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A Teacher's Take on Arming Teachers

Let's fix the systems that are there for a reason, but failed, before we go out and deputize a whole new cadre of reluctant amateurs

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"Arming teachers turns the classroom into a siege setting." (Photo: Pixabay/CC0)

I am a high school teacher. You have to work pretty hard to come up with a stupider idea than arming teachers. Arming teachers is a ruse to distract us from the real problem, which is that it’s way too easy for disturbed people to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

Arming teachers is a ruse to distract us from the real problem.

The worst part about arming teachers is that it will be the death of learning. Arming teachers turns the classroom into a siege setting. It literally menaces students with the story that there is potential death lurking outside, coming to get them, and that it is so threatening we have to take extreme measures, including returning death itself, should it be necessary.

Does anybody but the most pathologically hardened gun nut think that that is a good idea?

The classroom is the closest thing we have in our society to a cultural womb. It is supposed to be a safe, warm, nourishing place where society reproduces itself by growing children into adults and passing its cultural DNA on to new generations. It should be the child’s port of refuge in the storm of adult chaos raging outside.

It needs to be the one place in our world where we can foster innocence, vulnerability, idealism, authenticity, spontaneity, trust, and play—so they can grow!  What kind of psychically scarred, emotionally traumatized, intellectually stunted people will we create if we turn classrooms into potential free-fire zones? Because once there is a gun inside, that’s what it is.

And even if this weren’t true, what about some simple accountability? Shouldn’t we first try to make the existing systems work?

Think about all the ways the “professionals” failed in Parkland. The FBI dropped the ball. The 9-1-1 system botched repeated pleas for action. So, too, did the local sheriff’s office.  At least four law enforcement professionals stood outside the school even as 100+ shots were being unloaded inside and 13 children and three adults were being massacred. They stood there.

If the professionals who have trained for decades cannot deal with these matters, isn’t it a fantasy to imagine that teachers are going to get it right the first time they ever have to do it?  It’s worse than fantasy. It’s even worse than idiocy. It is deceit. 

Let’s fix the systems that are there for a reason, but failed, before we go out and deputize a whole new cadre of reluctant amateurs to bungle the job their first time out.  

The truth is that Parkland is really just a symptom of a much larger cause, a cause which is serious, deep, wide, worsening, and not going away anytime soon.

The biggest part of the cause is the social breakdown evidenced in the nation-wide opiod epidemic, the first-ever declines in the life expectancy for white males, and the fact that the U.S. ranks 54th in the world in infant mortality. These are profound symptoms of a social system careening out of control.  

Then, add on the fact that we swim in a culture where violence is revered. We are in perpetual war. Soldiers are worshiped as secular saints. Our boys play hyper-violent video games where killing is manly and violence is virility. They go to movies that are so violent the trailers alone amount to psychic assaults.  And they do these things hour after hour, day after day, year after year after year.

We can ban assault weapons which have no other purpose than to inflict mass murder

Finally, we throw match after match into this ready-to-explode tinderbox. Virtually anybody can easily get weapons whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible.  Is it any wonder we have a national epidemic of mass murder on our hands? Can we honestly expect anything else?

So, let’s get real.  We’re not going to fix the social breakdown anytime soon. We’re not going to change the culture of violence soon, either. We can, however, quickly and easily fix the ready access to guns.

We can ban assault weapons which have no other purpose than to inflict mass murder. Up the age for buying a gun. Create meaningful background checks, and enforce them. Limit magazine sizes. Put more into mental health screenings. These are sensible, low hanging, fruit, that in no way imperil any Second Amendment sacraments.  

And while we’re at it, let’s stop the military from training disturbed children like Nikolas Cruz to shoot to kill. And let’s stop the NRA from providing them with ammunition and trophies.

These simple, common sense steps will avert so many other, broader, repeated instances of mass murder. 

I mean, don’t office workers in San Bernardino or theater-goers in Aurora deserve the same protection from mass murderers as do children in Florida?  Aren’t night clubbers in Orlando or concert-goers in Las Vegas or mall-shoppers or park-walkers in your town entitled to safety in their civic spaces, just as children are entitled to safety in their classrooms?

At its heart, the real question here is, “Who gets to decide the tenor, the feel, the ethos of our communal spaces?” Will it be those for whom violence is the reflexive recourse? Will we allow the Gun Cult to inflict its feral fetish for firepower on the rest of us, deciding for all of us that we will be intimidated and must live in fear?

Or will it be those who have the temperance, the patience, and the character to deter violence before it erupts?  Are we smart enough to deal with causes and not just effects?  Are we wise enough to put peace before panic?

There’s a profound historical parallel to instruct us here.

Ancient Greece was fundamentally about freedom and creativity. The ethic was that men could be trusted to be free and that if they were allowed to be free they would create. Greece produced some of the most prodigiously creative thinkers in the history of the world.

Solon, Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Sophocles, Pythagoras, Euclid, Hippocrates, Archimedes. Greece invented—or at least systematized for the world—democracy, literature, theater, math, science, history, and philosophy, enduring gifts to all of humanity ever since. Then there was Rome.

Rome was a military state. It was the ultimate state-based expression of organized violence. You will be very hard-pressed to name a single Roman who was not a general. Julius Caesar? A general. Augustus Caesar? A general. Who else?

Rome bequeathed to the world the arch and a thousand years of Dark Ages that followed when nobody would defend it anymore and it finally fell to the barbarians.

Do we want to be Greece or Rome? Thinkers or thugs?  Builders or brutes? Will our cultural totem be wisdom or weapons? That is what is really at stake here.

Do we want to be Greece or Rome? Thinkers or thugs?  Builders or brutes? Will our cultural totem be wisdom or weapons? That is what is really at stake here, for the old aphorism says it all: “The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world.”

We have allowed gun money in the hands of the NRA to buy politicians the way the rest of us buy groceries—by the cart full.  They have degraded our governance, defiled our common spaces, debauched our civic discourse, and now want to desecrate the most sacred space we have left in this country:  that place where we raise our children.

The teachers of this country will defend our students and children. Remember, it was teachers—not the police, not the politicians, and certainly not any NRA members—who gave up their lives to save their students when somebody snapped. They will continue to do so.

But more importantly: we will defend our children against the sickos who make it possible for disturbed people to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  We will protect our students and children against the predators who want to use our children as hostages to sell more guns, and as human shields to deflect our attention from the real epidemic that threatens our nation and our way of life:  too easy access to guns, in a culture riven with crisis, that confuses our children to conflate murder with manhood. 

No more. We are better than this. 

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Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman is a recently retired teacher in California and the author of The Best One-Hour History series, which includes World War I, The Vietnam War, The Cold War, and other titles. He is the founder of the nonprofit One Dollar For Life, which helps American students build classrooms in the developing world from donations of one dollar. 

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