Students hug at a vigil after the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Politicians argue that teachers could protect students by carrying guns in the classroom.
This is a one syllable answer: No.
But I understand how some people think teachers carrying guns or having them stored in a nearby secret lockbox is a good idea because, even if they’re not conscious of it, they maintain the ever-present American fantasy that the cowboy-cop, such as Richard Boone’s Paladin in Have Gun—Will Travel
or Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry
or any recent “Man with a Gun” film (like Tom Cruise in a jet) will save the day for our schoolchildren the next time an alienated young person arms himself with an AR-15 and 600 rounds and enters a school, despite the sensible yet ineffective measures of locked doors, metal detectors and the training of teachers to share the four E’s: Educate, Escape, Evade, and Engage. The problem: Giving teachers guns is another example of reactive thinking that’s as wrong-headed — based on that “man with a gun” fantasy at the heart of our violence-solves-all-problems culture — as our current approach to ending school violence.
If you’ve felt the call to be a teacher, here’s what should be in your hand when you teach: chalk. Or a dry erase marker. The tool of a teacher creates words, equations, draws images, points towards knowledge, which leads to understanding, and at its highest level, leads to compassion. We are born ready to learn, and we need qualified, caring teachers. We learn best when we feel safe and nurtured. In order for that to happen, teachers must inhabit the nurturer mindset. The most difficult lesson for even talented teachers to learn is something Bruce Lee said: “A good teacher protects his pupils from his own influence.” A good teacher must leave his politics and religious beliefs at home. That includes if he believes guns are the answer to stop violence or that weaponizing oneself is a right given by our constitution. No gun wrote a poem, no gun wrote a quadratic equation, no gun left commentary on a student’s essay. A gun is a killing tool.
A killing tool isn’t a teaching tool. A killing tool on your person destroys the peaceful-playful mindset a teacher needs to be successful. Or it should—because part of your brain should be on the alert for the moment you need to draw upon the killing power and the proper training to achieve that vigilant mindset.
I grew up with guns, I learned to take them apart, clean them, reassemble them, and I know their killing power. And it’s because of that, because I’ve seen what guns do —what people do with guns mishandled and misunderstood — I know no teacher should bring one to school. Teaching is too hard a job, requires too much of one’s mental space, for a teacher to teach and be responsible for carrying a weapon. A teacher’s power, unlike a cop’s, should come from a love of a subject and the nurturing of young minds, not from carrying a killing tool.
The solution is not turning teachers into cops-on-the-spot. The solution is the first E from school intruder drills: Educate. We should teach conflict-resolution strategies in our schools; we should teach students to meditate, to learn to recognize anger and feelings of alienation when they enter the mind, to breathe correctly, calm down, connect.
We should teach students to know when they need help and provide compassionate mentorship. We should stop the indoctrination of learning as a means to an end with its status mongering and biased standardized tests that promote anxiety. What we have is a national mental health crisis. Let’s attend to the psychological well-being of our young people so they can learn the highest lesson of knowing themselves instead of putting holsters on teachers’ waists or guns or in a nearby secret lockbox. Once we better Educate our students, we’ll create a new generation more likely to pick up a piece of chalk, a dry erase marker, an instrument, a paintbrush or any tool to create and connect rather than a tool to destroy and kill.
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