Pamela Jessee: Why arming teachers in a classroom is a hair-brained idea

March 2, 2018 –  Dr. Pamela Jessee, a professional educator for 42 years, is dean of the Lewis University College of Education

As a proponent of gun control and a professional educator for the last 42 years, let me say that I am vehemently opposed to arming teachers in any school in America. The context of this is that schools are still relatively safe places to be and that the incidence of mass shootings is still relatively low. There are a little over 139,000 public, private, and post-secondary schools in the U.S. and since 1999 there have been 141 reported school shootings. In 81% of those cases, someone knew about the threat before it happened and 73% of the shooters had no prior criminal record.  What is true of 100% of these cases is that they all involved a gun of some sort that left us asking, “How did the shooter get a gun?” “Where did the shooter get the gun?” and “Why didn’t anyone see this coming?” So the real problem is about access and availability of weaponry that is so powerful that it can mow down multiple targets in a very short period of time and with very little warning.

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To be an educated person, in my opinion, is to learn to solve problems and conflicts with the use of logic and reason and human kindness. For the last several decades, we have been so focused on bringing up our test scores to match the rest of the world that we have lost sight of this. But good teachers model, instruct, and reinforce this use of reason and logic and kindness to deal with problems every day in their classrooms. If guns are the problem, then how does putting one in the teacher’s hand model for students the sanctity of human life, and dignity and respect for others? Throughout these horrific tragedies, there have been countless stories about the true heroism of the teachers. And I believe, given the option, that most teachers would not choose to have a weapon locked in their file cabinet or desk. And I believe that most teachers would do exactly what teachers have always done, protect their students from danger at all costs.  It is why ALL teachers should make more money!

But what about the shooters? Have we learned anything about the impact of undiagnosed mental illness? Have we learned anything about the disenfranchisement and disillusionment of children who school systems have given up on? The school cannot be all things to all people and even with a myriad of services available within the school, some cases are so severe that they warrant intensive psychiatric intervention. Maybe instead of expulsion, we could consider intervention first.  Maybe our nation’s leaders should turn their attention to providing better support for mental health services in this country. When done successfully, our schools can work together with mental health professionals to provide the much-needed help some of our students necessitate.

The one essential variable for school success is the presence of a caring adult who believes in the child and can advocate for that child’s needs. Yep, that is the greatest predictor of success. It isn’t technology; it isn’t a particular curriculum or method. For most students, this is their parent(s) but for some students, there is no one or the perception of no one. I could tell you hundreds of stories where educators stepped in to support the child and changed the trajectory of that child’s life forever. Maybe instead of training teachers to shoot assault weapons, we train them to recognize the warning signs of distress and depression and then provide adequate school support personnel and referral to professionals outside of the school.  It is about better mental health services for everyone in this country and easier access to agencies that can address the needs of children and their families.

Forget the guns. It is a hair-brained idea. It will cost a fortune, not just for the guns and training, but in insurance and lawsuits when accidents happen. And things will always happen. As a nation, we must make the care of our children a larger priority by creating school communities that embrace the uniqueness of each child, provide the care and support for all children, and empower our nation’s educators to do what they do best: teach the next generation of citizens.