By Charleene Puder
President Trump has been speaking about “hardening” our public schools by arming teachers. Is this really the best solution to the problem? Data show that environments with more guns produce more gun violence and more deaths, not fewer. But I don’t believe the safety of students and teachers is the real reason for this dangerous idea.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been amazing. Anyone who has had interactions with the Parkland students can’t help but conclude that they have been well prepared for their future by outstanding teachers in an excellent public school. They’ve done their research, synthesized information, evaluated ideas, delivered well-written speeches, and organized a movement. They are proud of their school and love being students there. They represent everything we want our young people to be.
But there are groups in this country who see them as a threat. These students are doing more than vocally challenging our approach to unrestricted gun ownership. They are also challenging the oft-repeated narrative that our public schools are terrible. They visibly and overwhelmingly contradict this narrative that conservative forces use to justify abandoning public schools.
These forces actually started the hardening of public schools years ago with the relentless emphasis on test scores, reducing students and schools to mere numbers that do not properly measure the important skills and proficiencies being demonstrated by all the students.
“Students speak with a wisdom we adults can only hope to emulate.”
Now they’d love for public schools to be further hardened by requiring teachers to carry concealed weapons. Teachers will yet again be forced to enact another crazy idea, promoted by someone who knows nothing about education. Once things go wrong (and of course they will), when a teacher’s gun gets used incorrectly and (heaven forbid) a student is shot, the incident will be used to further undermine support for public schools. When things go awry, only the schools and teachers will be blamed. When it comes to the country’s big problem with gun violence, it feels like only the schools are being asked to find a solution.
I’m saddened that in my final years as a teacher, active shooter drills were a regular part of my students’ learning environment. During these drills, while huddled behind a barrier in a dark corner of my classroom, students often needed reassurance this exercise was not real. Their fear was. No 6-year-old should be required to have this experience so that adults can pursue a hobby. No 6-year-old or 16-year-old should have to witness their teacher in a shootout with a young person wielding a gun.
Data from child development studies show again and again that when children are raised in a home with violence, they are more likely to behave violently. When students live in communities with violence, they become desensitized to violence. So now schools will no longer be places of refuge, but will further exacerbate the culture of violence.
Once I decided to retire, I had a daily mantra: “Please, God, don’t let anything bad happen today.” This plea popped into my head often during my last few months of teaching. And then I thought: I sure hope I’m the only one in the room thinking about this! What an unfair and unkind burden to place on young people’s shoulders. Some adults claim students are too young to understand this issue, and must be overly influenced by other adults. I would suggest that it’s the students’ own experiences that allow them to be more clear-eyed about this topic than the adults who criticize them. The students speak with a wisdom we adults can only hope to emulate.
Charleene Puder is a retired first-grade teacher with 30 years of experience in the Franklin-McKinley School District. She served as site rep and was elected to the Franklin-McKinley Education Association Executive Board for two terms. She is a lifetime member of CTA and NEA.