Using textbooks as shields. Teachers packing heat. Making students defend their own classrooms.
These are just a few of the ideas being floated in the wake of the murder of Amish girls at a Pennsylvania schoolhouse.
As a mother, teacher, and longtime student, I'm a major stakeholder in these proposals.
I think they're all asinine.
Lest you think I'm merely some suburban-educated, middle-class white girl who doesn't understand the reality of violence in our schools, allow me to flash some street cred. Snoop Dogg graduated from my high school--you can now imagine the urban environment, perhaps? The school closed down during the Los Angeles riots because buildings in the neighborhood were burning. On Wednesday nights, I'd hear gunshots during orchestra practice. My senior year, I was responsible for the obituary page in the yearbook. Students at my school--members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (Army JROTC)--were tried for murder. (And ours wasn't the only school in the district with such trials: mostly students murdering other youth, but also a teacher murdering a student.) There were bullet holes in bungalow classroom windows. Razor wire topped the fences, and there was a heavy, rolling iron gate that clanged shut at the beginning of each school day under an arch bearing the school's motto--"Home of scholars and champions." The year after I left, they instituted locker and backpack checks, brought in search dogs, and by now I'm sure they have metal detectors.
We were told this security was not so much to keep us securely inside the school as to keep the bad elements securely out.
Living in the United States, whether you're a student in a school with a gang problem or a television viewer watching the war in Iraq, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that violence begets violence. Yet many Americans want to up the violence ante in our schools. When some right-wing white men from the rural or suburban U.S. declare that what my urban high school needs is more guns, I clench my jaw and try to breathe deeply, reminding myself that I am indeed a pacifist, and that putting my fist through the TV or computer screen won't help anyone.
Let's step back for a moment and consider the facts:
Who commits the school shootings we see in the news? White boys and white men.
Who are the ones proposing more guns in the schools? White men. Who are proposing that we teach our students to run toward gun-wielding attackers? White men.
Who are the victims? In disproportionate numbers, girls.
Who might actually be able to see this problem most clearly? And who's out of touch here? I think you know my answers.
We need a longer-term solution than the quick fixes--such as kevlar-coated textbooks--proposed by pundits and crazies. We need to teach our boys and young men to respect girls, women, and others who are unlike them because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, class, or disability.
Part of the problem, as women and feminist bloggers have pointed out in writing about violence against girls, is that we're looking at the means and ends of school violence and not its causes. By focusing on gun crimes, we're looking too narrowly at school violence.
Cathy Davidson writes that by focusing on threats to our children by violent or predatory adults, we're doing our students a disservice:
Well, we are leaving about 30% of our children behind (http://www2.edtrust.org). That is the current high school drop out rate, making the U.S. #17 in the world. We know level of education correlates with future employment, poverty, crime, violence, incarceration (http://www.prisonuniversityproject.org). If we are concerned about internet predators because of the irreparable harm they do our children, then let’s look at the far more vast harm that comes to children right now in America because of disaffection from our schools.
I agree. We need to be less concerned with teaching our children how to fend off attackers and more focused on improving the quality of education in many of our schools. The immediate violence of a school shooting is indeed tragic, but the damage caused by a failure to graduate from high school can reverberate throughout a community and a nation.
This improved education must include peace and justice studies so that students can understand challenges in their lives and make wise decisions about how to address them. We need fewer JROTC cadets who are skilled at taking orders and primed for military service and more students who can think critically and thoughtfully for themselves.
Can we all be pacifists? No, we're too far gone as a nation to pursue that course. Would a large dose of pacifism help? Certainly. Would it hurt? Unlikely.
What's your solution to the various kinds of school violence?
(Photo by Cindy Seigle, used under a Creative Commons license)