Fifty-eight years ago I proudly pinned upon my scrawny chest an AAA Safety Patrol Lieutenant’s badge. P.S. 134’s students were mine to protect. No running in the halls, no going up the “down” staircase, no pushing and no shoving. Cross 18th Avenue only when Officer Potts tells you to. Report kids to the principal for smuggling in gum. After all, the school’s floors and desks needed protection, too. It was my job, my duty. I would do it well.
Decades later I would find myself attending those mandatory teacher in-services at the beginning of each school year. Sitting in the school library, my fellow teachers and I would do our best to avoid nodding off as some overpaid pedagogical consultant drew Venn diagrams illustrating the latest educational technique enabling us to succeed with every student. Unequivocal research virtually guaranteed that test scores would rise, children would thrive and parents would laud us with praise. Of course, having heard this stuff before, we veteran teachers just feigned interest while surreptitiously setting up our grade books or jotting down bulletin board ideas. Rarely did we learn anything new from these gurgling gurus. Most of us left with increased empathy for pupils compelled to sit at desks while being bombarded by tedium.
Post Sandy Hook, every teacher I know yearns for a return to those waste-of-time in-services. The obsession for implementing educational magic bullets has been tragically replaced with a concern for real bullets. Now teachers plan for visitors packing guns rather than packing lunches. In 2013 it appears that the NRA and the ATF may have more impact in schools than the NEA and the AFT. How I yearn to return to the day we worried about gum, not guns.
It is horrible that the naïve, innocent, secure world of the classroom has been turned into one of suspicion and fear. In this old teacher’s bum eyes, that fear has resulted in overreaction coupled with well-intentioned dumb ideas.
Though incredibly tragic, school shootings are and will continue to be very rare events that predictably receive a tremendous amount of publicity. The slaughter of innocents causes deserved revulsion in all of us. Events incomprehensible, unpredictable, and possibly uncontrollable cause fear . . . excessive fear.
I know this is more an issue of the heart than the brain, but in order to evaluate risks, sometimes we have to utilize that less feeling part of our body. In the last dozen years there have been slightly over 60 shootings in our nation’s 140,000 schools. Less than one school in 2,000 had a shooting in a 12-year span. About 134 student and teachers have been slaughtered. Three massacres alone accounted for 45 percent of those deaths. (Red Lake High School – 10, Virginia Tech – 33, Sandy Hook – 27). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States
According to the U.S. Census there are over 77 million students enrolled in schools (preschool through college) in the U.S. Doing the math, on average over the last dozen years about 11 students and teachers have been killed each year in their school. The odds of a student being slain in his or her place of learning during a school year are less than 1 in 7 million. Of course, no one rightly gives a damn about odds if someone you love is slaughtered, and all rightly-functioning people want the odds to be zero. However, emotion most often trumps math. Math says that it is wacko to purchase lottery tickets, but many of us do, and we look forward to being gazillionaires. Gratefully, lottery emotion causes most of us little harm.
But school shooting emotion has led some of us to propose ridiculous and often dangerous ideas, schemes that will do little to protect our kids while exposing them to more danger while inculcating fear and distrust. The most ridiculous and dangerous idea of all is to arm teachers and principals and the posting of armed guards to stop deeply disturbed, heavily armed people bent on slaughter.
Note: Clearly, there is a need for police to be stationed at schools where there is a known risk of student-on-student violence. Many high schools already take that precaution. It goes without saying that protective actions must be immediately taken in response to known threats.
However, arming teachers or posting an armed security guard in every school is simply nuts. I can’t fathom why anyone would rationally consider these tactics. Ergo, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre is nuts!
But for Wayne and others who may think these are reasonable ideas, a few questions to ponder:
1. What are the odds that day after day when nothing is happening that your gun-toting sentry becomes unobservant and spends much of his/her day chatting with staff, or nibbling cookies in the teacher lounge?
2. What is the likelihood of a teacher getting into a tussle with a student only to have that gun turned on that teacher or innocents? Hopefully, teachers aren’t going to shoot some kid who grabs them or is in a brawl with another kid. Consider the risk of an armed teacher intervening.
According to the FBI, “56 police officers were killed in the line of duty (in 2010). 38 were wearing body armor at the time of their deaths. Sixteen of the victim officers fired their own weapons, and seven officers attempted to use their own weapons. Seven victim officers had their weapons stolen; seven officers were killed with their own weapons.“http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-preliminary-statistics-for-law-enforcement-officers-killed-in-2010
3. How likely is it that an inexperienced weapon holder will react quickly and properly when confronted by instant terror? Last week, rightfully frightened police officers in Torrance, CA, injured two innocent people when they mistook two trucks for the vehicle of Chris Dorner, the ex-cop who was on the hunt for police officers and their families. Not only did these trained officers fire on innocents, riddling the vehicles with bullet holes, but their fire was incredibly ineffectual (thank goodness).
4. Does anyone out there truly believe that a disturbed person intent on killing six-year-olds will be deterred by the idea that a teacher may be armed?
5. How do we protect kids during recess, at after-school activities and on the way to school? Do we pick them up in armored personnel carriers and have guard towers in the schoolyard?
6. Guns are not too useful unless they are at the ready. How does one keep a weapon at the ready while teaching class? Does one tote it in a holster around one’s waist, or keep it in a purse, or store it in the desk drawer cocked with bullet chambered? “Johnny, would you mind getting my Glock? It’s in the top drawer.”
We have been busy terrifying our children for years; we put faces on milk cartons, instructed them in “stranger danger” awareness (of course, most kids are hurt and molested by non-strangers) and now the ultimate: Let’s teach our children that so much danger exists that their sweet kindergarten teacher must be packing a 9 mm while passing out the cookies and milk. Must we endanger and terrify our children to protect them from a virtually nonexistent threat?
Oh, for the days of kids getting in trouble for going up the “down” staircase!