Amongst the latest batch of suggestions to curb gun violence is the outlandish initiative to arm teachers. President Trump himself has offered this as a solution, saying that teachers would be given guns only after receiving training.
Teachers across the nation have been using the hashtag #armmewith to speak out about why they don’t want to the additional responsibility of firearm training thrust upon them in addition to everything else they already do. Rather than guns, they ask for smaller class sizes, for better mental health services. For school supplies.
I am a teacher. Arm me with adequate supplies for my students so I don’t have to beg for donations. Arm me with healthy,delicious breakfasts and lunches so that not one of my students goes hungry. Arm me with enough counselors and support staff to help all students #ArmMeWith
— Kelly Eddy (@MsEddy) February 23, 2018
Schools are supposed to be safe places, physically and emotionally. More guns mean more violence. In just the few days since the suggestion that teachers should be armed, there have been several incidents involving teachers firing guns in schools.
But besides the argument that teachers main jobs are to teach, not to be military trained security guards, the give teachers guns discussion also ignores the simple fact that for plenty of students, schools are already not safe.
Racism is present in schools across the country. It’s there in the way that teachers treat white vs. black and brown students. It’s there in the way that they give feedback and the way they discipline. The majority of teachers are white; arming teachers would only exacerbate racial tensions already present in classrooms.
This isn’t to say that white teachers, or people in general, are outwardly racist. But bias, often implicit bias, is there. White teachers can misinterpret how their students of color are expressing themselves as hostility rather than frustration or boredom. Already black and Latino kids are overpoliced, and already public schools with majority black and Latino students are equipped with metal detectors and armed guards. Those measures are there for protection not against intruders, but against students themselves. They make for school environments that are hostile and tense and do not promote a positive learning environment.
Not only does arming teachers risk student safety, but teacher safety as well. Both based on studies and actual events, we know that black people are at increased risk of being shot by police officers. Giving black teachers guns create the possibility that during a school shooting when the SWAT teams arrive, a black teacher with a gun might look more like a threat than a protector.
Question: As a black man, I think people really speak without putting everything into perspective. As a black man we get shot by cops for being empty handed. But would you feel comfortable as a Black Teacher holding a gun when the cops show up at school shooting?
— Mr. Weeks ?? (@MrDane1982) February 23, 2018
This argument highlights what the discussion about guns is really about. It serves to protect the gun industry, and it serves to increase protection in only one context: majority white, suburban communities. In communities where metal detectors and armed guards aren’t present because there is no ostensible need.
I grew up in an affluent Connecticut suburb, only minutes from the border with the state’s capital, Hartford, one of the most dangerous cities in the nation. A summer job required me to go into different schools, mainly in Hartford, to recruit students to sign up for a free SAT-prep program. The difference between some of the Hartford public schools compared to my public school was palpable. There was tension you could feel in the hallways, messages about staying in school plastered on the walls, and, most notably, an abundance of security guards. I remember feeling not more protected but more unsafe. If so many security guards were around, surely there was a reason.
If we really want to be talking about making school environments safer, this is the discussion we should be having. Because, apart from the danger of a mass shooter, which is still a relatively unlikely threat, schools located in affluent, majority white neighborhoods are very safe. It’s the ones with lots of so-called protective measures that need to be looked at.
Arming teachers isn’t about teacher or student safety. It’s about protecting the Second Amendment and shielding us against examining some difficult truths.