Seldom does an issue move me to drop the newspaper and pen a commentary on-the-spot. But after reading Michael Orick's letter in support of armed security guards on APS campuses [Re: "Armed Education," Sept. 13-19], I felt compelled to write—and swat Orick with my ruler.
Orick demands that APS “use some common sense” and arm its security force “now.” Were APS to take Orick’s feeble advice, it would be shooting itself—and its students—in the foot.
As a former teacher in "ghetto" public high schools, one in Albuquerque, the others in Brooklyn, N.Y., I know what it's like to feel unsafe in school. In Brooklyn, my students and I waited out lock-downs whenever someone snuck a gun through a back door, or when a gang showed up to seek revenge. There, my students walked through metal detectors daily, and unarmed NYPD officers patrolled the halls. Stabbings, fights and visits by the S.W.A.T. team were as common as calling roll. I once twisted an ankle after slipping in a puddle of blood in the hallway. Girls hid razorblades in their hair, or in the bindings of textbooks, while the boys kept brass knuckles in their saggy back pockets.
Compared to the school in Brooklyn, the APS school I worked at (regarded as one of the worst in the district) is a country club. Has an APS student ever violently wielded a gun or attempted a school shooting? Do APS high schools experience frequent gun violence or shootings on campus? Did I miss the memo?
The worst violence I’ve seen against students on APS campuses has been by security themselves, who carry mace. I’ve witnessed security spray mace in the faces of students who are uninvolved in fights. As one of my former students said, “They spray the stuff like it’s Febreze.”
If APS security is already going ballistic with mace, why would we ever arm them with a weapon that could do lethal damage? Imagine the consequences that could entail. Already, APS security guards have an antagonistic relationship with students. Certainly, not all guards are to blame. But, from what I’ve witnessed, most are on an over-the-top power trip, blowing whistles, spraying mace and screaming at kids to hightail their asses to class. (I’ve also seen some of the male guards trying to get girls’ phone numbers.) From what I’ve witnessed, guns, plus guards, plus kids will mix a bloody cocktail.
Orick equates unarmed officers on school campuses to having an unarmed police force. He omits the fact that APS security guards are not police officers. They’re the same, unarmed security guards you’d see in a mall, and they’re not trained to use or carry weapons. To arm APS security with guns would instill undue fear in students and staff, and open a Pandora’s box of hideous potential.
Our best defense against school shootings is our personnel: teachers and students who can warn of violence before it breaks. Believe me, a good teacher knows if a kid will grow up to be a serial killer. Fortunately, those students are few and far between.
School shootings are more than scary. They’re terrifying. But they’re the exception, not the norm. More frightening, I think, are the pertinent problems in education: socioeconomic bias and outright racism (segregation is still evident in our schools), the ineffectual and impossible No Child Left Behind Act, abysmal teacher salary (I had to say it!), inadequate resources, sketchy leadership and stubborn bureaucracy. Public schools are in crisis. But guns aren’t going to kill the problems. They’re going to kill kids.