In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there has been rhetoric about making schools “harder”. The idea seems to be that if teachers (or other school employees) are packing heat, the bad guys won’t target those schools.
President Trump wants to arm the “highly adept” or “weapons talented” teachers and said, “You give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free, you have now made the school into a hardened target.”
Wayne LaPierre, the rabid cult leader (excuse me, that’s not his job title. It’s “Executive Vice President”) of the NRA said to CPAC “We must immediately harden our schools”.
Lots has been written about the fallacy of the logic of arming teachers. (Here’s a great viewpoint from a teacher). There are the memes pointing out that President Reagan was surrounded by highly trained men with guns the day he was shot.
There is the fact that mass shootings have happened at heavily armed Army base Fort Hood. There is the fact that mass shootings have happened at movie theaters, night clubs, Las Vegas concerts, and churches. Do we need to make all of those venues “harder” too?
All of this talk about more “good guys with guns” as the solution is really a distraction from the attempt to have bipartisan conversations about meaningful changes we could make to address the public health crisis that is killing our children, making our public streets, public gatherings, places of anxiety, and causing the rest of the world to reconsider vacations to the US because of actual risk.
It’s a worldview conversation we need to be having, of course. And rhetoric of “they want to take away our guns and the Second Amendment!!” on one side and “all gun owners have blood on their hands” from the other side, won’t get us to a meaningful conversation.
I’d like to propose that instead of “harder schools”, we need softer schools.
We need places where children can safely learn to address and process their feelings, so they won’t grow up to be angry men who feel entitled to fire guns into public crowds as a solution to their woundedness.
Michael Ian Black has an editorial in the New York Times this week where he says,
“Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.”
The news this morning is full of reports that the armed police officer (good guy with the gun) assigned to Stoneman Douglas High School never entered the building where the shooting took place, and was, instead, in a defensive posture outside the building. He has now resigned. The Sheriff said the deputy should have “went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”
It’s sad and tragic. This officer, who by all accounts cared for the students at the school, was put in a position I would not want to be in. And one could argue that an armed police officer running into a hallway full of kids (remember, there had been a fire alarm pulled) was facing a difficult challenge. If he had killed the kid with the gun, it would have been a different kind of tragic. The whole set up is bad when someone has to die.
We need softer schools, places where relationships are transformative and life giving. You know who did put their bodies between the shooter and the students? Teachers and coaches. What was their motive? It wasn’t a “small bonus” from the White House. It was because they loved and cared for their students.
The vulnerability of loving people, even to death, is the ultimate illustration of “softer” schools. And is the model of Jesus of Nazareth, who showed strength through weakness. ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:9)
I’m not saying we should be teaching about Jesus in public schools (although I can think of a few churches who might oughta consider it, among them the one that is blessing assault rifles). I’m also not saying it’s a good thing that teachers are dying to save their students. I want fewer people to die.
We don’t just need softer schools, we need a softer culture, one where our leaders don’t insult people to build up their own fragile egos.
One where we value the lives of children more than we value wealth and power. And we need to value the voices of the students who are speaking their truth to power right now. There is strength in the vulnerable testimony of these young people. We must attend to them and stand with them as they do what we have not done.
I think Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the namesake of the school, would agree about softer schools. Read here about this 20th century activist.
We need a softer world, one where men (and women, of course, but women are not mass shooters) can navigate the travails of the world without resulting to violence.
One where our children don’t have to practice active shooter drills but can be safe to play kickball, learn grammar and arithmetic, join an orchestra or band, create art, study history, etc.
One where mental health care is not stigmatized and is funded and available so people can work through their wounds in healthy ways.
It’s easy, when facing the fears of the world, to become “harder”. We separate from one another. We put Kevlar backpacks on our children and pretend it can somehow keep them safe in a country that won’t do anything about gun violence. We demonize the “other” and talk about walls, literal and figurative, to keep the “other” far away.
The real challenge is to become softer, and to find the strength that is hidden in true and vulnerable connection, in honest dialogue. Human life is inherently vulnerable and there is strength in softness, in still choosing to live in a dangerous world without giving up what connects us, what makes it worthwhile. There is strength in the softness of placing our hearts into the care of others.