Ever since the ghastly shooting in the Florida school, there has been a debate in the United States on how schools can be made safe spaces for the young. The Never Again movement started by the students, teachers and students of Marjory Stomeman Douglas High School, has spread across the United States. The President and the Vice President of the United States gave a patient hearing to a selection of these students and parents who strongly voiced their concerns about the growing culture of violence in schools.
What was truly shocking was the reaction of the President of the United States who felt that one way to keep our schools safe was to arm the teachers and harden the schools and not soften them. As one heard these comments on television and the social media, many rubbed their eyes in disbelief as to whether responsible political leaders were actually suggesting that teachers should be armed and carry weapons in order to keep children in school safe! This is a classic case of side-stepping the real issues and coming up with a solution that is equally worrisome and strikes at the core of education and its attendant values.
One can well imagine the atmosphere in schools if teachers who are central to the process of learning, are armed with weapons in order to keep their children safe. Are those who propose such a measure, even aware of the psychological implications of what they suggest and its immediate implications for the teaching/learning process? Rather than eliminating symbols of violence in schools, we are seeking to embed them in the eco-system that make up an educational institution. Having been a teacher/facilitator for the last three and a half decades, one shudders to think of the transformation we are introducing in the school and classroom if facilitators are required to carry around weapons to deter people from using them in the educational institution. Rather than creating a psychologically safe space for learning we are making educational institutions fear-driven, fear-directed and fear-inducing environments totally detrimental for fostering an inclusive, fair, just and safe learning process.
The Never Again movement is right in maintaining that it is the responsibility of governments to ensure that educational institutions are restored to their zones of safety as spaces for peaceful and collaborative learning. It is important to assert that this is possible not by arming people in schools to deal with possible perpetrators of violence but by preventing access to weapons to such individuals and providing psychological support and help to those who demonstrate tendencies to resort to violence.
The gun lobby has had a free reign for too long in the United States. One understands the constraints that the President faces in the light of the large contribution this lobby has made to his campaign. Yet there are moments in the life of a nation and the career of a leader, that certain hard decisions need to be made and a problem needs to be faced head-on rather than side-stepped. The time has come to acknowledge that the free run for the gun lobby has only created a carnival of hate, violence and death. The momentum created by the Never Again movement must be sustained and a major concerted campaign against this lobby must be waged and won. Making schools safe is not about arming schools but about disarming them.
Secondly, the evidence is now being released in the public domain that the perpetrator of the latest Florida attack, gave enough evidence of needing psychological help and support. In the recent past, he gave enough indications of taking such an action. Reports also indicate that at the school itself, discussions in the past indicated that students in the school saw the perpetrator as someone who had the potential to unleash what he actually did. Precious little was done to prevent this disturbed young man from doing what he actually did.
Rather than dealing the problem, the present leadership in the United States is complicating the solution and further compounding the problem. If teachers are to be armed to protect children in school, we are undermining the very role of teachers in the process of education and vitiating the entire atmosphere in schools. The remedy is clearly much worse than the malaise.
(Dr Sandeep Shastri is a leading political scientist and Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University)