Monday, December 17, 2012

On Sandy Hook
I was devastated to learn Friday that yet another massacre had happened, this time at an elementary school in Connecticut. I teach in an elementary school in SoCal, so this tragedy had a special intensity for me.
Of course, my district instituted new policies today. All the gates are locked shortly after school begins, now. Classroom doors must be locked at all times (but then our principal told us we could leave our doors open, as long as they were locked. ??). To get back on campus from lunch, we now have to open a gate ourselves, instead of using one door in the cafeteria. (You can't unlock, or lock, our padlocked gates without using two hands, so lunches have to be put on the ground to unlock it, picked up and brought inside to be put down again, to lock the gate up.)
While I am horrified at what happened at Sandy Hook, I don't care much for the knee-jerk reaction of my district. Schools in CA are much more open. My school has large windows on one side of every classroom, which reach from the ceiling to about 3 feet above ground. One row of our classrooms face a street, separated by a chainlink fence about 10 feet away. (Anybody could walk up to that fence and start shooting, and those classrooms would be under fire.)
These fences aren't tall enough to prevent a determined person from simply jumping over them to gain access. My school backs up to a housing project, and my classroom is in the row that exposes one wall to that project. (The windows on that side of my room are up high on the wall.) There is no part of my classroom that could be used to shelter kids if a crazed gunman was wandering the halls in search of innocent victims to kill. It's just a big square, no corners, nothing to hide behind or under.  I've never felt unsafe in my classroom, nor have any other teachers at my school, and until today, neither did my students.
America is a little like my district. After a tragedy like this, at the same time we're sifting through the gunman's past so we can thoroghly blame him, people start spouting off about what we can do to keep our kids safe. So now we hear that schools should have armed police officers on campus. Some states are suggesting that the staff of the schools should be armed.  Great. Let's put up chainlink fences all around the school, and hire armed guards to patrol the grounds.
When did schools become prisons? When did I sign up for guard duty? Parents have to check in to the office, sign a document, and wear a badge? At least they can see their "inmate" without a glass wall between them.
The solution to the increasingly violent world we live in isn't in imprisoning people for their own protection. It's in stepped-up mental health programs. It's in much tighter regulations on guns. It's in having the states supply the feds with their lists of mentally unstable people, so they can update the database that gun merchants use in background checks. It's in mandating that every single gun sold has to have had its purchaser undergo a background check, and a mandatory waiting period of at least 48 hours. It's in the absolute and complete ban on assault weapons and semi-automatic guns with bulk loaders.  It's in all of us, every American, finally realizing that we don't have an absolute right to own a gun, but we do have an absolute right to life and liberty.
It's in the NRA, which I consider a terrorist organization, backing off of its ridiculous stand on guns. More guns in more hands don't make us a polite society. It makes us a fearful society. A society that no longer feels safe enough to voice an unpopular opinion, no longer safe to disagree with someone. That's not polite. That's oppression.
And for that tired old saw that NRA members spout ~ Guns don't kill people, people do ~ well, think about this. Just a few hours before this young man, Lanza, burst into a school and killed 20 first graders and 6 adult staff members, another young man, Chinese, burst into a school in China and attacked 22 students. Not one of those students died, however. Their attacker didn't have a gun. He had a knife.