Today students and staff from Parkland will return to their school site after taking several days to process the events of the school shooting. I spent my morning commute deep in thought about this visit to campus and the feelings it must conjure.
I’ve been an urban educator for three years, serving in communities in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. I have practiced dozens of lockdown and evacuation drills, handled weapons in my classroom, and received texts from my partner that there was an active shooter in her school building.
The Parkland shooting has inspired a national conversation and reflection about school shootings, plunging us into a familiar, cyclical conversation about gun control. This round of the gun control debate feels more intense than usual, as the left finds a renewed passion for the gun control argument and the right doubles down on their claim that safety is achieved by arming as many individuals as possible and hoping that a certain proportion of them are, “the good guys.”
Recently, the right has also advocated to arm classroom teachers. The argument usually contains statistics about response times and asserts that the only way to secure American schools is to provide teachers with pistols, arms training, and hazard pay bonuses. One conservative blogger I found every outlines the “cost efficient model” of placing $500 biometric safe in each classroom. This person has never read a school budget and has no concept of the basic resources that teaches either pay for or turn to Donor’s Choose. You should know the the resources that American teachers can do without by now: paper, pencils, water, pest control, a copier, and central heat and air conditioner. Once, my Baltimore City middle school students and I worked together to craft a homemade air condition unit when our classroom hit 90 degrees. Imagine the visual of this bad boy sitting next to a biometric safe.
Advocates against the movement to arm teachers have been highlighting the workload teachers already have, the costs, and the fact that this means more profits for the NRA. However, I was deeply hurt when I followed stories on social media, hoping that liberals and progressives would defend teachers. However, debate has cast a bright light on a particularly disturbing truth about American society: our flagrant disrespect for teachers.
Witness a typical joke made in the wake of the renewed gun reform debate. The punchline? Teachers are too dumb/clumsy to be trusted with firearms. You can see that it went viral. Worse still is the insinuation that it’s a good idea to more people, just not teachers because they’re too stupid.
Consider the emotional toll of an educator last week. They were asked to process the Parkland shooting and examine their own classroom safety procedures. The internal monologues of many teachers centered around questioning their own courage in these nightmare scenarios. What lengths will I go to protect my students? In the midst of these anxieties, we were reminded that we struggle with projectors and Bunsen burners and that’s why we can’t be trusted with guns. If only we were a little more adept.
The reality is, these jokes show the degree to which America completely disregards our teachers. If you disagree, try this experiment. The next time you’re having a conversation with a stranger, mention that you’re a teacher. You’ll receive pity, faux admiration, or a comment about how it’s “adorable.” It feels fucking awful after a while.
At its core, I believe that the argument to arm teachers is a distraction. The more time we spend refuting the idea that more guns should be introduced into public spaces, the less time we spend fighting for legislative change. There are a number of bloggers who have covered the economic, logistical, and moral, reasons why this is a thoroughly horrendous idea.
Speaking as an active classroom teacher, the most compelling reason against arming educators is America’s racism problem. The United States has not proven itself capable of training public servants not to harm people of color.
As we stand in February of 2018, I would assume that the reader understands my sentiment and can accept our police brutality problem as fact. If you need an additional reminder, please witness this limited account of people of color being shot by police (graphic content). Some conservatives even want to place officers with a penchant for shooting unarmed black youth closer to unarmed black youth.
The proposal to arm teachers is inherently flawed and shouldn’t live beyond a few Trump tweets. Even if it was sound, it is not a conversation Americans are ready to have. We don’t deserve to entertain the absurd idea until we can prove that armed community servants can effectively protect black neighborhoods.
If Trump could snap his fingers and place glocks in the hands of 33% of all teachers tomorrow, students of color will die. I have taught in urban schools and know that there are teachers with racist, irrevocably problematic mindsets actively in classrooms. They do enough psychological damage without the aid of firearms. Doubt it? Watch this video of a young white teacher calling her Baltimore City students a racial slur if you don’t believe me. Then, watch it again and imagine that she has a gun.
I do not even trust myself with a gun. Before you cry out liberal snowflake, realize that I am from a military family and grew up respecting the responsibility that is a prerequisite for being armed. My practice involves perpetually and aggressively reflecting on my mindsets, consuming media that challenges my implicit racial bias. Even still, I’m not willing to be armed.