Something Has to Change

“In the event you hear gunshots, get down low and cover your head.  Tell your students if they hear loud noises, they need to cover their heads and run.  I’ll escort you to the other side of the campus.  I don’t want to alarm the parents, but…in the event I get shot and you hear gunfire, you may be in a hostage situation.  Don’t be a hero and you need to comply with the gunman.  Make the children walk in the front and be in the back so that if there is a hostage situation, the children will be as far from the situation as possible.  Now when we walk onto the pathway, you will see men holding their guns at gunpoint.  The gunman is in sight.  Tell the kids to only look forward.”

Something you never want to hear from a cop.

This was what the police officer told me on June 23rd, 2011 when the school I was teaching at was in lockdown due to a gunman on the premises.  As luck would have it, the stand-off was happening around the corner from my classroom.  This lockdown never made it on the news.  In fact, this one experience was one of many lockdowns I’ve had to be part of because of someone was on the premises with a gun with the intention to harm. And that is just from me, as one person.  How many gun-related lockdowns happen everyday that don’t make it onto the news?  The tragic case of Newtown, CT is not only heartbreaking, but also devastating and jarring for me as an educator in the public and private school system.

The tragedy in Newtown reminded me of my vulnerability.  As the last day of classes took place yesterday before winter vacation, we had hundreds of parents on campus.  And all I could think of was how vulnerable I am and how easy it could be for someone to come into the room I was in and open fire…with no way to defend myself.  Even though I’m only a teaching artist, I interact with about 100 kindergartners, 100 first graders and 100 second graders. I see them one hour at a time, once a week, over a course of four days.  I’m on campus on a regular basis.  The kids yell, “Hi Miss Alex!” when they see me.  I see many toothless smiles several times a week and I received enough hugs each day that should make me immune to nearly every sickness out there.  I can’t help but get connected to my students. I’ve seen them grow and flourish over the last few months.  And this is my third go around in this job, counting the two semesters from last year.  Then in the summer, I work as a reading teacher.  While teaching wasn’t my chosen career, it has befallen me, and while it’s extremely difficult, it is probably one of the most rewarding professions out there.

Working as a teaching artist and helping teachers incorporate the arts into the curriculums has elevated my respect for teachers to the highest point.  Yet, they are underpaid and unappreciated.  You trust them to teach your children 6-8 hours a day, five days a week for nine months out of the year.

I’m very angry right now.  Yesterday was extremely upsetting and traumatic for everyone across the United States, and that is only speaking for those who weren’t even in Newtown, CT. What happened yesterday…was awful.  I’ve cried my tears, and still am.  I mourn for those sweet little children.  I looked at my kindergarteners and I couldn’t help but cry because these kids were the same age as them.  What is someone barged into my class and opened fire?  I looked at the photo of the class being led out and seeing those children in tears.  I think of the principle and the faces of all the principles I work with come to mind.  The same with the teachers.  I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing teachers and they really do this for the love of children.  Let’s face it, teaching has become a dangerous job.  I’ve been punched, kicked, spat on by unruly kids.  I’ve been yelled at by parents.  And that’s just for me.  I can only imagine what the full-time teachers deal with.

What happened yesterday was a tragedy.  An awful tragedy.

The topic of mental illness and gun control is prominent right now.  As it should be.  But there are certain arguments that have my blood boiling.

Prepare for a rant.

Resistance to Gun Control:  Something has to change.  Obviously the system we have right now is not working.  Those who are yelling that their rights are being taken away if “guns are taken away from innocent people” are not seeing the bigger picture.  There is something not working, and I can’t even fathom that people cannot see that!  Obviously there needs to be tighter gun restrictions because psychotic nut jobs are gaining easy access to guns.  And why the hell does a civilian need a sniper rifle or an assault rifle for the damn gun collection?  I know people who aren’t really right in the head anyway who own guns and I wouldn’t trust them with a gun because they have expressed too much ease in pointing a gun and shooting a friend or ex-girlfriend and they call it protecting themselves.  Why is it that it’s harder to get health care than it is to obtain a gun?  And how many civilian gun owners have misfired?  How many of them try to defend themselves only to accidentally shoot an innocent bystander?  Hm.  The numbers are startling.  I’ve looked into the gun control laws of other countries, and they’re much tighter than the US and they don’t nearly have as many tragedies as we do.  They say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, etc.  Yeah, well, yarn doesn’t become a sweater by itself.  And guns don’t kill people unless it is being held by someone.  Yes, the man in China stabbed about 20 children on the same day, but those children will survive.  They will get to go home soon.

My last thought on gun-control that will segue into my next point.  I’ve seen it floating around that teachers need to start carrying guns.  One, I shouldn’t have to carry a firearm, but I realize that will probably be in the future in my teaching career.  But let me ask you this; when a gunman points a gun at my students, how the hell am I supposed to wrangle 25-30 terrified students ranging from 5-9 years old into a corner while defending myself with a firearm?  It’s not realistic.  And why is that?  Good ole budget cuts.

Higher Security in Schools:  This is a good idea, and it’s needed.  But, I ask you, especially my right-wing conservative friends who constantly vote against money for schools, where the hell is the money supposed to come from?  You don’t want it to come from the taxpayers, and yet, you don’t want it to come from the taxes of the wealthy.  And forget pulling our troops from the middle east and saving some money.  Hang on while I pull the imaginary money out of my butt.  Because of these budget cuts nationwide, teachers are being laid off and the classrooms are bigger than ever, staff is shorthanded to the point where most schools only have one security guard for a school of over 1000.  I actually had a friend from my old church look me in the eyes and tell me that teachers should have to go through more pay cuts and if they don’t want to teach, then they don’t have to.  Really?  How disrespectful and thoughtless can this person be?  This is exactly why the public education system is suffering so much.  This is why the quality of teachers is declining.  How passionate can you be to teach if you’re making little to nothing and have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet?  And don’t try to blame this on Obamacare.  There has been flaws in the budget system for a long time now.  And the government has no problem bailing out car companies, but when is our education system going to get a bail out?

And the solution to this tragedy is to provide guns to teachers?  Okay, where’s the money going to come from to pay for this?  And where is the money going to come from to pay to train the teachers on how to use it?  And then where are they going to store the gun so that their students don’t get access to it?  It’s going to have to be stored in a safe and secure location.  Trigger lock? A safe?  Oh yes, when a gunman barges into my classroom, I’m sure he’ll be willing to wait while I unlock my gun from the safe or from the glass case. This is an honest question to a seemingly unrealistic suggestion.

Godless Society:  I don’t think anything infuriates me more than this explanation.  Because we have taken prayer and God out of schools, some higher power is taking it out on the children.  I don’t think this Godless society is to blame.  Last time I checked, the Pledge of Allegiance still has the words, “under God” included.  Students can still pray on their own and carry their Bibles as long as they’re discreet.  And I work in California, a very liberal state.  I see kids freely practicing their religion and it’s not just Christianity.  And when people say this tragedy because God was taken out of schools.  I call BS.  And are you implying that God is taking His anger out on innocent children because there is no longer any school sponsered prayer?  What about the boys who were molested by priests in the Church?  The place where God is probably most present and something awful like that happened there?  Where was God then?  If you say that God was absent, then the point of the physical structure of a Church is moot.

While religious organizations are spending millions of dollars for top-rate facilities and anti-marriage equality campaigns, they should take a moment and think.  What if you used that money and donated it to the local school district?  Obviously hold on to the money needed to run the facility, but do you need a light plot of strobes, various colors or gels, and other expensive lighting to make your worship service look like a rave?  No.  And you shouldn’t need much production value to perform a sermon.  How about everyone cuts back, and send some of that money to the local schools so that they can afford locks on their doors, hire more security, and more efficient safety equipment.

What Newtown has shown us, in the ugliest way possible, is that something has to change.  Something has got to give.  Obviously what we have going on right is not working.  We have to change something, or we are going to destroy ourselves.  As Ariel Durant said, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Something has to change.  The future of American depends on it.

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