To the Editor:
In response to “Trump: Nation Should Consider Arming Teachers to Prevent School Shootings,” let’s put aside the implied denigration of law enforcement and the military, who train intensively to wield firearms in high-pressure situations (Politics K-12 blog, www.edweek.org, Feb. 21, 2018).
Let’s instead focus on the needs of educators, teachers in particular, to help all children achieve to their potential—to prepare them for meaningful and fulfilling lives, effective citizenship, postsecondary education, and the workforce. With what should our teachers be armed? There are many significantly more powerful ways we can arm teachers to help students succeed that are better than bringing weapons into the classroom—and we have the data to back up those measures.
No doubt perpetrators of extreme violence suffer from unmanaged mental illness and may be otherwise deranged. But the rates of mental illness and other contributing factors to extreme violence are roughly the same in the United States as in other countries that do not experience frequent gun fatalities.
How about taking the money that would be spent on teacher guns and spending it on concrete measures to help teachers and students succeed? Invest in guidance, counseling, and student supports. Provide services for struggling students, including social-emotional learning and positive behavioral interventions. Pay attention to early warning systems of attendance, attention, test scores, and early signs of trauma. Redouble efforts to create positive school climates and engage communities.
We know these things are important. But we have not consistently created the circumstances that can pay attention to them, nor have we consistently supported teachers in their responsibility as stewards of our children’s learning.
Consider, too, the individual teacher. Do we want teachers focusing on target practice or on how to help a struggling reader? Imagine a community in which we ensure that our schools are safe places within which real, deep learning can occur. These environments become successful not because they approximate high-security prisons, but because we have invested in arming teachers with knowledge, skills, research-based practices, and tools that our children need to succeed at school and beyond.
Robert D. Muller
Dean of the National College of Education
National Louis University
A version of this article appeared in the March 21, 2018 edition of Education Week as Arm Teachers—Just Not With Guns