Teaching Dr. King with a Gun in My Hand

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recommendation that Americans consider allowing teachers and school staff to carry guns is only as dangerous as the media blitz that surrounds him. Let’s take the focus off of his wacky idea, and consider the manner in which we, as a society, are entering into this conversation, and let’s remember that we came to this conversation because of our collective conscience–our feeling that we cannot tolerate the senseless violence in our society, and we must find real solutions to prevent it.

As a public high school teacher in Portland, Oregon, I ask you to consider what it feels like to consider returning from winter break to work in a school with 1300 students, a school that has faced budget cuts in the past five years, a school that draws from a diverse community of learners, a school where we try our best to know every single student, but cannot be sure of our ability to provide mental health services to all students because we lack resources, a school where we practice our school shooter drills diligently because we know, sadly, that it could happen here too.

I envision making a plan with each class, letting them know that when we are in lock down, we’ll also barricade the door in this manner—after I lock the door, James will flip the desks, and Ralph will help him push them up against the door; Raymond will flip the tables, and we, as a class, will hide behind the tables in silence. If the door rattles, we won’t scream, and you better believe that in those moments, there will be prayer in school.

While I will return to school at the end of break, these fears in mind, I still don’t wish I had a gun. There is no way that, with a gun in my hand, I could teach the non-violent philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, of Ghandi, and of many other political thinkers who inspired change through creative, peaceful means. I hearken back to the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King, edited by Coretta Scott King, “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education stops which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason but with no morals”. While I have taken the time to consider the value of the rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, and by our founders, I also consider the values of those who, through non-violent protest, made the most significant structural changes to the system of public education in the United States by desegregating the school system. The values of the civil rights movement are just as important, in terms of the ideological trajectory of the nation, as the concepts first laid down by the founders. As we move forward, we must put down our guns, and rediscover, quite literally, King’s Strength to Love.

Arming teachers is not the answer, as it isn’t practical, and it is also a concept antithetical to the American values of non-violence, individual conscience, and personal will. Two 60 year old AP Calculus teachers with bifocal lenses and a hippie English teacher are not going to succeed in a shootout with an assassin. Legislation that limits access to guns, sensible school security infrastructure (like pass card systems that they have at athletic clubs), and more funding for mental health services in grade schools, high schools, and colleges are solutions that will help to heal this broken system.  I recommend that Governor Perry considers these options, but if he really wants to wield a powerful weapon, I suggest he also consider implementing non-violent communication curriculum in every Texas public school. Teachers take the risk of facing an violent attack every time we enter our classrooms, and until these changes are made, our students take the risk with us. As a mother and as a community member, I want to see our parents, teachers, students, and administrators linking arms to build nets of spiritual protection around our schools. As a realist, I want new laws, school safety measures, and more mental health services now.

 

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