Fortunately I went to school and taught in school during an age when schools were considered sanctuaries and about the safest place you could leave your child. Of course I attended and taught in a small rural system and whatever black board jungles we heard of were far, far, away.
Like many of you who grew up in the 50s you remember kids riding the school bus carrying a firearm to school that they were rebuilding in wood or metal shop. I witnessed lots of new rifle stocks and pistol grips fabricated and guns re-blued over the decades at McClain High School.
It was also a normal thing for a young man to carry a pocket knife in his blue jeans. And I, as a teacher, never spent a day in my classroom without my handy-dandy Barlow. Decades before an old man told me that a real man never leaves home without his pocket knife. To this day I never am without my genuine Swiss Army knife. You never know when you’ll need to clean your fingernails or pick your teeth.
Somehow all this changed and today the simplest pocket knife can get a student labeled a violent threat and expelled from school. A teacher leaning against a black board cleaning his nails with a pocket knife as students discuss a problem might be viewed as armed and dangerous by some in today’s community.
All this bothers me, I don’t like what schools have become. Sometime after I retired the administration decided a full-time policeman should be assigned to patrol the campus and keep an eye on things. I hated this decision, somehow it seemed to run counter to everything I though a school should be, safe bastions of opportunity where people assemble to work on making their dreams come true. Not places under siege and requiring armed guards.
What took place last week in Connecticut isn’t anything new in America. Our schools have seen violence many times and will see it happen again. And, while we should never become complacent with such we should also not over react. Serious or not there have been a lot of ideas tossed around in the aftermath and most simply turn our schools into armed camps of paranoia.
One suggestion is that we utilized returning Afghanistan troops to roam our hallways like they roamed the streets of Kabul. The GOP legislature in Michigan wanted to permit concealed weapons in day-care centers and public schools but the state’s governor vetoed the bill following the Newtown shooting. Way too many, including Texas governor Rick Perry, are suggesting we require all classroom teachers to receive weapons training and enter their rooms armed to the teeth.
Remember after 9/11 how most of said we didn’t want to sacrifice our freedoms because it would signal having bowed to the desires of the terrorists? To have admitted we had been defeated? Well, if we turn our nation’s schools into walled fortresses how are we not proclaiming that the insane among us are in control?
How about we, for once, address the causes behind these events? How about we take a close look at our gun laws? How about we take a very close look at our mental health system (or lack thereof)? How about we spend more time identifying the troubled among us and spend some money on trying to treat what we find? How about we just take a moment to actually think before we overreact again, dealing with the symptoms and not the cause?
I want a solution that doesn’t require more guns or more cops in our halls of learning!