Let’s be clear: America’s schools are “future” factories. Educators manufacture the future by giving the next generation the skills and dispositions that they’ll need to not only be successful individuals but also contributing citizens, capable of caring about community, duty, and something larger than themselves. To truly believe that the best we can collectively offer our children to keep them safe is to prepare their teachers for armed combat is a future so grim that it jeopardizes our mission as a whole. Teachers currently subscribe to and work toward a much brighter future. It is time for our politicians to do the same.
Viewed from a distance, a classroom can often look like it runs itself. Teachers teach and students learn. Unless you’ve experienced what it takes to teach a room full of children, you might not understand the hundreds of decisions that teachers make both before and during a lesson as they guide their students to success. This is what teachers train for, and to think that this work is any less intense than other professions is underestimating the skill and expertise required to create an optimal learning environment. In the same way we wouldn’t expect a surgeon to be trained and prepared to go from operating on a patient to gunfighting at a moment’s notice, expecting teachers to do so is equally ridiculous.
This isn’t to say that teachers lack the capability, courage, or determination to face evil. We do so almost every day. And as we’ve seen in countless school attacks, teachers are remarkably capable under fire. Many put the lives of their students over their own, think of teammates first, and run to the aid of others, even if it means putting themselves in danger. Teachers are heroic on a daily basis, and when it all goes really sideways, that heroism doesn’t falter.
As many of my colleagues have shared, like me, they became educators because they wanted to make the world a better place. Being armed in a classroom does not represent the best way to achieve that goal, and it would show our students that the world is becoming more brutish, not less.
We also must be realistic about the efficacy of adding more guns to an environment crowded with children. Though we have a strong cultural fantasy that a good person with a gun can simply stop a bad person with a gun, it is important to keep some truths in mind. A study conducted by the New York Police Department showed that the accuracy, or “hit potential,” of a trained police officer firing at a “bad guy” from 10-23 feet was 11.5 percent. This distance falls within the length of a school classroom, meaning that even if teachers were trained up to the standards of police officers, nearly 90 percent of shots fired in a room full of children would not hit their intended target. As a school principal, I find this is a horrifying thought. This isn’t a critique of police officers in any way. Rather, it shows just how hard it really is and how we can’t pretend otherwise.
The idea of arming teachers to “harden schools” against future violence shows a continued lack of understanding about what teachers actually do and is disrespectful of the professionalism of educators. It represents a societal race to the bottom, advancing the idea that “more guns” is the solution to the unprecedented level of gun violence in our country. As a veteran educator, I join my colleagues in rejecting this proposal and instead encourage the nation and our leaders to have a real conversation about gun control.
Demian Barnett is superintendent and principal of Peabody Charter School.