The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are teaching the country a powerful civics lesson. I applaud them for showing the supposed adults in their world what it means to persist and take action as vocal citizens. They are demonstrating to all of us how to be responsible and make change.
The teachers at MSDHS must be proud of these kids, and let’s give these teachers a round of applause too. They lost colleagues and students, and they lived through yet another gun massacre. They can take plenty of credit for teaching these impressive kids.
As teachers, we are supposed to educate, guide, counsel, and care for our students. I’ve had many education courses in my life and plenty of experience working in schools and colleges, but no one ever suggested that I should learn to use a gun to protect my students. Only people who know nothing about the culture and climate of schools would recommend arming teachers and other school personnel. When was the last time legislators in Tallahassee attempted to navigate a crowded hallway at passing time in a high school or middle school or stood at the entrance of a school as the buses arrived and kids charged in the doors?
After 13 years of teaching high school English, I spent the next 30 years teaching students who aimed to be teachers and school leaders. As teacher and school leader educators, we were constantly adapting our curriculum based on demands from state and national governments, testing services, and accrediting bodies. We routinely found ourselves defending our thinking and practice to pundits who knew little about education but fancied themselves experts based on the fact that they went to school. A new governor generally meant a different commissioner of education, new members of the state board of education, code changes, new standardized tests, revised cut scores, and additional demands of all kinds. We found that those who made the rules and code rarely listened to us.
What awaits us now from legislators in the pocket of the NRA? Will teacher educators have to adjust courses, clinical experiences, and testing to accommodate gun skills? Will the complex and costly Pearson edTPA contain a section on gunmanship, complete with videos of teachers armed with AK 15s hitting the bull’s eye with 98% accuracy? Will future PD sessions in schools be devoted to gun handling? Think of the potential for NRA-endorsed PD providers! Will the Danielson Rubric need a new domain to assess gun skills? Shooting for a “3” anyone?
OK, I may be joking here, but let’s not underestimate the power of the NRA to set law and policy in this country. A retired N.J. educator, a former colleague and friend of mine, who lives in Naples, Florida, recently posted this message on my Facebook page, “In Florida, there is what is known as a YRO (Youth Resource Officer) in every school: in uniform, wearing a Kevlar vest, and fully armed with billy club, handcuffs, and holstered gun. Not a retiree from military or retired deputy. When I worked in a Naples middle school (’06 -’08) part-time, I was shocked to see this. They handled routine disturbances…like those I handled as a VP (pre-Columbine). Their function is to ‘build rapport’ with students, as well as ‘insure’ safety.”
What rational person would claim that school employees armed with pistols and billy clubs would build rapport with students? More guns will only result in more violence and death. The Parkland kids understand this better than most people, and they are not giving up. Those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement live with unspeakable loss and know all too well that many Black lives are lost in frequent shootings on neighborhood streets and in confrontations with the police. It is time to say “never again” to needless slaughter.
On March 24, 2018, the same day as our NJCTE Conference, citizens will participate in the March for Our Lives. During this event “the kids and families of March for Our Lives will take to the streets of Washington, D.C. [and in other cities and towns throughout the nation] to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings. The collective voices of the March for Our Lives movement will be heard.”
NJCTE recognizes that many of our conference attendees may feel conflicted and wish they could attend the march. I know I would be marching in Morristown or Washington, D.C. if I weren’t participating in the conference. We set the date and site and started inviting speakers like renowned author Jason Reynolds more than a year ago and could not reschedule such a big event. So, we plan to recognize the march with a number of activities at the conference. Come prepared to write messages for the marchers, join marchers on social media, and share an exciting and productive day with a group of people, who understand what it means to teach and learn in safe environments that cultivate student voices and celebrate their lives.
Let’s heed the call from Cameron Kasky, a MSDHS junior, who calls us to action with these words:
I’m just a high school student, and I do not pretend to have all of the answers. However, even in my position, I can see that there is desperate need for change — change that starts by folks showing up to the polls and voting all those individuals who are in the back pockets of gun lobbyists out of office.
Please do it for me. Do it for my fellow classmates. We can’t vote, but you can, so make it count.
Written by Patricia Schall, NJCTE board member
Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English