MORE GUNS IN SCHOOLS WILL BE DEADLIER FOR OUR KIDS
By Kenya Bradshaw
Violence against youth at the hands of guards and resource officers in schools is no new occurrence. From Columbia, South Carolina to Round Rock, Texas, it is also true that our Black and Latinx students are subject to more punishment and more violence than their counterparts.
In the wake of the Parkland massacre and now killings at Santa Fe High School in Texas, policy and decision makers have made a number of suggestions for improving school safety, but educators and the larger education community are worried that many of these recommendations will inflict further, and likely deadlier, harm on our Black and Latinx students.
The most perplexing idea being debated and continuing to gain steam is to bring more guns into schools by arming teachers and hiring more armed officers. If we, as a country, move toward this idea, I strongly believe it will make our schools even more dangerous for Black and Latinx students than they already are.
Research shows that the white teachers who primarily instruct in our schools have trouble seeing potential in our students of color and holding them to a high standard of success. Many studies also confirm that students of color are disciplined far more harshly than other students at all levels of schooling. If Latinx and Black children are less likely to be seen in a positive light and two to three times more likely to be suspended and disciplined, then it is plausible to believe that they also will be more likely to be shot.
With limited reaction time and fear, teachers are more likely to make irrational decisions based on biases, just as police officers do. Therefore, arming teachers with guns that might escalate a detention or a suspension into something worse is a dangerous situation in which to put our children, particularly our Black and Latinx students.
In addition, we would be putting additional responsibilities on teachers who are already underpaid and undervalued. Teachers today are expected to be therapists, parents, guardians and cooks, in addition to their day-to-day duties leading instruction. Adding police officer to that list is disrespectful and irrational.
It would be far more rational to reduce the number of guns and the militarization of our communities and make mental health services available to all students who need them – be they Black, Latinx or white. Instead of hiring more marshals and armed guards in our schools, let us hire more behavior specialists and mediation counselors. Instead of putting guns in our teachers’ desks, let us invest in home visitation and encourage teachers to reach out to the families of our students and learn more about what our students need to truly feel safe.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what our current administration is suggesting. On 60 minutes in March, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that she and the Trump administration support firearm training for teachers and school staff. Similarly, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick makes the same ludicrous recommendation while proposing to lock most school exits.
Peter Cunningham and former Education Secretary Arne Duncan have proposed keeping kids home from school until gun laws change. Cunningham suggests a nationwide school strike right after Labor Day to put pressure on Congress to pass federal gun safety laws right before the midterm elections. For working families and families in need (families living in poverty or the working poor), this idea would not be feasible UNLESS we took a page from our elders who created Freedom Schools to ensure students had safe learning environments. Imagine our communities galvanizing to protect our students and support our families with modern-day versions of Freedom Schools. Of course, this would be challenging, but our anger should drive and embolden us to better protect our children!
As Black and Latinx educators, as community members, and as parents, we cannot stand by and let policy makers continue to put our children in harm’s way while making decisions that don’t solve the root of our problems. Rather than using funds for police, metal detectors, and guns, we must advocate for solutions that fulfill the broken promises our leaders continue to make to our students. Our sadness must fuel the outrage that is necessary to push our elected officials to truly put our children and communities’ safety first. The hundreds of thousands who took to the streets in protest and remembrance since the Parkland and Sante Fe tragedies understand this as do the parents and communities who continue to lose children every day in and out of school. Now let’s hope our politicians do also. But hope must be accompanied by action so no matter your role in education, ask your organization to speak up about gun reform and contact your elected officials to demand change. Our future depends on it.
Kenya Bradshaw in a founding member of EdLoC’s Leadership Committee and Vice President at TNTP.