Here are some recent headlines:
Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill That Would Allow School Staff to Carry Guns
Michigan House to Explore Arming Teachers
Mississippi Vote Raises Question: Should Mid-South Teachers Be Armed?
Bill To Arm Tennessee Legislators Passes First Hurdle
Armed Teachers: Illinois District Wants to Be 1st To Give Teachers Guns
The pressure to do something is going to continue to grow if school shootings keep occurring, and there’s absolutely no reason to think they won’t. The solutions, if there are any, are difficult and politically divisive. The easiest thing for federal officials to do is kick the can and dump it on the states, and the easiest thing for state legislators to do is drop it in the laps of schools. So they’ll pass laws that allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons, they’ll require some training, they’ll refuse to pay for most of it, and then they’ll sit back and wait to blame schools and teachers the next time a shooting happens in their schools.
And teachers will play right into their hands because it’s what we always do. A lot more teachers than you think are going to end up carrying guns. They’ll do so for three reasons.
Fear is a strong motivator. It makes us do things we never thought we would. And the fact that this fear is misplaced doesn’t matter. It certainly didn’t matter when school districts spent millions on secure entrances, security cameras, door stop devices, reinforced glass, and other measures that won’t do a damn thing to stop a determined school shooter.
When something gets this much exposure, we start to believe it’s more likely than it is. Following a plane crash, we’re more nervous to fly. Watching Nancy Grace causes us to watch our kids like hawks. A hysterical Facebook post about an attempted abduction from a grocery store parking lot stokes fears of being trafficked for sex among women across the country. A terrorist attack has us seeing potentially explosive knapsacks on the backs of every young bearded male we encounter.
We’re scared to be the next victim, so we do what we think will protect us (even though it likely won’t). We remove our shoes. We submit to invasive searches. We don’t even care all that much when we learn that our government is spying on us. And we do it all because we tell ourselves silly things like, “If it saves even one child…” and “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
We’ve seen this before.
Teachers don’t want to be shot.
They don’t want their students shot.
If they think a gun might prevent those things, a lot of them will carry one, damn all reason and consideration of unintended consequences.
Why do you attend unpaid after-school events? Fear of being thought lazy or guilt over your colleagues’ attendance? Why do you join committees you’re not interested in? Why do you say yes when you want to say no? Good old-fashioned teacher guilt is an epidemic.
Let’s consider how this arming teachers scenario might play out:
1. Your state passes a law allowing you to carry a gun in school.
2. The local police department offers training (Although, with enough teachers, the demand will probably lead to for-profit enterprises being certified to take the load off the overworked cops and they’ll cobble together some lame training program like most of the inadequate training teachers are forced to endure).
3. Your school district comes up with a policy and finds the cheapest training program to send willing teachers to, permitting them, upon completion (and probably a stupid certificate to hang over their desk) to carry a gun.
4. You find out that a few other teachers have taken the training to carry. They tell you they feel safer now.
Now what thoughts are likely to go through teachers’ minds? I can tell you one: Anticipated guilt.
See if these thoughts seem likely:
It doesn’t seem right that Joyce is the only one armed. So all the responsibility falls on her if a shooter gets inside the school? What if she can’t get to the shooter? What if she’s absent that day? Someone else should be armed, too.
What if parents find out that I’m one of the teachers not carrying a gun? Will they feel their kids are less safe in my room than in other rooms? Will they talk about how I don’t care about protecting their kids on Facebook? Will they question my dedication? Will they think I’m a coward? Will my colleagues? Will my principal?
What if, God forbid, a shooting does happen and the shooter comes into my room and kills a student and the press finds out that I could have been armed but had chosen not to be? Will they blame me? Of course they’ll blame me! Will the parents of the dead child blame me? (Yes) Won’t I blame myself? (Uh-huh) How could I live with myself? (Good question)
What if principals are pressured by parents to put pressure on teachers to carry? After all, if a school with one armed teacher is safer than a school with none, wouldn’t a school where everybody is armed be the safest of all? What will I do if I’m made to feel like I have to carry a gun?
I suggest most teachers will do the same thing they’ve done every other time they were made to feel like they had to do something, whether it was attending a professional development session that had absolutely nothing to do with their job, or teaching in a manner they know from research is not best practice, or implementing a program with fidelity even though data show it’s not working, or buying something from their friend who sells Rodan + Fields even though they don’t want that crap.
And if you think those thoughts won’t happen, then you haven’t been paying attention. Remember these parents, who “recklessly” allowed their kids to play alone at the park, or this mom, who was called the “world’s worst mother” for allowing her nine-year-old to ride the subway unattended? Why do you think you rarely see kids playing outside anymore without adult supervision? Video games and other indoor entertainment play a role, sure. But so do parents who are terrified of the worst happening and then being blamed if it does. The fear and anticipated guilt we feel when we imagine the unimaginable makes overprotective fools of a lot of us. No teacher will want to risk being blamed for a child dying in her care. Many will carry a gun, if for no other reason than to say they did all they could.
Teachers give in. Almost all of us regularly capitulate. We don’t fight. When we do, we get dragged out of board meetings and dinged on our evaluations. How many degradations and indignities have you already put up with in your teaching career? How much do you do not because it’s good for your students but because you’re told to it? Do you really think teachers are suddenly going to fight back?
There’s a reason the West Virginia teacher strike made national news: teachers strikes are rare. In spite of decades of declining respect, falling earning power, and national scapegoating, most of us have gone along to get along. We’ve agreed, even when we didn’t like it. We held out noses and persisted. We did what was “best for kids” even when it damaged our health, our relationships, and our profession. We’re nothing if not reliably compliant. What possible evidence exists that teachers will suddenly execute an about-face and take a principled stand on guns, especially when guilt and fear are also working against them doing so?
Ultimately, more teachers than you think are going to end up armed for the same reasons we’ve agreed to terrify six-year-olds with lockdown drills. We succumb to the seductive illusion of safety. We’ll arm ourselves because we’re scared and because the thing we fear the most is our own future guilt. We’ll submit because it’s what’s expected of us. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll continue to do.
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort is starting this summer, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to receive a reminder email to sign up for Early Bird Access on June 8.