Reflection on Guns and Schools

In my class last night, all nine of us gave 15ish minute presentations based on papers we are writing or have written. We were allowed freedom to select a topic of our choice. I wrote about making the high-profile education donations we all hear about (e.g., Gates, Broad, Zuckerberg) and how they’ve failed, with some ideas for how they can improve in the future. I plan to share sections of my paper here sometime in the next month or so.

One of my classmates, Andrew, wrote and thus spoke about the epidemic of mass school shootings, addressing their causes and some possible solutions. I won’t steal the man’s ideas but just offer my own.

Essentially, the major conflict I have is that we have militarized urban public schools to the point of absurdity. Another of my classmates, Garrett, spoke about the disproportionate rates of suspension for black male students, and the metal detector strip search TSA atmosphere goes hand-in-hand with the push to turn schools into prison.

In a way, public schools in major cities have, broadly speaking, become a large, damaging prison experiment, with the justification that gang violence needs to be stamped out. Now, gang and drug violence is surely an issue for some areas and should be addressed, but you and I both know that that is not at all what’s happening when these lone gunmen (and it’s always men, or boys) enter these schools and ruin or end dozens or lives, because these are schools in low-crime, suburban or exurban areas.

(The cynical part of me thinks that if there was a wave of such shootings in black and brown public schools, a significant portion of the country wouldn’t care that much. They cared about Dylann Roof committing racist violence, yes, but if a black or brown boy returned to his own school to do the same, I expect there would be a whiff of “that’s what those folks do.” Purely speculating though, and I hope I never have occasion to be proven right or wrong.)

Simply put, these shooters are domestic terrorists, seeking to shatter bucolic communities and succeeding at doing so. “Mass shootings” is a phrase that’s too broad to be of much use (a father killing his own family can be called a “mass shooting” if three people are shot, but it’s really not the same kind of horror; not that it’s better, just that it’s different), and the label of terrorism is more apt, in my view, because the perpetrators have the same profile as the people who are susceptible to recruitment by the Middle Eastern organizations we fear. They’re isolated, disconnected, scared (though would never admit it), and easily influenced.

The solution isn’t to just fill a school with guns, though, which is unsurprisingly the remedy espoused by the right, but also, sadly, something even people in my own circle think is necessary, since people have seen too many action movies and are, understandably, panicked.

The solution is to look for parents to look for signs at home that their boy might be disconnected and isolated. Will all isolated children harm others? No. I didn’t. But an isolated child in a home with guns? This is how we get to where we are.

The fact is, it starts at home. Teachers can be heroes, but we’re not superheroes, and to expect us to save everyone from problems that have been ignored by those who spend the most time with these boys is folly. No one thinks their boy is capable, but every human is eminently capable of cruelty in the right circumstances.

More importantly, though, to me, we need to stop criminalizing black and brown boys for minor offenses or transgressions. Yes, those who commit violent acts should be punished (though no more harshly than an analogous white students), but the assumption that everyone is a criminal when they enter a school surely doesn’t help them see themselves as anything else.

By focusing on the wrong people, we hurt everyone. And more and more children in formerly safe areas will have their lives shattered, or ended, because we just can’t believe that our boys would do such a thing.