Saturday, February 17, 2018

Speaking for Myself: I Do Not Want to Carry a Gun in My Classroom

Another school shooting.  More children and school staff dead.  Video and audio footage of witnesses, survivors, bereaved families, and distraught first responders play on a loop.

Sidebar arguments repeat on television, radio and social media.  Readers, callers, watchers hung up on semantics, the rights of gun owners, misleading headlines, and blame, none of which help the dead, none of which help future victims.  It's not real discourse.  It's slurry.

Memes call for love, demand that teachers carry guns, and fill the screen with lots of American flags, gun-toting patriots, and child-sized coffins.  Political cartoons feature past victims welcoming present heroes, with lots of extra room for the future results of gun violence in Heaven.  Reruns of cartoons depict teachers shielding children from shooters, scenes which never feature background details such as student artwork, projects, math manipulatives, maps, posters, monkey bars, beanbags or copies of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See or history books.  Never band instruments, lunch boxes, bike helmets or graffiti-covered folders.  Nothing to illustrate the child's world that exists within a school.  Nothing to convey the comfort of routine, nothing capturing the excitement of being the star helper, line leader, yearbook editor, or debate team captain. No drawings of the bravery required and demonstrated when reaching out for the monkey bars or reciting lines from a play for the first time.  No renderings of the exuberant smiles or furrowed brows worn as students concentrate on their explorations and learning. No sketches of them reading together, encouraging one another, collaborating, singing, dancing or soaking up life. It's a noticeable lack of representation of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that children ought to have in school, the environment that is their home away from home.

Except now there is live streaming.  Students interviewing students.  Teens, whose lives are in danger, tweeting, calling, texting in real time.  If the loss of life touches some part of your soul, the documentary testimony and journalistic recordings made by students will likely leave you feeling shattered and guilty.  And they should.  Children, innocents, are being shot at.  They are dying.  They are covered in the blood of their friends, mentors and teachers.  They're walking around and through it.  And they know we're watching. They know we're watching when we're supposed to be DOING something. They have come to understand that we're not in the mood to hold ourselves accountable, to do our jobs as parents, guardians, advocates, protectors.  We're shopping for bulletproof liners for backpacks as if our consumerism is our only way to solve this problem, asking Julia and Joaquin if they'd like the pink one or the gray one.  They know what we're implying: we're going to continue to send them to a place where it is becoming more likely they will be shot by someone who should not have a gun.  And though we're being judged fairly, few of us seem ashamed. Self-righteousness is more addictive and rewarding than responsibility.  Too many are inclined to simply express "thoughts and prayers" ad nauseam.  The survivors who scream "KEEP YOUR FUCKING PRAYERS, DO SOMETHING" aren't being disrespectful. Who, other than the hero, is truly worthy of their respect at this point?

I will only speak for myself: I do not want to carry a gun in my classroom.  I do not want to store a firearm in my students' learning space "just in case." I do not happen to believe that the only way to deal with violence is with more violence, weapons with more weapons.  Imagining a gun in my hand within the classroom that I have purposely created and maintained as a safe place for kindergartners, colleagues, and friends of education makes me ill.  I'm no coward, and I'm not a glorified babysitter, soldier, or police officer either.  I am a professional educator who happens to think that far too many of my fellow Americans are performing the gun lobby's sales pitch like puppets, either out of laziness or some misconstrued impression that their "freedoms" are being trampled upon, making the protection of their guns more of a priority than the protection of their children. Cowards are people who throw their hands into the air insisting that there's only ever one solution, intent on committing themselves and the rest of us to horrific outcomes. Too many armchair teachers, administrators, and criminologists willfully refuse to allow themselves to realize that students are exposed en masse throughout every school day, not just when they're "safe" inside a building. They ignore the bus line, football field, the outdoor gardens, parking lot, class registration, recess, sporting events, prom and club activities. They inqure about our schools, ooh and ahh over the metal detectors and armed guard located at the entrance (and not any of the other doors) choosing to ignore that on one day or several, students completing a school service activity or a teacher moving his or her belongings into the building or a parent volunteer will leave an exterior door open, or the A/C will give out on an extremely hot day and someone or many someones will open their windows, or the guard will be living in the restroom thanks to the barrage of germs that attack every newbie. It is because of human nature that both our "secure" systems are never 100% effective, and our peace of mind, if assured with all sorts of gadgetry and alarms, is repeatedly reinforced by thinking that we've done enough to protect ourselves and our children.

We haven't.

"TEACHERS SHOULD BE ARMED! THAT'LL SOLVE THE PROBLEM, BY GOD!" "If a shooter makes the mistake of entering my child's classroom, the teacher can prevent or end a bloodbath!" Folks, the only "winners" in this scenario are the gun manufacturers. Instead of regulating guns, they'd very much like to encourage the purchase of more.  Instead of preventing guns from getting into the hands of those inclined to use them for violence, they want everyone packing.  And because they've somehow gotten a significant percentage of the populace to forget that we're actually capable of solving exceptionally difficult problems without bloodshed, many folks have convinced themselves that my job is to reenact some Shootout at the O.K. Corral scenario, completely disregarding every child's right to learn, grow and thrive in a safe and shielded environment.  "Instead of one gun, there should be multiple guns in schools" is not a reasonable standard to which any of us should allow districts to aspire.  I refuse to drink the snake-oil being peddled by the gun lobby, and I refuse to accept that one day, a Super Star will have to depict me holding anything other than a book, cup of coffee or THEIR hands in mine:

If we ever needed a paradigm shift, now's the time.


  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I feel like I should have more to say, but I really just want to tell you how much I appreciate it.


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