Cepeda: Arming teachers could backfire on students
CHICAGO – An Ohio sheriff, a few fervent bloggers and, implicitly, even our nation's education secretary recently suggested that preventing the next school massacre might be as simple as permitting teachers to carry guns.
People took to social media to roar that many schools can't even afford pencils, let alone armaments.
First, as a teacher in an under-resourced school that educates students with extremely low family incomes, let me say: The pencil struggle is real.
My district counts sheets of paper used per teacher at the copier. Dry-erase markers are hard to find. And whiteboard erasers? Forget about it. I have adequate whiteboard space in my classroom only because I keep buying whiteboards with my own money and putting them up with picture hangers.
We only have a decent stock of Post-it notes and lined filler paper because a charity donated a whole case to our school last fall.
I keep my cup filled by picking discarded pencils up off the floor after lunch and after school when the gettin' is good for lost and discarded items.
So, yeah, a lot of schools wouldn't have Glock money in the budget.
For the record, however, it must be said that very few people are suggesting that school districts buy guns for teachers to use in protecting school buildings.
An idea that has been floated is allowing teachers who are already licensed gun owners to be trained to work with school resource officers to defend their buildings in case of violence.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reacted to such suggestions by noting that states "clearly have the opportunity and the option" to allow teachers who've had weapons training to carry guns on campus.
This is hardly the same as "arming teachers," which is the dishonest narrative that anti-gun activists are pushing.
Not that anyone should want to arm teachers.
Generally speaking, teachers are gentle, heart-bursting-with-love types who would rather quit the profession than take up arms, even for the aim of possibly protecting children.
While there are countless teachers who would – with no thought for themselves or their own families – jump in front of a bullet for their students, I don't see crowds of educators coming forward to be trained to pull the trigger during a real threat.
Plus, there's the cost. All teacher training is expensive, and a physical skill like handling firearms would be even more so. Just imagine the insurance costs and potential legal liability.
Also, there's no research to even suggest such a scheme would be effective.
But these are the obvious reasons we shouldn't be looking to arm teachers.
A better reason to discount such an idea is that it sends the most vulnerable stakeholders in the educational system – our students – the wrong message.
Arming teachers means capitulating to a status quo of congressional gridlock on any efforts to put some muscle into background checks and limits on the sale and accessibility of assault-style rifles. It means surrendering to the idea that we cannot prevent these rampages, but must instead adjust ourselves to the inevitability of their recurrence.
Putting guns in teachers' hands would not be a show of force against those who would harm children, but rather its own type of cowering.
And why do we reflexively blame guns and mental illness while ignoring the psychological effects of status-seeking though athletics, sexual politics and peer-to-peer power abuse that routinely goes on in high schools?
"Americans hold high expectations for schools as places of friendship and romance, yet too often students find alienation, humiliation, and isolation," wrote researchers Bryan Warnick, Benjamin A. Johnson and Sam Rocha, in an article on The Conversation, a website of academic and research news. "The frustration at these thwarted expectations at least sometimes seems to turn toward the school itself."
The researchers call on us to investigate why these shootings so often happen in schools.
"To answer this question, we need to get to the heart of how students experience school and the meaning that schools have in American life," they write, and that not doing so might, "actually make things worse by changing students' experience of schools in ways that suggest violence rather than prevent it."
Let us take up this call to rethink how we are contributing to the problem. Because, yes, there are plenty of responses to this crisis (like letting trained, well-meaning teachers bring their own guns to school) that could end up backfiring.