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Arming Teachers--A Lesson in Failure

Arming Teachers--A Lesson in Failure by Chuck Cascio     

      I was a teacher for 27 years--four years in middle school and the rest in two different high schools in Fairfax County, VA, outside of

Washington, DC. I have been retired for quite a few years now, but I have vivid memories--almost all extremely positive--of that

workplace called "school." And the possibility of arming certain faculty members with guns and/or rifles, as President Trump recently

advocated in a speech to the NRA, frightens and disgusts me for many reasons, but mostly because the dangers far outweigh any

potential benefits…because doing so would teach the wrong lesson.

      Proponents of arming teachers seem to want to believe that the next time a shooter shows up to mow down our children, a teacher will whip out his/her rifle and shoot everyone to safety. Following are some realities that show what a misconception that concept is:

     Over the years, I, along with many other faculty members, occasionally had to break up fights between students. These fights always attracted an emotional crowd. Teachers would hear the noise, emerge from our classrooms, move through the crowd, and jump into the middle of two--or more--brawling students. We would separate them, talk as calmly to the combatants, wait for help, and then walk the fighters to the principal's office. The gathering of onlookers would usually disperse peacefully as teachers urged them to "move along now." 

     Sometimes the fights were brutal; other times, they were less intense. But there was always the potential for danger; after all, we were dealing with teenagers and the hormonal and emotional surges built into those years. 

     Now, add a faculty member with access to a gun or a rifle into those scenes. If that faculty member is in the classroom and hears ominous screams and thumps of students in the corridor, how does the teacher know for sure what is going on? Does the teacher proactively grab the weapon and race out of the classroom and into a hallway filled with emotionally charged youths? In an instant, how does the faculty member know it is a fight rather than the presence of someone about to be a shooter? If it turns out to be a fight, does the faculty member use the weapon to help stop it? If so, what message does this send to the gathered youths? How do we deal with the fear that the simple sight of a teacher displaying a weapon might cause in kids’ minds? 

     And what is the potential for danger by having the weapon present? Suppose it discharges accidentally? Suppose, in a fit of rage or panic, one of the fighters or one of the students in the crowd reaches for the weapon? How does the teacher react? Suppose the student succeeds in wrestling the weapon from the teacher? Where does that lead?

     Similar recipes for disaster exist even if, say, there is a lockdown because an active shooter has been identified in the school. Here is the reality teachers would face: 

     A teacher hears an announcement or an alarm or a code that signals "active shooter." The teacher must first ensure that the panicked students follow whatever safety protocol has been established. If the teacher is one of the faculty members who has supposedly been trained in how to use a rifle, that teacher would need to unlock whatever structure is storing the weapon, load it, leave his/her students alone, and wander into the unknown. In that unknown, and under those intense circumstances, is the teacher supposed to identify, without failure, the shooter...as opposed to some frantic student running around the halls? Or not just another teacher who speeds around the corner to try to help someone? Or not just the custodian who has slammed a closet door as he/she attempts to go into hiding? 

     There is another aspect of this "arm the teacher" movement that is extremely disturbing:

     These are schools we are talking about! These are institutions of learning! These are places meant to contribute to thoughtfulness, trial and error, youthful aspirations! These are places where the youth of our nation form their friendships, test their ideals, immerse themselves in community! Sure, the schools are by no means perfect. But they should not be turned into places where every look, every comment, every sound, every movement raises these questions in students’ minds: 

     Is that the teacher with the gun? If I laugh too loudly with my friends, will our laughter be mistaken for crying or calling for help and bring out a nervous teacher with a rifle? Is the only way to keep myself safe in life to arm myself?

    Arming teachers would be a lesson in failure destined to bring about more tragedies and to leave our already damaged schools, educators, and children with more scars.   

Copyright Chuck Cascio. All rights reserved.