Two or three weeks ago I couldn’t sleep because of one bad student evaluation. (I know, I know! Why do I fixate on the one negative comment out of 75 positive ones?) I kept turning it over in my mind wondering who it was and why they had it out for me. It was just SO specific: a litany of things they “didn’t care for” in my teaching. I would get in bed and wait for sleep only to replay every teensy detail of every class I taught that day, worrying and wondering if anything I said warranted another laundry list of grievances.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were murdered with an AR-15. Since that day, I’ve had nightmares about piling desks up across a line of sight from my classroom door window to create a barricade against an active shooter. I spend my nights memorizing the schematics of each classroom and my office suit, imagining how I might attempt to protect my students and myself from mass murder. In all my dreams, far off echoes of gun shots ring through halls and windows. Engaging class discussions about the lasting significance of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein are disrupted with rounds of AR-15 bullets. Will I have to shield my students with my own body one day? Will graduate programs include active shooter drills and training alongside their “how to write a cover letter” when preparing newly minted PhD’s for the job market? Will the PRAXIS and the GRE now include a portion about conceal and carry permits? Will testing centers and gun ranges merge into strange conglomerate education professionalization convention centers? In mentioning the shooting to my Rhetoric and Composition class last week, I struggled to hold back tears. In the harsh light of day, this nightmare does not shake off.
Normally, the things that keep me up at night can be laughed away in the light of day. I might normally shrug and say, white people problems or first world problems. However, this is the conundrum of our 21st century American reality. We live in a first world nation, and yet I must still devote a significant amount of psychic energy worrying about when my students and my classroom will be next. The NRA and the president tell me I should arm myself, as if the intellectual armament of getting a PhD and 14 years of teaching experience isn’t enough anymore. We must ask ourselves what the long term consequences of arming students and teachers will be. If we arm teachers and if schools drop their gun free zone status, it will change the very fabric and foundation of education as we know it. A gun is a symbol of violent power. A gun is an instrument of death. If I carry a gun to school or if my students have guns with them in the classroom, it will forever alter our relationships, our conversations, my ability to challenge them to be better thinkers. In essence, it will put an end to the reasons why I love my job. It will ultimately prevent me from being an effective teacher.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas have the answer. Their grass roots, non-violent-direct-action-inspired activism gives me hope that MORE EDUCATION is the answer, NOT MORE VIOLENCE. Mark Newt claims, “After seeing these Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students demonstrate the benefits and foresight and resilience of a quality education by exemplary teachers, every school board should require and fund speech & debate, journalism, and theater programs in their schools,”and I agree. Watching these students exercise their first amendment rights to raise awareness about the pitfalls in some interpretations of second amendment rights gives me courage and inspires me to keep teaching critical reading, thinking, and writing.