December 16, 2018

Guest Column: Arming teachers distracts from the tough work ahead

By Will Adams

In times of crisis, a good and just society should come together for the common good, examining the causes of the crisis with sober thinking. In such times, we should be resolute in our conviction to make change for the common good.

In the wake of the school shooting in Florida two weeks ago, there are renewed calls for action on a variety of gun control measures in Congress and in state legislatures. In the long shadows of tragedy, our youth, often derided by older generations for being self-centered and entitled, are finding their voices and understanding the inherent empowerment they have when they speak out to enact change for the common good. That they have done so gives me hope.

As this chorus for change loudens, there are proposals being bandied about that seem to be nothing more than political theater at best. Arming teachers in an effort to make our schools safer is among the silliest proposals I’ve heard. It has not been developed with the kind of gravitas one would expect when creating solutions for complex problems, nor does it get at the root of the problem. In fact, it could very well make matters worse.

I served in the Army National Guard for over a decade and as a law enforcement officer for about three years after college. I do not fear firearms. I respect them.

My opposition to being armed in the classroom stems from various factors, but I want to focus here on just one. Arming teachers would be an explicit escalation in our domestic arms race and is a “solution” that doesn’t even address what I believe to be the fundamental problem we face.

I believe our fundamental problem is that we are becoming an increasingly unjust society, and the violence we are seeing is the unavoidable result of decades of injustice. Our society fails to provide equal educational opportunity. What good is it to tell children they can be whatever they want to be when their schools can’t adequately prepare them to be whatever they want to be?

When our society’s middle class has all but vanished, how can our youth believe in the promise of the “American Dream?” When our society seems to accept generational poverty as a reality that can’t be changed, how can we call ourselves a just society? When our society’s promise of liberty and justice for all rings hollow for women, people of color, immigrants and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, how can we call ourselves a just society? Finally, when reliance on truth simply doesn’t seem to matter anymore, how can we call ourselves a just society?

These questions point to some of the root causes of our growing culture of violence, a deeply rooted societal problem that will take courage and hard work to resolve. In times of crisis, we often retreat to our political corners, listen to and read sources that confirm our biases and then come out swinging.

It needs to stop.

We need to channel our anger into action, coming together to realize that we on the left don’t have all the answers any more than our friends on the right do. I think reasonable gun control legislation is part of the solution, but it isn’t a panacea for problems with violence. We need to focus on the bigger societal problems that are driving our violence as well.

Let’s recognize proposals to arm teachers for what they are — a distraction from the real work that needs to be done. If we allow ourselves to be distracted by thoughtless proposals such as this, we won’t get to the real work that is required of a good and just society in times of crisis.

Will Adams teaches sixth grade at Hardwick Elementary School.

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