A truth all teachers know: If you want to see the secrets and shortcomings of any community, just take a peek inside its classrooms. You’ll find poverty, lack of education, substance abuse, unstable families and socioeconomic segregation. Children have no choice but to bear the brunt of social ills, making schools the easiest places to spot and measure our failings.
We are lucky to have teachers on the front lines to address these problems each day before the final bell. I have loads of teachers in my life, so I get to see their workaday heroics up close. A friend who noticed that some of her high school students routinely came to school hungry turned a storage closet into a takeout soup kitchen, with snacks for class time and to-go packs to get students through the weekends if cupboards at home were bare. An angel guidance counselor at Jefferson Elementary makes sure Santa loads up every single kid in school with the requisite new winter coat and shoes, and preposterous piles of toys and books, regardless of how short families are for cash. My mom, a retired English teacher who moonlighted as a coach and bus driver, routinely packed students into our two-door Chevrolet Chevette for rides home when their parents weren’t able or willing to take on carpooling duties.
But is there a limit to the aboves and beyonds we expect of our teachers? Is there a bright red line that, should we pass it, our teachers will walk right out to their Chevrolet Chevettes, drive away and never return? I worry there is, and I worry we’re toeing that line by failing to honor our teachers, even as we ask and expect them to literally die for our kids.
It’s been four years since teachers in the Little Rock School District saw a raise. Last week, when state Commissioner Johnny Key left teachers worrying and wondering if he’d come through with their promised bonuses in time for spring break, teachers took it personally. More than money, the issue was one of being discounted, put on the back burner. They had negotiated in good faith, and still for a while it looked like what was promised to them might not come through.
What can teachers buy with that $1,000 bonus? It’s just enough to buy a glock for each hip, although I hope they don’t. In the centrifuge of bad ideas swirling since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., many of our leaders have plucked out the very worst idea of them all.
Arming schoolteachers is a terrible plan, and not only because they’ve already got too much to do. This is a non-solution that evidence tells us will be wholly ineffective. Average Joes with guns pretty much never stop active shooters. The FBI looked at 160 shootings from 2000 to 2013 and found that zero of them were stopped by a concealed carry permit holder who was not trained military, a security guard or a law enforcement officer. There’s simply no evidence suggesting armed teachers would be anything but useless in an active shooter situation, just like anyone else. At the same time, putting guns in classrooms increases the chances of those guns being stolen, fired inadvertently or brandished inappropriately, such as when a fight breaks out in the hallway or a student threatens a teacher. Think what could go wrong.
Just as it is with the gun debate in general, the loudest and most fear-mongering reactions to the school shooting in Florida are getting the most buy-in from politicians who feast on the NRA’s generous campaign cash in exchange for laws that allow gun sales to continue unchecked. Arkansas already has laws on the books allowing teachers to pack heat in class, and school personnel in 13 districts already do so, Governor Hutchinson reported last week while announcing a new commission to study school security. But don’t expect any real solutions. “I don’t think further gun control is a solution for school safety,” Hutchinson said, indicating he is unwilling to fix the shoddy laws that allow bad people to buy guns with impunity. That’s a shame, because evidence-based measures like universal background checks and red flag laws that allow law enforcement to temporarily keep guns from people displaying threatening behavior are proven solutions that could save an untold number of lives. By refusing to even consider these fixes, Hutchinson indicates he’d rather hunker down and react to mass shootings than do what needs to be done to stop them from happening in the first place.
Worried parents are contemplating homeschooling should we opt to turn our public schools into armed fortresses. Many great teachers are saying they cannot do the job of teaching and SWAT-teaming at the same time, and that after a career of being insulted and discounted, this could be the last straw. In a state where public education has been embattled for years, where parents have had to fight to keep entire districts from being charterized, and where now the state is subsidizing private and parochial schools with 529 plan tax exemptions for K-12 tuition, keeping public schools healthy and thriving is not a priority. In fact, a mass exodus of teachers and students fleeing guns in their classrooms might be just what Arkansas politicians have in mind.
Austin Bailey is the Little Rock group leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.