The idea of arming teachers opens up a great big can of worms that just doesn’t make sense based on what we know.
Americans are told regularly by politicians that gun control is a “controversial” and “nuanced” concept with lots of moving parts. But is it, really? When polled, Americans are virtually unanimous in their support of universal background checks.
Moreover, countries which have buckled down and simply reasoned their way through the “nuances” of the issue have realized, as Australia did between 1996 and 2013, that reducing the number of firearms in private hands by just 20 percent can result in a more than 23 percent drop in gun-related homicides.
Meanwhile, in America, merely permitting the CDC to study gun violence was an extremely recent breakthrough in American politics and came at the cost of many lives over many years.
But the gun problem in America has moved decisively to the classroom. It’s always lived there, though, because that’s where human beings learn some of what’s required to become civilized. Thankfully, the NRA and the American Congress have put their heads together and have a plan to solve the problem of guns in American classrooms: put more guns in American classrooms.
Some of the problems with this plan are patently obvious. Others are less so.
The Can of Worms That Arming Teachers Opens
This would potentially be a different sort of conversation if American schoolteachers received fair pay, reasonable hours and assurance at the federal level that the public school system will still exist in eight years. But, since none of these things is true, the idea of adding gun ownership and handling to their already overburdened plates doesn’t make an abundance of sense.
But even if we jettison all of the purely logical arguments against arming America’s schoolteachers, there’s another entire wing of moral arguments regarding the incredibly fraught racial position we still find ourselves in in America, circa 2018.
Credited by many as the outrage that finally took us past the point of no return in this perennial “debate,” the school shooting in Parkland, Florida eventually culminated in what appears to be one of the largest youth protests since the Vietnam War. March for Our Lives is a rallying cry against the influence of weapon lobbyists in Congress and against the cavalcade of bad arguments and flawed logic that has seen the “arm our teachers” plan, improbably, take center-stage and be legitimized by politicians and news outlets.
There are two very simple arguments against this plan, and both are informed by the knowledge that America in 2018 is still very much living in the shadow of Jim Crow:
- Arming schoolteachers who have prejudices of their own, and who teach students of color, is an invitation for conflict rather than the means to solve it.
- Arming black educators and school personnel, for whom carrying a weapon is already a liability, is an invitation for conflict rather than the means to solve it.
You will remember that Philandro Castile informed the white cop that murdered him that he was licensed to own, and had nearby, a firearm. The cop opened fire even without laying eyes on the weapon.
The presence of a firearm in this as well as most other situations does not appear to deliver peace of mind to anybody apart from the armed persons, in which case the knowledge of other armed persons on the premises seems to amplify, rather than reduce, the human tendency for mistrust and our trigger-finger itch to perform violence. In other words, guns — and even thoughts of guns in some cases — beget gun violence. Or is that a controversial idea, too?
Failing that, there’s years of history to light our way:
According to 2011-2012 data from the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education, black students represent 27 percent of the school-aged youth who are “referred to” law enforcement as a form of discipline, despite representing just 16 percent of the total student body.
This is remarkably similar to the nationwide statistics about which “types” of people are most likely to be murdered by cops in America and why we now have to educate our kids at ever-earlier ages on how to survive confrontations with law enforcement. Black Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, but a full quarter of the people killed by police officers in a given year. Black Americans are more than two and one-half times more likely than white Americans to be killed by American police officers.
We must understand that life is intrinsically more difficult for members of minorities attending integrated (or ostensibly integrated) American public schools. We know this because science has observed it. Such studies, including one conducted at Yale, concluded not only that there exists an implicit bias against black students in predominantly white schools, but also that this bias has a tendency to influence how teachers respond to those students.
In other words, “bias” — or prejudice, or nationalism, or racism, or jingoism, or exceptionalism — is a mind virus. It appears to be communicable. And like anything communicable, we can either provide it courses and vectors for spreading or we can take those vectors away.
Do We Teach Kids Peace or Arm Them for War?
It would be foolish to continue mistaking firearms for “peacemaking” implements. Firearms spread force and fear — they do not spread “peace,” or at least not the kind that lasts. Purposefully fanning the flames of tension and mistrust won’t deliver our kids from harm.
The most ironic part about putting deadly weapons in the hands of educators is that war and education are the only two engines which seem capable of bringing about peace on earth. One is through force — that’s the temporary kind of peace — and one is through rationality and reason. We can, have, and must once again teach our way out of the crises now gripping our country and our world.
Peace by education is the only tenable and sustainable course open to us. Possibly more important than that, though, it’s also the most civilized.