President Trump has made clear this week that he believes arming teachers with guns is a key strategy for stopping future shootings at schools.
He pushed the idea on Wednesday at a White House meeting with survivors of last week’s shooting at a Florida high school, which killed 17 people. On Thursday, he tweeted about it, writing: “Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive.”
Some law enforcement officials have said that they don’t think it’s a good idea, as do educators, including National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who said in a statement: “Educators need to be focused on teaching our students.” Al.com quoted Alabama school district leaders as saying that it was a bad idea, with Madison City Schools Superintendent Robby Parker saying he instead wants a “trained professional” such as a school resource officer in schools.
“Do we really want a first-year teacher in a gun battle with a terrorist?” Parker said. “Do we think that’s going to make us safe? My answer is no.”
Here is a post by Stephen Mucher, a veteran public school teacher who directs the Bard Master of Arts in Teaching Program in Los Angeles. His commentary has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Education Week, Religious Dispatches, and Sojourners.
Mucher has taught in public schools in North Carolina, Michigan, California, Honduras and in the U.S. island territories (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) as well as in New York and California prisons.
Bard MAT is an innovative residency and public school partnership program preparing individuals for careers around teaching, student advocacy, human rights and social justice while promoting an invigorated democratic role for public education in the city of Los Angeles. The program seeks to dignify the critical role of teachers in a democratic society by promoting professional preparation that is rich in the arts, humanities and ethnic studies.
By Stephen Mucher
In the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting deaths of 17 people at a South Florida high school, some political leaders are saying that similar tragedies could be prevented by deputizing, training and arming teachers. Advocates for broader conceal-and-carry laws in schools argue that a more vigilant educator workforce would prove both a deterrent and a defense against the inevitable threat posed by psychologically troubled teens.
As a teacher who has spent a career working alongside fellow educators in urban and rural areas alike, I’m concerned about that strategy.
I join many other educators who worry that weaponizing teachers would further militarize learning environments, increase the risk of deadly accidents, and offer little protection against a determined student with a military-grade assault rifle.
This debate, which was only recently relegated to the margins of our political discourse, is likely to grow louder with each successive school shooting. President Trump spoke Wednesday to survivors of the Feb. 14 attack at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a 19-year-old firing a semiautomatic weapon, making his National Rifle Association-endorsed position clear. “If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms,” Trump said, “they could very well end the attack very quickly.”
I’ll let others, particularly public-health professionals, assess the president’s case. What I’m most concerned about now is what an armed teaching workforce would do to my profession.
What type of individual would choose or reject a teaching career in the future under such conditions? How does the presumption of an armed faculty reshape the relationship between teachers and students? And for students who must increasingly learn how to challenge authority, what ideas get stifled when their teacher holsters a 9mm Glock on his or her waistband?
These questions are critical at a time when many of our democratic institutions face unprecedented challenge. Our gun debates reflect national politics characterized by predictable patterns of inaction, distrust, incivility and ideological entrenchment.
Any long-term solution to this democratic crisis will require a generation of youths prepared to discover what their parents and grandparents found so elusive. They will need to find courageous empathy with others, reconcile historical injustices and identify common ground across intractable ethnic, religious, economic and geographic differences.
These students will need teachers who can initiate and model democratic practices sadly missing from our nation’s capital to the statehouse. Such practices require patience and courageous nonviolence. We will need the more than 3 million working teachers who are vigilant, deputized, trained and armed with the knowledge and skill needed to bring their students together.
Today’s teachers can tap into a noble legacy. Our greatest educators have long helped students bridge the gap between an unjust, violent society and the more inclusive possibilities of democracy.
The 19th-century schoolmaster, for example, encouraged pupils see beyond a harsh frontier and imagine more humane civic institutions. Enslaved men and women organized clandestine classrooms on the plantation, passing the literacy of liberation on to their children.
Ethnic minority teachers, representing over a century of American immigration, helped students transcend criminalizing stereotypes and recognize their academic potential. And LGBTQ teachers provided comfort and hope in communities where students knew that exposure could lead to greater exclusion and violence.
When I talk to my teaching colleagues, I still hear this idealism. In these historic examples, we recognize educators who put students first, typically ahead of their own personal safety. Many of us feel called to this work. Our family and friends often describe us, in our passion, as strangely “cut out” for an impossible profession. We laughingly kid each other that teachers care a little too much.
Given this professional history, the fact that educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas stood between a deadly threat and their own students should be less surprising. Scott Beigel, Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon join teachers who paid our profession’s highest price at Columbine High School in Colorado, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and too many other schools where mass shootings have occurred.
Countless others are returning to traumatized students with resolve. One Parkland teacher spoke for many of us when he said, “I would take a bullet for the kids.”
This resolute hopefulness remains central to the ethos of the profession we chose. Each day we choose to see in each student the better angels of their nature. Our vocation is built on this continuous act of trust. Without this trust, initiated with courage, the learning relationships we seek are impossible. Without this trust, there is no democracy for us to keep.
Upholding these values does not make us naive. Ask any veteran teacher and you will hear stories about students with dispositions now painfully familiar in the profile of too many school shooters. Few of us honestly think, “It won’t happen here.” After all, we protect our students each day from classmates who are either momentarily or routinely mean-spirited. We also know that obtaining a gun is easier for our students than returning the parental permission forms required for field trips or sporting events.
We know colleagues who are drawn to the enforcement side of education, and, admittedly, some small number of these individuals have a role to play in schools. But the widespread arming of teachers could skew our workforce profoundly.
Individuals who are inclined toward caring, instructive relational work could be driven away from this militarized environment. Individuals inclined toward authoritarian interactions could increasingly decide that schools best reward their desire to exercise power.
Testimonials from one of the more celebrated organizations promoting and training armed teachers illustrate concerns about changing the central mission of our profession.” I am a different person after this training,” one school employee explains. A third-grade teacher describes the new “mental preparation” emerging from her course. Another educator states, “I am changed thanks to this training.”
As educators, we have no reason to doubt these testimonials. But many of us love our profession far too much to want this kind of change.