Is the Armed Teacher 'Debate' America's Lowest, Stupidest Media Moment?
How absurd that we are here. It is dumb, shameful and internationally embarrassing that our country is having a serious discussion about why arming teachers is a bad idea. Apparently, the $54 million the NRA spent buying the GOP in 2016 paid Republicans to put on a big show of pretending not to see the underlying problem behind every mass shooting. The party that otherwise hates nuance is now acting like it couldn’t recognize a smoking gun if you paid it to, especially since the NRA is paying it so much more.
The party’s leader is now genuinely proposing that teaching entail not only educating children, but also working schools like a beat. Trump suggested Wednesday that at least 20 percent of teachers should get special weapons training so they can include “shoots to kill” under the “special skills” section of their resumes. He also said teachers should be given a “bonus” of 10 to 40 percent to carry guns because, per the president, “I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected.” That’s a tired NRA line so out of sync with reality it actually disproves itself: The vast majority of banks, 98 percent, don’t have armed guards because studies show “the presence of armed security during bank robberies increased threefold the likelihood of a violent event.” Schools wouldn’t be any safer. Leave it to conservatives to come up with an analogy that compares children to safety deposit boxes.
And where are the funds for this monetary bonus going to come from? No really, I'm asking. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have proposed drastic spending cuts to public education, including a $7.1 billion—or 10.5 percent—decrease for 2019. On average, teachers spend $500 to $1,000 of their own money bridging the funding gaps politicians keep deepening every time they have a chance. There are schools in this country that lack heat during bitterly cold winters, and places where clogged toilets are everyday realities. Since 2000, DonorsChoose, a website that lets teachers crowdfund costs that aren’t covered by their budgets, has been overfilled with educators begging for desperately needed dollars for school supplies. While there’s no money to restore music and art programs in schools, nor funds to give poor schools the same amenities rich schools have, Trump has somehow located billions to turn teachers into soldiers. They should take that money and give it to all the underpaid teachers who pay for erasers and toner ink out of their own pockets.
There’s also the not inconsiderable delusion of assuming teachers will be able to morph from educators to cool-handed sharpshooters in a pinch. Numerous educators have mishandled guns and shot themselves, often while classes are in session, over the last few years. That includes the Idaho State University chemistry professor who shot himself in the foot, the Utah elementary school teacher who shot herself in the leg and the Long Island University professor (and ex-cop) who also shot himself in the leg. An Atlanta high school teacher intentionally shot himself in the face last year, and since studies show the presence of a gun increases the chances of suicide, that’s something to consider when you start suggesting schools stockpile weapons.
But these teachers will be trained—we’ll just take the money out of children’s health insurance or something, some partisan hack is yelling at this very moment. That will ensure they’ll avoid those kinds of sloppy mistakes! First of all, an NRA employee accidentally shot himself at the group’s headquarters last year, and once you get past the staggering irony of the story, you note that training is no guarantee against mistakes. (Or fear: Recall that four sheriff's deputies cowered in the parking lot as the Parkland shooting went on.) A 2008 Rand Corporation study of New York City police officers found their “average hit rate in situations in which fire was not returned was 30 percent.” When police were involved in gunfights, meaning the kinds of gunfights Trump is asking teachers to engage in, their average hit rate descended to a mere 18 percent. Again, we’re talking about accuracy rates for cops whose training focuses heavily on actually hitting the people they are aiming for. What idiot could possibly believe a panicked teacher in a chaotic moment will outscore the shooting accuracy of the police? Who really thinks accidental shootings won’t add further to the body count of mass shootings? Politicians who insist none of this is a big deal should be forced to send their kids to schools with armed guards and stressed-out teachers, just as a good-faith gesture.
On top of all this, I am petrified by what armed teachers and in-school arsenals could mean for black students and educators. Studies show that by pretty much every measurable standard, schools are more punitive toward black children than their white peers, even at the youngest ages. Black students, even kindergarteners, are exponentially more likely to be suspended and expelled than white kids for the same infractions. School resource officers are more physically violent toward black and brown kids. Penn State sociologist and criminologist David Ramey has explained that while misbehaving white students often receive medical interventions, black kids are more likely to be seen as “unruly and unwilling to learn,” and studies show black children are viewed as older and “less innocent” than white kids. These problems virtually ensure we'd see the same life-or-death consequences in teaching as policing, with black students being shot for reasons that have more to do with white fear than black aggression. There’s little reason to trust that armed black teachers and faculty members will be instantly recognized as “good guys with guns” by worked-up cops arriving on the scene. How often might police shoot first and ask questions later? Philando Castile was a well-liked school employee and licensed gun carrier in what should have been a low-intensity scenario. We all know how the cops handled that situation.
What’s more, while this country has made a habit of not listening to teachers, it might do well to pay attention in this moment when kids’ lives are on the line. Because the nation's teachers are basically yelling that they don’t want marksmanship to be among their required abilities. Early this week, teachers used the #ArmMeWith hashtag to request that instead of guns, Trump provide them with everything from “students with full stomachs” to “leaders who care more about the safety of our nation’s children than receiving personal profit from special interest groups.” A chorus of teachers has spoken out to say they’d rather quit their jobs than teach armed. “I served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003-2007, I worked my way through college as a paid-on-call firefighter, and for the past 7 years I’ve worked as a special education teacher in the resource side and with students with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities on the life-skills side. On paper I’d be an ideal candidate for being an armed teacher, but I would resign immediately if I was told I was going to carry a weapon at school,” one educator wrote to the Daily Beast.
Political cover and NRA money are the real priorities of the politicians pitching this idea (44 percent of Americans support arming teachers, because some people will buy whatever you're selling). The safety of kids and teachers has absolutely nothing to do with it. Society already overburdens teachers with unrealistic expectations, saddling them with the impossible job of correcting problems from poverty and hunger to a lack of mental health care. Now this administration is actually suggesting teachers make up for legislators’ refusal to do their jobs. Arming teachers is a losing proposition from the outset, certain only to mean more mayhem, violence and death.