When it comes to school shootings I fear we will never agree on a solution because we can’t even agree on what the problem is. What is the root cause of American mass shootings? If you post that question on facebook you’ll never stop getting answers. Guns. People. Mental health crisis. School bullying. Entitled millenials raised by pumpkin spice latte sipping “snowflake libtards”. Violent video games. Glorification of violence in action movies with handsome leading men. Fatherless boys is the latest explanation being offered up by multiple think pieces. The name-calling and blame-throwing spikes after every shooting.
A fellow Rotarian and friend of mine is a teacher. Her response to the Florida school shooting made me think we should be asking teachers what they think the solution is. Who knows education better than educators?
She says, (in part), “Please if you want to help keep our schools safe, contact your legislators. The schools cannot teach, care for poverty, mental and physical health and make it a fun place for students. We simply can’t do all of those things. We need help. We need communities with robust programs for all of these things, so our schools can do what we do best: instill a love of learning in the future generations.”
Teachers can’t just teach anymore. They also have to parent and raise and counsel and heal children in the same time frame that used to be dedicated to learning subjects like history, math, art, science and literature. And they’re doing it with fewer resources, higher expectations, more regulation and less compensation.
And now, as a response to the “mental health crisis” facing America’s young students, an alarm has been sounded to deputize teachers in an as-yet-defined law enforcement capacity. And my teacher friend is throwing her hands up and saying Enough. But not all teachers think this is a bad idea.
Just a few posts down from hers was a thread started by another teacher friend. He teaches a slightly younger cohort than she does. He lives in an extremely rural county and is a staunch defender of gun rights. He is a kind man who is patient with all perspectives. Reading the divergent responses of both these teachers processing their grief, and how many of their friends seem to align with the respective world views of their own friends, reinforced just how polarized my country is.
There are those for whom the problem can be attributed to anything but guns. Anything else. And literally any solution can be offered but gun control.
A woman who was understandably upset today posted a response to this above cartoon on my second amendment friend’s page: “We carry not because we hate what is in front of us but because we love what is behind us.” Like any solemn vow, I’m quite certain she believes this.
But I believe that whatever the root cause(s) of mass shootings in the US is/are, I’m quite certain the solution is not arming teachers.
That same woman started that particular thread by saying, “These ‘kids’ that shoot up schools are cowards and have a clear path to success KNOWING they will meet zero resistance. If the perception changed in every school in America and the students ALL knew there were armed teachers, staff and guards all in and around the school, these cowards might realize that schools are no longer a soft target.”
When I was a student I had never heard the term “soft target.” I actually didn’t even know that term until I read it in this comment. I don’t mean to wax nostalgic, but when I was a kid elementary school teachers taught their grade and middle and high school teachers taught their subject. And that was it. I have no pedagogical expertise but specialization seemed to work well.
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Weber. She was from Texas and she was beautiful. She loved George Strait and wore Poison by Christian Dior — a discovery that startled me as a teenager at the perfume counter at Bon Marche — I recognized the scent instantly. I was nine years old again and her drawl was scolding me for bringing gravel into the classroom that was spilling out of my pockets and onto the reading rug. I have no idea why I did that. But I never got in trouble with her again. I still remember her fondly.
By middle school we had “block” class and interdisciplinary tracks but we had more dedicated classes taught by specific teachers. Mrs. Ryan taught science. Mr. Lewin taught writing. Mr. Balkwill taught choir and music. They were each responsible for the subject in which they specialized. Nothing more, nothing less.
But it seems that ever since we’ve started cutting school budgets the informal job description for teachers is bloating beyond scope creep, far beyond what teachers are paid or trained to do.
When I was a kid we had a separate school counselor. I don’t remember her name but she was blonde and taught us about warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. She illustrated the difference between kind words that make people feel good with cotton balls and mean things with some kind of tinsel.
But now, while teacher salaries steadily decrease, their responsibilities increase. They are no longer free to focus on academia and, as my friend said above, instill a love of learning in their students. They are also expected to be behavioral psychologists, social workers, truancy officers, nutritionists, nurses, doctors and now bodyguards and hostage negotiators.
In today’s world, the fourth grade teachers like Mrs. Weber are also called to be emergency responders with tactical weapons expertise. In the pro-gun/more guns thread I read that morning, a gentleman who seemed to be choosing his words carefully said,
“Like any other security issue the answer is in layered measures. Preventative, physical security, armed response and practiced drills. It is time we start making schools hard targets. This is a sad reality but to continue to collectively bury our heads in the sand and do nothing to secure our schools will only result in further loss of innocent life. Also I must add that disarming law abiding citizens only serves to make schools even more vulnerable. For example my wife has a current and valid carry permit for the state of Texas and carries every day, there is absolutely zero logic in forcing her to disarm herself before entering the kids’ school. If God forbid an active shooter scenario unfolded, having an armed mother present (one that can shoot the fleas off a dogs [sic] back at 15 yards with her XDM) could very well save numerous innocent lives.”
So it seems teachers are just as politically divided as the rest of the country. When I was a kid in Oklahoma we had tornado drills. When we moved to Oregon it was fire drills. My mother grew up in Southern California with earthquake drills. I’m not opposed to preparing for potential threats. I just wish teachers didn’t have to run active shooter drills. But if they do, I sure as hell don’t want that to be the only policy change we make. As NYC math educator José Luis Vilson says, school teachers shouldn’t have to be heroes.
They should be able to teach us the subjects they specialize in. And maybe occasionally scold us for our inexplicable transgressions as we learn how to be students and how to be people.
But it seems we are moving toward a society that would rather arm the would-be heroes than disarm the threat. And even if we were able to enact meaningful gun control regulations for the future, what becomes of all the guns already purchased, traded, registered and not registered?
In the quicksand of everything I’ve been reading, I didn’t find an answer. But I did come across a quote that I copied and pasted and now cannot find the original source. If you, or someone you love, wrote this, please accept or express my gratitude. Whether or not we ever diagnose the root cause(s) of mass shootings, until we stop them, this is the price we will continue to pay.
“Let us take a moment to honor the sacrifice of our brave schoolchildren who lay down their lives to protect our right to bear arms.”