When I was a kid, my mom didn’t let me get a Super Soaker. It seemed like all my friends were getting water guns that would shoot half-way down a city block, and my Christmas wish for the king of all water guns was consistently getting denied.
“I don’t do guns. Water, or cap, or bb, or whatever- I don’t like them.”
So I was the kid who tried to get the water balloons, or I ended up with some other kid’s castoff water gun because he had upgraded to something that felt like a pressure washer when he shot you.
“Here Jase, you can have this one. Sure it has about the same flow of an old man with a bad prostate, but this water gun battle will still be fun, right?”
No. It won’t be fun. You will be ripping my skin off with that pressure washer you have while I run for my life with this see-through blue plastic knock off.
She didn’t just stop at guns. While my friends were talking about Mortal Kombat and James Bond video games, I had to slyly try to switch the topic to Tetris or cable television. My mom tried to keep guns and violence as far away from our home as possible.
She was right about guns. My two daughters haven’t asked me to play Grand Theft Auto yet, but I think I will adopt a slightly more modern version of my mom’s response. She also wouldn’t let us watch The Smurfs or The Simpsons, but that seems a little less relevant.
This week, a bunch of teachers have had to stand up and take on my mom’s line. There have been countless blog posts and creative facebook memes illustrating the insanity of arming teachers with weapons. We have had to have conversations about why we think giving teachers guns is a horrible idea. This isn’t that blog post, but if you need that article you should read most any reputable teacher’s facebook feed from the last week.
Or, as one of my students said when confronted with the idea, “get the fuck out of here with that.”
I told him that was a perfect response.
This is a blog post about fear. I remember sitting in a Psych 101 class at a community college over 15 years ago and hearing that all human action is driven by love or fear. I’ve thought about that often through the early part of my adult life and used it as a means of reflection. I thought about it as I moved to a new city, and then did so again. I’ve thought about in my marriage, in raising children, in my choice of profession, in my friendships and in the basic actions that fill my days. In most cases, I’ve found my Psych professor’s blanket claim to be helpful but misleading. I’ve learned that most of my actions and decisions are built on pieces of both love and fear. I’ve found that it is much harder to seperate the two in real life than it was when I scribbled those notes on a cheap notebook in college.
Sure, I teach because I love this job and the people I meet here. But I also teach because I’m afraid of losing purpose. I like feeling meaningful, and fear the opposite.
Fear is the ugliest representation of our emotions. Fear is at play in all evil, and drives many of the emotions and actions that we don’t like. It’s fear that carries guns to classrooms. And I’ll assume that most of you reading this blog will stand with me in denouncing that possibility. But there are so many more ways that fear pushes into our lives and classrooms.
When the fear starts to push into love, we have no chance of healing some of our illnesses in education. When teachers function with fear of their students, or fear of neighborhoods, they can’t possibly maintain a meaningful role in their classroom.They turn into reactive robots that lack the creativity and passion needed in this profession. When we fear tests, curriculums, district planning, bad policy, oppressive budgets, and broken systems, we give those evils even more power. When we fear the tragedy of school or neighborhood violence, we sidestep the love that is necessary for our students. All of these things demand a response, but we have to ground these responses in love. Fear is the opposite of love.
Fear is often a quick reaction, while love is objective, planned, and rational.
Fear looks out for self, while love gives ourselves to those around us.
Fear gives teachers guns for protection, but love does the hard work of listening, advocating, speaking up, and changing. It’s love that is moving students all over the country to march, walk out, speak up, and demand action. It’s love that moves us to do the same.
Fear is a quick band-aid, while love is a long and hard healing process.
This is why quotes like the ones from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, this week are so troubling. He told a group of conservative lobbyists that they “should be anxious, and they should be frightened.” Thankfully, no student that I know cares about the NRA or Mr. LaPierre. However, in his now regular “socialists are coming for your guns” speech, he is suggesting that people should be scared. And if he got his way, he would pump those scared people into classrooms with guns in the name of safety. He is trying to make you scared, because he sells crappy, infectious band-aids.
Guys like that probably don’t deserve jobs, and they definitely don’t deserve headlines. We certainly shouldn’t be be listening to him when he is talking about schools. Politicians who like to listen to guys like that and give space for his message, also don’t deserve their jobs.
It becomes our responsibility to speak out against the murderous suggestion that we should allow guns in our classrooms. But this is simply addressing the obvious. It also becomes our responsibility to speak against fear in all of its venomous forms. We have to combat fear that holds our children back, challenge fear that keeps us from learning, and push against fear that satisfies our own self-interests.
My mom was right about super-soakers, but the next and more challenging step is to replace them with the hard work of love. Our students deserve more than our self-serving excuses.