I am writing this “Word from the Chair” message for Evan while he is on vacation. Jan Studer | Vice-Chair
Teachers Have a Unique View of the Impact Gun Violence
I will not pretend to speak for all educators. Nonetheless, 40 years as a public-school teacher gives me a certain insight into how today’s educators are coping with the threat of mass gun violence in schools.
The sentiment that pops into my mind when I compare schools of the past to schools of today comes from Dorothy in the film The Wizard of Oz. After her house comes crashing to the ground, Dorothy considers her new surroundings and says of Oz, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
In this analogy, “Kansas” represents schools before the onset of mass gun violence. In those days, threats were more theoretical. Yes, we conducted fire and bomb threat drills, but the threat of real danger was low, and the menace did not linger.
The “Oz,” in this case, is schools today which face a constant threat of gun violence. This danger is so real that it casts a cloud over education. As a result, students no longer feel safe. The threat is so real that one student recently said that every day upon arriving home safely from school, she consciously expressed thankfulness. Imagine being so hyper aware of mass gun violence that you are thankful for not dying at school today.
During my last years of teaching, my middle school experienced periodic bomb scares. We took these threats seriously and required everyone to evacuate until we received an all-clear. Fortunately, despite the disruption they caused, they were usually benign and quickly forgotten.
As I was approaching retirement, the school district introduced the practice of active-shooter drills. Being a teacher, I fulfilled my duty to familiarize my students with these evasive measures. As we huddled together on the floor, I would reflect on the gravity of the simulated danger and comprehend the deep responsibility I would assume if someone threatened them. Dealing with the recurring thoughts of such a situation unfolding was exhausting. I also saw it manifest in my fellow teachers as we discussed the implications of adopting other safety measures like metal detectors, student pat downs, and arming teachers with firearms.
For me, it all became too much. I simply could not cope with this change in basic assumptions. In other words, I longed for “Kansas.” In those days, there was a certain degree of predictability. In the case of a fire threat or bomb scare, we had time to reflect and take appropriate action. Fortunately for us, these threats were usually just pranks.
Today, the danger is more likely to be real. Moreover, it usually unfolds in a hallway or classroom where children find themselves trapped. In these instances, there is no time to reflect, and no place to hide. To make matters worse, the weapon of choice is an AR-15 military style semi-automatic weapon. A firearm designed to devastate victims’ bodies quickly and efficiently. I cannot imagine the horrific scene experienced by any student who witnesses and survives such a tragedy.
Teachers and staff commit themselves to providing safe environments for students to learn. This safety extends to transporting them to and from school, providing their lunches, and creating classroom experiences that allow them to thrive as they learn and explore. This devotion to safety should not have to include serving as human shields.
Unfortunately, there is no “Wizard” coming to save us. Therefore, it is up to us to take rational measures to keep children safe. The answer lies in keeping guns out of the hands of anyone who is a threat to themselves or others. This includes teens and the mentally ill. Closing loopholes in gun registration, passing red flag laws, increasing mental health funding, and increasing the legal age for purchasing AR-15 rifles are all widely popular proposals. More importantly, they offer a saner alternative to turning our schools into fortresses. So, let us work together to pass these measures and restore our schools to the loving, nurturing, and safe places they were meant to be.