Books are for learn­ing, not for stop­ping bul­lets

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Brenda Sher­rard Haupt

For sev­eral weeks af­ter Columbine, ev­ery time I passed by the li­brary at the Mary­land high school where I taught, I was over­come by a sense of panic and dread. The feel­ing even­tu­ally sub­sided. Se­cu­rity was tight­ened; af­ter a while, it loos­ened. New pro­to­cols, namely, shel­ter-in-place drills, were in­sti­tuted. But as the years passed, school shoot­ings be­came fright­en­ingly fa­mil­iar, the most hor­rific oc­cur­ring at Vir­ginia Tech — my alma mater — and Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School.

And then, Park­land. Sud­denly, it seemed, the na­tion had had enough. Con­cerned par­ents be­gan to worry that the schools were not do­ing enough to pro­tect their chil­dren. If gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion were not in the off­ing, then the schools would need to step up.

Un­der im­mense pub­lic pres­sure, my school sys­tem de­cided to im­ple­ment ac­tive shooter train­ing. Sold to school per­son­nel as a path to em­pow­er­ment, the pro­gram is de­signed to equip teach­ers with choices. In­stead of the only op­tion be­ing to shel­ter in place, that is, lock­ing the door, dark­en­ing the room, hun­ker­ing down and re­main­ing ab­so­lutely si­lent un­til the threat is elim­i­nated, teach­ers can de­cide to get their stu­dents out of the build­ing. This de­ci­sion, of course, is con­tin­gent upon ac­cu­rate and timely in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the where­abouts of the shooter. An­other op­tion is to go on the of­fen­sive: If the shooter en­ters the class­room, stu­dents and teach­ers can shield them­selves with chairs and books and use those or any avail­able pro­jec­tile as weapons. The train­ing also in­volves role­play­ing, teach­ers tak­ing on the role of the shooter, for in­stance, bran­dish­ing a Nerf gun and shoot­ing the in­hab­i­tants of the room. And all of this, I con­tend, is meant to pre­pare ev­ery­one for the in­evitable — arm­ing teach­ers.

What has hap­pened to ed­u­ca­tion in our na­tion?

My own fa­vorite high school English teach­ers in­spired me to em­brace a phi­los­o­phy of teach­ing that I car­ried with me to the end: to use my plat­form as an ed­u­ca­tor to present to my stu­dents the best lit­er­a­ture the English lan­guage has to of­fer to help them be­come bet­ter writ­ers, crit­i­cal thinkers and am­bas­sadors of em­pa­thy for the hu­man con­di­tion. And now I was ex­pected to in­struct my stu­dents to use those very books as weapons and shields against a shooter armed with a high­pow­ered, rapid-fire as­sault ri­fle?

“There are more [ironies] in heaven and earth, Ho­ra­tio/Than are dreamt of in your phi­los­o­phy” (Ham­let, 1.5.167-8). We­mustbe hon­est. We would not be heroes; we would be vic­tims of gun vi­o­lence.

Ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents should be think­ing about how best to nav­i­gate and bal­ance their work­loads and per­sonal lives — not how to stand down a shooter. I fear that the joy of teach­ing and learn­ing is be­ing en­croached upon and over­shad­owed by un­due and un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. I can only imag­ine what my pre­cious teach­ers would think about what so­ci­ety is ex­pect­ing of ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents to­day. I be­lieve they would har­bor the same feel­ings I do — be­yond the pale; out­ra­geous; eth­i­cally un­ten­able; philo­soph­i­cally un­sound; psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­ag­ing; and, at the very least, phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble. In a word: un­think­able.

Be­cause eth­i­cal for­ti­tude and com­mon sense did not pre­vail, did not de­mand that our lives are worth the lo­gis­tics and ex­pense of me­tal de­tec­tors and se­cu­rity guards, I re­tired two years ear­lier than I had planned. And even though my de­ci­sion was the ab­so­lute right one for me, I am left with a sense of loss — the loss of the ex­pe­ri­ence of teach­ing my last group of fresh­men as se­niors, study­ing the masters with them and teach­ing them to be bet­ter writ­ers, crit­i­cal thinkers and, yes, am­bas­sadors of em­pa­thy for the hu­man con­di­tion.

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