Shortly after the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, there was an interview with Larry Pratt, director of Gun Owners of America.
He was the first voice in the aftermath of the murders to propose the incredible; that pupils’ safety would be improved if all teachers were armed in the classroom.
Reacting to his interviewer’s consternation, he went on to say: “After all, in most states we can carry guns in shopping malls, and in parks, why not in schools? How are schools different?”
Hearing this remarkable sound bite, I was first of all confused: was it a rhetorical question, or was he genuinely ignorant of the role and ethos of schools?
Now at the beginning of a new year, traditionally a time of hope, it might be as well to define just how schools are different, and why that difference is important.
Schools are ‘different’ because of the huge element of trust that lies at their foundation; everything they do is based on that trust. Parents trust their children will be safe, and children trust their teachers to protect them – not with weaponry, but with the best possible teaching, advice, counsel, and care – building on their potential, helping equip them for the time when they will take full responsibility for their own lives.
The value of education is that it guides young minds towards an understanding of how to make the right choices, how to balance their views, how to learn from their mistakes and successes, and how to operate positively at all levels of their society.
It is about didactic instruction, yes, but it is also about building self confidence, facilitating curiosity, encouraging openness, promoting partnership, and validating pride in self, family, friends, and community. This is only successful when the worth of the individual is prioritised.
And so, Mr Pratt, a philosophy which is based on ‘Might is Right’ will never have a place in schools. The thought that the weapon is mightier than the word, or that bullets banish fear, is inimical to all that teachers do and parents expect.
Sadly, there will sometimes be violence, both emotional and physical, in schools – but only where there is dysfunction; it is not a natural state of affairs. What future do we offer our children if we declare by arming teachers that, fundamentally, adults cannot be trusted, that hope must always be buttressed by force, and that firepower is superior to brainpower? Surely such a message only encourages those with grievances beyond reason to wreak violent havoc?
Schools are different because they are in the business, not of profit, but of energising and equipping the young for a positive future. Guns, the final refuge of those without a rational argument, have no place in that ethos.
Our young people must be educated in an ambience that leads them to believe there is a better way than violence - because violence begets violence, and violence destroys hope.
The American gun lobby quote the US Constitution for their own ends, to promote power over reason, but Abraham Lincoln said: “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”
He also suggested “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the Government in the next”.
Tak tent, America!