This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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On February 14th, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida experienced the terror of what has become a common occurrence in American schools. A disturbed young man and former student opened fire in the school, killing 17 and injuring 15 others.
According to Everytown Research in 2018 alone there have been 18 school shootings. Although that number has been contested, the fact that 2018 is not even two months old and has seen this much violence in schools is beyond tragic. Furthermore, it is indicative of a large-scale problem, one with roots that are difficult to define.
This issue is particularly relevant to teachers - in what should be a safe environment, teachers across America worry about the safety of their students and what risks teachers themselves are taking by simply walking into a classroom each morning. As teachers, we are perhaps the prime candidates for addressing deeper social and cultural issues. We work with kids every day, we see when they struggle, and we have a responsibility to ensure they see their fellow human beings as other people worthy of life, love, and empathy regardless of background or race. This is ultimately at the core of what it is to be a teacher.
So, how can we reach troubled kids? How can we, with compassion and reason, shine a light in the darkest corners of the American psyche to stop the violence?
The rhetoric around the issues of gun control, mental health crises, and violence at schools has become vitriolic. However, discussion is necessary across the political and cultural spectrums. Something needs to be done, and we hope to pose some questions to facilitate that discussion.
1. How can we, as a society, decrease the risk or end this dangerous trend?
The most important question is simply, “how do we stop it?” Unfortunately, the answer is vastly more complicated than the question. Some say we should ban guns in America, but would that stop access to them, especially when so many are unregistered and so easy to get a hold of? Gun control advocates point to Australia outlawing guns after a mass shooting in 1996 that put a stop to its own problem. Sounds pretty straight forward. But would that work for the U.S.?
What about stricter gun control measures instead? Some advocate making weapons like the AR-15 illegal, but what about handguns? Perhaps regulations on magazine size could make a difference.
There’s also the idea that firearm regulation is only a cosmetic response to a deeper problem - why are there so many people in America that want to shoot up innocent people in schools and other crowded places? Gun rights advocates argue that instead of limiting their rights, we should instead address deeper issues like mental health.
We cannot afford to ignore the truth about what is happening in our country. What is truly frightening is the number of people who refuse to make decisions based upon facts. It is a fact that families sent their loved ones to school and now they are planning funerals. It is a fact that futures were ended when they were just beginning. It is a fact that too many students have lost their lives in a space where they are supposed to be educated and protected. It is a fact that too many people in power are not using that power to bring about the necessary changes that could prevent things like this from happening. Far too many bullets claim our students in the streets for them to claim our students in school, too. We don’t need rhetoric when reality is working overtime. #ArmMeWith the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. • • • • • #education #teacher #teachers #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers #iteachtoo #teacherspayteachers #tpt #englishteacher #highschool #blackteachersrock #blackboyjoy #thedapperteacher #blackhistorymonth #blackhistory #armmewith
2. Are there sensible controls on firearms that could put an end to school shootings? What are they?
As mentioned, gun control advocates say the answer is tougher regulations, and according to Gallop, 60% of Americans agree. Some gun control measures that could help include:
- Magazine size
- Types of guns available
- Restrictions on who can purchase
It is time that something, anything, is done about access to guns. We understand that many Americans hold their right to bear arms as sacred, and we don’t think it’s a reasonable expectation that firearms are entirely banned. However, we regulate speech and media, automobiles, and all kinds of property, and we don’t understand why firearms can’t be treated the same.
What if we made the purchasing and owning of firearms almost exactly the same as we do cars? Considering most gun owners are also car owners, new regulations should be nothing new or provocative.
- Require a licence after a probationary period (like the permit-to-license system)
- Require some type of testing regime
- Make people have to register their firearms, every year
- To get something more than a hunting rifle, further licensing requirements should be established and a need for the weapon should have to be proven.
3. Is making schools more secure the best option?
One proposal for making schools safer is to arm teachers - an idea that has been floated in various circles but is highly problematic. The most fundamental issue is that it would be deeply demoralizing - teaching is about educating and enlightening. Being ready to kill, even if in self-defense, is a massive contradiction to the soul of the profession. A school is no place for guns, period.
What about ideas like safe rooms, automatic locking doors, and a police presence on campuses? These are much more practical than gun-toting teachers, but they also involve tremendous expense and do not address the core issue of disturbed individuals being armed to kill. Does it not make more sense to limit access to weapons rather than turn schools into prison-like institutions?
And what about greater vigilance? Would public service announcements help? Suspicious behavior often goes unreported, so perhaps greater education of red flags and better systems for identifying individuals displaying aberrant behavior would work.
4. What is the role of mental health and access to treatment in these shootings? Would more services help, and is it possible to fund those?
How do we address the underlying issue that so many of the people who are killing students are disturbed individuals? The fact remains that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. So is it fair to attribute the problem to the sick and disabled? The American Psychological Association (APA) says mental health is not the issue behind gun violence. The vast majority of those who suffer from mental health issues or disabilities and have no record of crime or violence. However, more access to counseling for troubled kids should absolutely be implemented.
Regardless, the question remains: Would more access to counselors and health professionals slow or stop school shootings? How would we pay for this? In a time of slashed budgets for schools, the need for better access to mental health services in schools should be addressed.
5. What are the cultural and social issues at the root of this problem? How can we address them?
At the root of the problem, even beyond mental health questions, is why so many mass shootings happen in America. The problem is almost non-existent in other developed nations. Are Americans inherently more violent? What role does social class play? What about race? The shooter in Florida was associated with white supremacist groups. Maybe this is something that needs to be addressed. A Florida teacher of the year's Facebook post went mega viral, after she have her honest opinion on the root of the problem:
Again, we don’t have all the answers and we want to hear what you as teachers think needs to be done. What do you think?