On Arming Teachers

by Matthew Stollak on Sunday, December 16, 2012

I come from a family of educators.  One uncle was a math teacher for 35+ years with Milwaukee Public Schools.  My cousin teaches AP Chemistry in Green Bay.  My wife is a school psychologist.  My mom taught choir at the K-12 and college level.  My dad was a Psychology professor for 40+ years at Michigan State.  I've been teaching for 18 years.

The curriculum in which I was trained was focused on Labor Economics and Human Resource Management theory and practice.  It did not prepare me for the event when a pregnant student's water breaking in the middle of class discussion.  It did not prepare me for attending the funeral of a student who died in an automobile accident. 
Even with my dad's background, it did not prepare him for when a mentally ill student attacked him in his office for some supposed transgression by throwing eggs at him.  And, it certainly didn't prepare any teacher, even with drills, for the horror that occurred in Connecticut last Friday.

Sadly, my reaction was not of anger or sadness, but numbness, with the only surprise that it doesn't happen more often.  Columbine, Paducah, Bart, and Jonesboro.  It was not "a" school shooting.  It was "another" school shooting.  ANOTHER.  Yet, the news seems to treat such an event like a hurricane or earthquake, as if nothing can be done.  It's all too depressingly normal

There has been a lot of discussion about what to do...more extensive background checks, banning certain types of firearms, increasing waiting periods, increased public health funding, particular in mental health.

However, the most ludicrous proposal I've seen is the suggestion that we need more arms, more guns....that teachers should be armed.  Why?

1.  I'm sure the belief is that an armed gunman or gunmen will enter a classroom guns ablazing, and the heroic teacher will have a gun at her ready and fire accurately to take him/them down, saving ALL the children.  U.S. House of Representatives member Louie Gohmert stated this very point on Sunday talking to Chris Wallace on Fox:  "Chris, I wish to God she had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids. [...]"

That is delusion of the highest order.  It is fantasy that even J.R.R. Tolkien would reject.

  • It assumes the teacher will have firepower sufficient to take that individual or group of individuals down
  • It assumes that the gun is quickly and readily available at the teacher's side instead of being locked away in a desk or closet that might take some time to access when the assailant enters
  • It assumes the teacher will be able to accurately identify whether the person entering is a threat or simply another student or colleague.
  • It assumes that even if the teacher was able to access the weapon quickly enough, and make the correct identification, she will be able to act both quickly and accurately enough to get off shots that will not only disarm/diable/kill the assailants, but conveniently does not hit one child.

Instead, as I have noted on the blog before, performance under stress is very difficult.  "In the typical fight-or-flight scenario, scary high-pressure moment X assaults the senses and is routed to the amygdala, aka the unconscious fear center.  For well-trained athletes, that's not a problem: A field goal kick, golf swing or free throw is for them an ingrained action stored in the striatum, the brain's autopilot.  The prefrontal cortex, our analytical thinker, doesn't even need to show up.  But, under the gun, that super-smart part of the brain think's its so great and tries to butt in."  Basically, no amount of drills will prepare a teacher for a scenario where he or she is trying to protect a class full of children, and taking out an assailant, while attempting to be accurate.  Will not happen in most occasions.

Further, peer reviewed research indicates that having that weapon will increase the risk to the students and the teacher.  Its better to NOT have the gun, than to try to be John McClane.

Finally, the scene is more likely to resemble the bank robbery shootout from "Heat" than a peaceful faceoff.  As a parent, do you want to have your child in a classroom such as this?

2.  Its not been a good couple of years to be in the education business.  In Wisconsin, Illinois this fall, and Michigan this past week, teachers have been portrayed as union thugs who are parasites on the taxpayers and are indoctrinating students in communism or atheism.  They cannot be trusted to fairly evaluate themselves, students, or their colleagues. They cannot be trusted to have collective bargaining rights, and they unfairly force its members to pay dues into the union.

But, you trust them to pack heat in the classroom?

3.  We've just seen right to work legislation passed in Michigan that no longer "forces" bargaining unit members to pay dues that were negotiated for and accepted by a majority of the union members.  Yet, who will pay for the firearms (the gun that Gohmert describes costs at least $800) that teachers are supposed to carry?  The schools?  With Wisconsin cutting nearly $800 million from the education budget, where will the funding for this come from?  Are teachers going to be forced to pay for guns they will be expected to carry as a condition of employment?

4.  What is the insurance liability going to be for the school and/or teacher?  What's going to be the reaction when a teacher mistakenly identifies ?  Will the NRA come running to protect that teacher?

5.  Will arms training now be part of a college or technical school curriculum?  There are many things a teacher recognizes will be part of his or her job...teaching, wiping a student's nose, cleaning up after a young student if he or she soils him/herself or vomits, discipline, hours spent outside of school prepping and grading for classes, even, as we saw, serving as human shields for them....all for very little pay (Substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau, one of the victims, earned $75 a day, or less than $10/hr).  

Gohmert assumes many of the teachers will go on willy-nilly with his scenario.  However, I think a requirement to carry a weapon would cross a line for many teachers, both current and prospective.
As Dave Brockington writes, I have the right to concentrate on excellence in pedagogy and not in SWAT tactics.  I have the right as a university professor to assume that when the door to my lecture hall opens, as it does five times per hour, it's another late student, and not my long awaited chance to unholster the Glock I'm packing in order to pop off a couple untrained rounds in playing hero." 

Teaching is my passion, but I would quit my job before being expected to carry a gun as part of my job. I imagine many of my colleagues would as well.  Similarly, I would expect that the attractiveness of become an education major would decline as well.  As noted above, you vilify us, cut our salary and budgets significantly, and now you want us to take on this added, significantly dangerous, requirement?  I don't think so.   

The result?  A potential nationwide shortage of teachers.  And, as the law of supply and demand indicates, the cost to hire teachers rises.  Prepare to pay.

6.  Then again, it may be mitigated by the decreased number of students.  How many parents will be willing to send a child to a classroom where the potential for gun violence has skyrocketed with the presence of potentially accessible weapons?  

And there is your challenge, HR.  How are you going to handle the demand for greater work/life flexibility as many parents request more time off to homeschool their children?

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