Just one month ago today, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, opened fire on campus and took the lives of 17 students and faculty members.
Since then, survivors of that shooting have become activists appearing on our television screens, Twitter feeds, and many publications ―pleading to the current administration for these murders to stop and for gun policy reform to happen now.
The White House’s response to these pleas have been varied. On Sunday, it said it would begin to provide “rigorous firearms training” to schoolteachers and other school personnel who volunteer to be armed. The administration also formally endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background checks system.
“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” said President Donald Trump, during a meeting at the White House with students and parents from the Parkland shooting.
“I really believe if these cowards knew that the school was well guarded … I think they wouldn’t go into the school to start off with, it could very well solve your problem,” he added.
But is arming teachers the answer to the problem at hand? While the NRA and many members of Congress support this idea, others have argued that it’s not the solution we need.
Consider this: In response to a HuffPost report on a 25-year-old social studies teacher who had been secretly hosting a white nationalist podcast and bragging about teaching her views the classroom, dozens of readers pointed out this teacher is a perfect example of why teachers shouldn’t be armed.
There were also questions and sarcastic remarks like: “These the people we’re trying to arm?” and “so glad they’re going to arm teachers in Florida now.”
That last sentiment by Daily Kos’ Wagatwe Wanjuki is highly important to note.
This teacher has since been removed from the classroom. But she taught at a public school in Crystal River, Florida ― a mere four-hour drive away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ― and also argued that “science” has proven that certain races are smarter than others.
Racial bias in the classroom is a known issue in classrooms across America, according to research, and the average teacher in the U.S. tends to be white and female despite an increasingly diverse population of students.
“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said last month. “Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms.”
There aren’t cut and dry solutions to assessing racial bias in the education system, but there are steps schools can take if they’re given the resources.
For one, studies have proven that white teachers tend to have a lot more faith in the abilities of students who look like them and had comparatively negative predictions for their students of color.
Ensuring educators take courses that teach comprehensive and effective cultural competency could help eradicate such bias in their teaching.
White study participants viewed black boys as young as ten years old as less innocent than the children’s white counterparts in the same age group, according to a 2014 study from the American Psychological Association. The study also found participants were more likely to mistake younger black boys as being older children.
Courses addressing cultural competency could potentially change how students of color are viewed and lessen the impact of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a national trend where students of color are pushed out of public schools, often through suspensions, and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. According to Think Progress, students who have even “one suspension in a school year are far more likely to drop out and come into contact with the criminal justice system.”
Additionally, teachers could be given better tools to develop culturally relevant curricula. Students are far more likely to stay engaged in courses that recognize contributions made by leaders, writers, musicians and others that look and sound like them.
There are clearly a laundry list of problems teachers need help with addressing in their classrooms that should arguably come long before we discuss arming them ― particularly now in light of a new plan just announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday that will fund local jurisdictions wanting to put cops in schools. The plan has already garnered criticism, with some saying it puts black and brown students in danger.
Trump recently established the Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The goal for the commission will be to “address school safety and the culture of violence;” it will also investigate “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases” and “the effectiveness and appropriateness of psychotropic medication for treatment of troubled youth.”
Previously, DeVos has said she believes many historically black colleges and universities, which were formed in response to systemic discrimination, were a great example of “school choice.” She is also a staunch supporter of private school choice programs, where students learn Christian fundamentalist doctrine and leave with “racist, sexist and intolerant views of the world.” She has also been the impetus for an upswing in activism within teachers over the last year. One advocacy group countering her policies, the Network for Public Education, saw membership shoot up to 330,000 members, compared to 22,000 members before DeVos was nominated.
The plans for the Federal Commission on School Safety neglect to mention anything about racial discrimination.