Sunday, January 10, 2016

One Principal's Take on Trump's Pledge

You may have heard Donald Trump's recent campaign speech, in which he pledged to eliminate Gun-Free Zones across America on his first day in office, if elected president.

In the context of the speech, Mr. Trump was speaking mainly about military posts and bases, but at the end, he threw in the word "schools" as well, which got this high school principal thinking:

Do I want guests coming onto my campus, entering the building, conducting their business with my school, meeting with teachers/counselors/administrators, possibly visiting classrooms, while carrying firearms?

No, I do not. 

(For that matter, I don't want my staff armed, either, with the exception of the police officers we are blessed to have on campus, but that is another conversation.)

I get the arguments about being able to shoot back at an attacker, and no, I don't have any statistics to argue with you about them. (Though I do have doubts about that perfect scenario.) I'm not likely to say anything that hasn't already been said, one way or the other, about guns in general.

But I might have a perspective about the operation of schools that could be relevant here.

In my 20 years in public education, I have served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, at 8 different schools in 3 different school districts. These campuses have run the gamut in terms of size, student population, demographics, etc. Across those schools and over those years, the vast majority of the parents I have dealt with have been supportive people who worked well with school staff, even when the situation was difficult. 

However, there has always been a portion of the parent population, many educators would say a growing portion, that has presented significant challenges to the orderliness and even safety of the school environment.

I want to emphasize that these stories represent a sampling of the smallest proportion of my dealings with parents, but over my career, I have seen or dealt with the aftermath of:

*Parents loudly, sometimes with profanity, disrupting the school environment;

*Parents, either in person, in writing, or over the phone, threatening school staff with physical harm;

*Parents refusing to comply with, and making a scene over, common campus procedures;

*Parents attempting to use physical size and proximity to intimidate school staff;

*Parents refusing to leave an extracurricular event when dismissed for misconduct, necessitating police involvement;

*Parents encouraging their children to defy the authority of school staff;

*Parents engaging in such unreasonable and recurring patterns of contact to teachers, that in any other context, the behavior would be deemed harassment;

*Parents attempting to confront other people's children, on the (sometimes false) belief those children were engaged in bullying their child;

*In one disturbing case, a parent having to be physically restrained after beating up his teenage niece, of whom he was guardian, in the front office during a conference with an administrator;

*And in another awful case, a parent punching a student he did not know, giving the student a concussion, in response to a false report from his child that she was the victim of bullying.

It's easy to assume these must have been unusual people, or unusual circumstances, and to some degree that's undeniable, but it's also important to point out that, of the people who have been involved in these incidents, not one of them was clinically insane, a terrorist, or any kind of known menace to the community. 

These were seemingly ordinary people, just like you and me, one of them in particular standing out in my memory for wearing the uniform of the US Army while telling his child he was going to "slap the sh*t" out of one of my assistant principals.

Why does this happen?

To some degree, it happens because some people just make bad choices, but on a deeper level, this happens in schools when it doesn't typically happen at the gym, the bank, or the grocery store, because in schools, our business involves our customers' most intimately treasured relation, or in some people's mindset, "possession": their child. 

Some of the most ordinary people have the capacity to become extraordinarily nasty when they believe their child is being wronged in some way. We sometimes speak fondly of "Mama Bear", but the reality is, some parents act first and ask questions later when their baby is involved. 

The last thing we need in a school is for that "act" to have greater potential to involve a firearm.

And it's not always a matter of what people's intentions are when they first arrive on a scene. Many of the incidents I cited above were not the beginning of the interaction with the parent, but the culmination of an encounter in which the parents did not get their way, or were displeased with the outcome, and reacted with emotional violence, if not physical violence. I shudder to imagine those scenarios playing out with guns added to the mix.

In the school setting, with a segment of the parent population, there is always the possibility of situations turning volatile with little or no warning.

When I hear Donald Trump and others scoff at the very concept of a "Gun-Free Zone", I am reminded that, of all the crazy things some parents have done on campus during my career, one thing I have never (knock on wood) had a report of a parent doing is bringing a gun onto school property. I'm not claiming it has never happened, or that it never will, but I have never received a report of a parent bringing a gun to school, not even a hint or rumor of it, in 20 years, at 8 different schools, in 3 different districts.

Of all the parents I referenced above, only one did I later learn had a prior violent criminal record, meaning he was the very person who should have, by all conventional wisdom, disregarded the "Gun-Free Zone" and brought a firearm to school, because violent criminals don't obey gun laws.

But even he did not do so.

This principal believes from these experiences that allowing guns to be brought to school by parents or other visitors would be far more likely to result in unplanned violence carried out by a hotheaded visitor, than to result in a visitor averting a school shooting by being in just the right place, at just the right time, with the moral compass of The Lone Ranger and the aim of Doc Holliday. 

If you're reading this, I'm sure you trust yourself with a gun, anywhere, anytime, with any company, and I won't argue with you about whether you are worthy of that trust.

But not everyone out there is like you.

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