disapproving kitty

Sunday, December 16, 2012

If Your Solution Tempts the Gods of Irony, You Might Want to Rethink Things

     Last Friday my son ran full tilt into a safety railing. Got himself a red welt and a lovely greenish-yellow bruise over the bridge of his nose. Looks grand. He was playing tag, didn't watch where he was going and Wham! Right into the safety railing. I'm blaming the gods of irony for this one.
     Earlier this year, two of my students were fooling around in class while I was no more than three feet away, but working on connecting up a computer wire. As I turned around to tell them to get back to work as previously told, one pushed the other into a cart and a $400 projector smashed to the ground. D'oh.
     A few years ago, a six or seven year old boy climbed up onto some cafeteria tables -- the kind that fold upright and latch so they can be wheeled into the corner. Who knows where his teacher was. Maybe right there, but dealing with another student. Maybe in the hall, corralling other kids while he was supposed to be waiting in line. There are a thousand things that children do that require a teacher's attention, and I defy even the most observant civilian to watch 30 children at a time for five hours and never once lose track of what all of them are doing every second. The vast majority of the time, nothing truly bad happens, but in this case, something did. The latch on the table was broken, or not secured properly, and the table fell, crushing the boy. It was tragic. I don't know the details, but I'm sure there was finger - pointing and blame and a huge lawsuit and possibly criminal negligence charges.  
     What I do know is that "Jarod's Law" came out of it in Ohio, and a thousand things got hung onto the law, like the banning of a lot of essential classroom items, and requiring an MSDS safety sheet on everything in the room from the hand-sanitizer to the pencils. There were other common sense things too, things that one would think were already codified somewhere, but maybe not, like: no classroom shall have animals deemed poisonous or toxic." Really? Well, damn, there goes my coral snake*.  It was so ridiculous that eventually implementation got postponed and we haven't heard much since.
     My point here, that I am meandering towards, is that children are unpredictable. They will get into things, break things, hurt themselves, hurt each other either by accident or design and generally fool around when they think they can get away with it. They're not that much different from adults, just smaller, and with less developed frontal lobes to tell them when something they're doing is a really bad idea.
     Speaking of adults, a lot of them aren't all that reliable, either. Teachers in general are good eggs, and most of us are good with large groups of children and dealing with all the little unpredictabilities. But we're still people, and have varying responses to a crisis. I tend to have my brain freeze up a bit, lose the ability to string together coherent sentences well and I don't see well.** I forget where things are. I can sorta fake calmness for my students, but all that's happening in my head is a string of swear words. Other people I know scream, freeze, run away, start sobbing and shaking, get hysterical, yell, hyper-fixate on the trivial or stop communicating all together. These are all fairly normal-people reactions to a crisis. People who respond really well to crises would be, well, trained first responders. Soldiers. Police. Firefighters. Emergency Room doctors. They go through a lot of training to learn how to respond to the frighteningly unexpected.
     Teachers are not trained this way. It's expensive training, in both time and money. We have a lot of other training in pedagogy, and curriculum development and classroom management and not enough of any of that, really. And honestly, there's no need beyond the standard drills we practice once a month. Fire, Tornado, Lockdown. We practice those faithfully and in 13 years of teaching I've never needed them.***
     So, to all the people, including many who ought to know better, who are espousing the idea that all teachers should have loaded guns in their classrooms with them at all times, I say: Are you effing crazy? I'm not allowed to have high-odor markers in my room because they are too dangerous for children to be around. My last school took out a certified-safe slide from the playground because someone got hurt on it for crying out loud. Why? Because kids are unpredictable. Classrooms are places filled with these unpredictable small people who are very capable of getting into places where they shouldn't, even locked places. And no matter how much we want to, it is not possible to watch 20 plus children every second. It just isn't.**** Teachers are not trained to deal with severe crisis situations, and most certainly aren't trained to shoot someone in a chaotic environment filled with children. Hell, I think even a lot of police aren't trained well enough for that.
     Arming teachers would cost millions of dollars every year in equipment and training, not to mention funding for the lawsuits that would pop up like weeds for creating an unsafe environment for students. Which actually educational programming are you willing to cut to fund this effort? And all for what? To protect us from the chance that someone might attack the school? Arming teachers is the best way to do this?
     Let us imagine that you actually did do this, gave me a loaded weapon to keep in my room. Common sense says it has to be in a locked drawer*****. To which I would have to remember where I keep the key or the code and it would have to be a secure enough place that students wouldn't find it easily. The one-in-a-very-high-number-event-occurs and a gunman attacks! I have to a) go into lockdown mode b) remember where I keep the key/code for the gun drawer (oops, can't recall things when highly stressed.)  c) look for the key or where I wrote the code (no dice, since I don't see well when stressed) d) if I do eventually find it and unlock the drawer then e) remember all the training on how to safely operate the gun and aim properly (see problems at b and c) f) wait and keep children calm while holding a freaking gun till said gunman breaks through my locked door g) shoot a moving target while surrounded by small, panicked children.
     This doesn't even take in the possibility that there might be a teacher somewhere with mental illness or even just an anger management problem who would misuse the gun on himself or others. It doesn't take in the possibility that an angry student or parent could break into the gun drawer and use the gun. This doesn't take in the actuality at all that it would be making thousands more guns accessible to thousands more people, none of whom have proven themselves capable of safely being around a lethal weapon.
     In short, is it a bad idea. There is no logical, reasonable argument that would make this a good idea on any level. If you think there is then we have not done a good enough job of teaching you how to construct a reasoned argument, and you should go augment your education with some debate skills.
     Should we work towards keeping schools as safe as possible? Of course.
     Should this involve giving guns to untrained civilians, whose training we can't and don't want to pay for? Of course not. That wouldn't keep anyone safer.
     I'm sure the gods of irony are just having a field day with the whole idea.

*not really.  I don't have classroom pets.  I always thought I would, but it turns out I don't have the wherewithal to deal with them.  I don't even have plants.

**my eyes work fine.  It's that I just don't process what I'm seeing at normal speed.  It means that when I'm stressed out I have difficulty finding things that are right there†.  It also means that I don't process red lights as well, or other vehicles on the road or anything else unpredictable.  I try not to drive when I'm upset for this reason.

***once, when the police were chasing a bank robber several miles away from my school, they put the whole district into lockdown for about 30 minutes.  The robber holed up in a private home and there was thankfully never even the slightest bit of danger for a child in a classroom.  The authorities were being on the safe side, which is fine.   I got to sit and read a book to kids for a bit.  It was nice.

****if you think it is then you have a) never been in a classroom and b) do not have children of your own.

*****if you think I'd be keeping this loaded weapon in a holster at my side in a classroom full of children I'm supposed to be working closely with then you are so irrational that you can just quit reading.

†like, for instance, my car keys when I am late in the morning because I can't find my g-d car keys.


  1. Excellent! I was a teacher, and I keep hearing this crap about arming teachers and wondering in what sane world that makes any sense whatsoever. I would not want a gun in my classroom! I was a little nervous about a pair of scissors there, for crying out loud!

  2. Thank you for this - brilliant doesn't even begin to cover how strongly I feel about what you wrote. I cannot fathom the idea that people actually think arming teachers is the solution. Yet some people do. Unreal.

  3. Excellent post!! I am also a teacher and got into a debate yesterday on Facebook with a woman from Texas who said that teacher should be trained and armed! I said many of the same things you said here. Simply and brilliantly put. Thanks for writing this. I will be sharing it.

  4. I have an almost IDENTICAL looking kitty! Thanks for the much needed post.

  5. This blog is written by someone who obviously thinks that all "gun-nuts" are knuckle-dragging, toothless, mouth breathers. Of course, everything you write about as being ridiculous was never proposed. Firstly, only those teachers who express an interest in carrying would be considered for the program. Nobody but the superintendent would know who they are. They would undergo specific training on weapons retention--the same training armed school police officers receive. They would likely not carry on their person, but would have the weapon secured in a digitally-operated lock box. As to a harried teacher going nuts...well I wouldn't want such a teacher working there with or without a gun! Cops get harried too. They don't often go on shooting rampages. Besides, were that to happen, we'd be in the same situation as a nutso gunman waltzing in off the street and shooting--except this time there would be others to answer his/her transgression. Why is it that my friends Mary (a principal), and Jennifer (a school teacher) are supposed to be so much inferior in judgment and capability to my friend Hollis (a police officer)? This CAN work. It worked several years ago in Alabama when an assistant principal halted a school shooting in its tracks by retrieving his rifle from his truck and holding the gunman until the police arrived several minutes later.

  6. Replies
    1. Eric, exactly where in my post did I call *anyone* a "gun nut?" Nowhere. You set up a lovely straw man there, and then knocked him down. Good for you. You implied that I called people names. Did I? Let us look. I'll give you a minute. Find any? No. The only names here are the ones YOU called people.
      As for "the program" you mention--what program? I was very clearly writing about the people who were calling for all teachers to be armed. Yes, there are those who have also called for only a few teachers to be armed. Volunteers or no, I still ask the question: who is going to pay for the training, arms, security and maintenance? What educational programs are going to be cut to provide funding for such initiatives?
      And as for a "harried teacher going nuts" -- I don't want anyone, be they parent, teacher, principal, custodian, *anyone* to go off the rails and hurt someone. We hope that no one like that would ever be around our children, but it happens. People lose control upon occasion. It's better that we don't give them access to firearms when they do.
      "They don't often go on shooting rampages"? Well, that's comforting. How many shooting rampages will be the minimum acceptable allowed for armed school personnel before you decide that your program isn't worthwhile? As for judgement and capability -- I believe the judgement and capability of most of the teachers and school staff I know is exemplary. But that doesn't mean I want them to have access to a loaded gun on school property. Accidents happen. Temporary-loss-of-judgement happens. People without adequate training to things in the heat of crisis that they would not otherwise do. To imply otherwise is to say that we think ourselves to be super-human. I'm not. Are you?
      And as for your example of the principal who shot the would-be shooter (though I heard it was a different state than Alabama. Time to check Snopes.) I DO know that a shooter walked into Fort Hood and killed over a dozen people. On a military base. With guns. And personnel specifically trained to incapacitate an enemy. People on that base were armed, but the shooter managed to kill a lot of people anyways.
      I still maintain that the odds of a weapon in a school is far more likely to accidentally harm a child or another innocent person than it is to ever shoot an intruder bent on mayhem.

  7. Rachel, you are a powerful advocate for good sense. Keep it up.