Tuesday, March 5, 2013
A response to Guns in Schools Forum in Archbold
So last night I attended a forum in Archbold about guns in schools. Of course I didn't have the courage to speak up while there, but woke early this morning and started to put my thoughts down in written form. Below are my thoughts:
I believe that every voice spoken and unspoken in the room was important to our conversation. We don’t always like or agree with what we hear, but we need to listen in order to understand. We also need to have courage that our own voice is valid too. Unfortunately some of us take awhile to formulate our thoughts before they can be articulated. If I were to summarize on some of the key areas that were touched on, here would be what I would add to the conversation.
Every school administrator has a responsibility to not only create a safe environment for our students but to create an environment for learning, an environment where students find meaning in life. It is being responsible to practice drills for any type of potential harm. All places of employment practice what they believe is the best response. As one teacher named, a lockdown drill is no different than a fire or tornado drill. The safety that is practiced at school can also be translated to safety within our communities and home. We would be outraged if there was a fire in a school and chaos ensued within the school because people didn’t know evacuation procedures or administrators couldn’t account for every student within their care.
Reality is, there are real possibilities for violence to occur, and schools are taking necessary steps by keeping doors locked, by providing A.L.I.C.E. trainings, by having all visitors enter through the main entrance, by wearing visitor badges, by having photos taken of visitors before being allowed to enter the hallways, by participating in drills. We don’t want to instill fear, but I believe these measures actually help to create a sense of security. When those within the school feel like there is a plan, if and when it needs to be implemented, there is a sense of what to do that brings confidence when leading others. Our children grow up hearing how to respond in a fire, but until they recognize the importance, the drills are just something we tolerate. If there was a simulation for a fire where a hallway was filled with smoke and students needed to evacuate, they would realize quickly the importance of knowing where an exit is, how to feel for warm doors while crawling on the floor, etc. How we communicate the value and importance for something, create meaning for it, will help to take away the unnecessary fear in something, yet realizing that if someone had been in an actual fire, the simulations would create some real anxiety again. The trauma of any crisis is real and having a place to process and work through that trauma is extremely important, something that people often forget after a crisis happens. Who helps to pick up the pieces?
While we know that a fire is a real possibility, we do not have a designated fireman that lives on our campuses. We create good working relationships with the fire department and we trust that they will respond to our needs as quickly as possible when needed. Having a positive relationship with the police department helps immensely anytime an administrator needs advice in a situation or if a crisis happens, there is immediate support. I believe that arming our teachers and staff takes away from what their primary responsibility is at hand, to educate our students. We already ask our schools to do more and more, to add the extra responsibility of carrying a weapon, seems too much. Having a resource officer walking the halls can have benefits of perceived safety, but our halls are many and being at the right place and time may be a huge obstacle.
In reality, our schools may be the safest place for our children. For some, it is a reprieve from the verbal or physical abuse at home. For some, it is the only hot meal they get in a day. For some, it is warmth. For some, it is a place of connection. For some, it is a place of accountability. For some, it is another place of shame. For some, it is a place of anxiety. For some, it is a place of growth and stimulation. For some, it is a foreign language. For some, it is a place of fear. There are deeper issues at hand here. Some students walk the halls where no one calls them by name, they feel invisible. There are deep wounds and struggles. Students are trying to make sense of the world outside of the walls at school, let alone try and learn random facts and content within the walls. There is a disconnect for many of our students. Rather than helping them make sense of their world, education tends to reinforce that their voice is not valid, that their acting out is not tolerated. Statistics were shared about suicide and issues with access to mental health. Bullying is a real concern that was raised. Recently an article in Inside Higher Ed shared that a large concern is how students come to the university with so much anxiety. That some students leave not because they cannot handle it academically but because they no longer are able to cope. All of this points to what is not right in our world.
All humans have a need for connection, from birth to death. A sense of belonging is deep within us, so much so, that we seek after it in whatever way we can. Sometimes this is nurtured in our families, for others that place of belonging becomes a gang or a team or a group of friends. To be called by name, by someone who you believe cares about you, is a powerful connection. With this need for connection also is the importance of worth, value, and respect. I can’t help but wonder what the voice of any perpetrator would say if somewhere along the line people would have asked them about their pain, their fears, their hopes in life.
School violence is not an easy an issue. It goes beyond school shootings and arming teachers and staff or having a police officer on site. Violence is raging silently within some of our students. There is a scenario where one person is sitting alongside a river when someone calls for help after falling into the river. Soon another person is caught in the river. We can respond to the many people who seem to be drowning in the river (some calling out for help and others who we never find until too late) by jumping in and saving them but at some point should we consider walking upstream and discover where and why they are falling in, in the first place. We might just find that there is a broken bridge, the only bridge that takes them to the other side. We will never know why there is the need to get to the other side, so much so that they are willing to risk their lives to get there, unless we begin the conversation.
This conversation about violence is important but this is more than a school issue. It is going to take all of us, parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors, pastors, to begin having conversations with our children and each other, to continue the conversations, and to seek help when needed. As was stated, every child, every person who dies is too many. From Sandy Hook, Columbine, VA Tech, Nickel Mines to the countless other shootings and suicides and murders, yes, each child/person was beautiful, filled with much potential. Might we be brave enough to begin asking questions, to engage in the messiness of life, to be a light in the darkness. Let’s try voices instead of guns. Voices that empower, speak hope, validate and bring comfort, opening the doors for people to be valued and heard. Maybe then there would be less need to worry about guns being used for harm.