that is becoming true of school shootings in America. Gladwell argues that this theory of thresholds and riots can be effectively applied to seeing school shootings as “a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot” that seems to have no end in sight.

After explaining and evolving Granovetter’s theory on riots and making his powerful hypothesis that this theory could explain school shootings, Gladwell brings the reader back to Columbine High School in 1999. Gladwell quotes another social psychologist, Ralph Larkin, to argue that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – the two Columbine shooters – “laid down the ‘cultural script’ for the next generation of shooters.” It is a powerful observation, and something that a reader can validate by turning on the news in 2018. Gladwell uses statistical facts to support Larkin’s argument. There is no denying that the majority of school shooters that were interviewed after Columbine cited Harris and Klebold as heroes.

Gladwell returns to the narrative of LaDue, the wannabe school shooter that was arrested before he was able to carry out mass murder. To Gladwell, LaDue fits the profile of a “high threshold” individual – based on Granovetter’s theory. LaDue was pulled into the phenomenon of school shootings, but lacked the “lower threshold” personality that was required to actually follow through. This saved lives only because the police arrested him in time. There is no way to know if LaDue would have gone through with his plans.

Gladwell ends his explorative argument by observing that “the problem [with American school shooters] is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts.” Gladwell tells us that it is worse because “young men no longer need to be disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.” It is entirely possible that the future safety of America’s schoolchildren lies in the exploration of Granovetter’s threshold theory.

The Audacity of Spotify’s Ad Campaign

The advertising campaign rolled out by Spotify in 2018 is bold.

For those that may not be part of the popular crowd, Spotify is the go-to music streaming subscription service. Launched in 2008, the company offers both a free streaming service (with ads) or a premium account (without the ads). It’s the best $9.99 that I spend all month.

Spotify is not without controversy. Music artists have been sounding a rally cry for years, arguing the site does not offer them acceptable compensation for their music. These artists have a valid point. At the end of the business day, artists on Spotify make less then a $1 per song that has been streamed. Taylor Swift, famous pop music icon, dramatically withheld her entire music catalog from the site (and others) in an effort to bring this debate on to the main stage. Ultimately, in 2016, the artist released all of her music onto the site.


Fast forward to 2018. Spotify has unveiled their audacious ad campaign. My 8th grade students would describe it as “savage.” Because that is exactly what it is. The campaign features a variety of huge billboard-size posters that both insult and flatter the customers that are streaming music on their site. Using images like Ed Sheeran, and taking bold political stances, Spotify effectively taps into their target audience.

Who is their audience? Based on the political boldness of some of their advertisement copy, I can tell you who isn’t their target audience: the conservative Right. This ad campaign promotes the ideals and values of the liberal Left – from taking jabs at Pence and his anti-gay stance, to mocking former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. It is a bold statement for a company to make. It is also an effective one for a company whose target audience is teenagers and college students.

Spotify’s new ad campaign is a great combination of pathos and logos – those terms that may sound vaguely familiar if you ever took a high school or college writing class. The ads create a powerful connection with the target audience, both through an appeal to humor and an appeal to the human desire to be “cool”. Spotify’s ad campaign makes so many references to current music that a person feels cool because they manage to identify them all. Something that I bet your grandmother can’t do. But the music streaming company does more than just appeal to their consumer’s emotions, they also present data in an entertaining and effective way. It is strangely fascinating to learn that “3,445 people [streamed] the ‘Boozy Brunch’ playlist on a Wednesday.” The marketing team at Spotify does a great job using statistical data in a way that appeals to humor and to their audience demographic.

The 2018 ad campaign at Spotify is also an intense study in the power of kairos – that idea that powerful rhetoric must pay attention to the right place and time to present an argument. Spotify takes full advantage of the political climate in America. The boldest billboard savagely takes a swing at Vice President Mike Pence. The ad references a playlist called “Daddy Pence, Come Dance.” To add to the political dig at our country’s VP, the billboard visually showcases a gay pride flag waving in the background – a direct call-out to Pence’s stance against the rights of gay people in America. It is a timely and powerful message.


People have taken notice. AdWeek calls the campaign “one of the most delightful deployments of user data in advertising today” and focuses their analysis on how much Spotify has improved on the ad campaign they used in 2017 (that followed the same user-data model). Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman told Creativity Online that the campaign is meant to invoke “a spirit of hope and optimism.” By providing consumers with a light-hearted advertising campaign, Spotify successfully takes some of the seriousness out of the current pop culture climate. They have provided us, using their billboards, with a good laugh.