Editor's Note: The content of this editorial includes discussion of gun violence in schools.
A first grader with a history of strangling his teachers and whipping classmates entered his classroom at Richneck Elementary with his mother’s 9mm Taurus Armas pistol. In the middle of class, he took the loaded gun out from his backpack, aimed it at his teacher and pulled the trigger.
At Michigan State a 43-year-old man entered his local university campus with two legally acquired 9mm handguns. He killed three and wounded five. He had no ties to the university. It remained a sole target for frustration.
Recently, a former student from Covenant Elementary in Nashville, Tennessee, entered the school with an AR-15, killing three students and three of the faculty and staff. The shooter harbored a deep “resentment” for the school.
The national climate has rendered mass shootings an inescapable reality. These situations illustrate the horror of gun violence that educators face today. Teachers are shouldering some of the biggest problems in the country — from the COVID-19 pandemic creating an educational rift to gun violence increasing in classrooms.
The landscape for education majors is being swept in a troubling direction. Educators are expected to fix the worst of society’s problems in the classroom without much help from lawmakers. Those currently in the field, or entering it, are finding a disproportionate weight.
A mass shooting — as defined by the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit formed to track gun violence incidents across the US — involves a minimum of four victims shot. This does not include any shooter who may have also been killed or injured in the incident. School shootings in America are often defined as such and have increased exponentially since 2020, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.
This year has seen more mass shootings than days according to the Gun Violence Archive. The minute a headline is seen, like “4 dead and 5 wounded,” it reduces the implications, motives and feelings to a statistic. When it comes to a headline, violence is a ruthless simplifier and some education majors may struggle with the spotlight the media shines on these situations. Violence too often simplifies a complex problem.
School violence disorients the direction and quality of an education. Teachers are expected to learn a mastery of their field, such as encouraging individual development and controlling class discussions. These fragile social skills are disrupted by the onset of a global pandemic or a generational outburst of violence. But most importantly, the fragile era of development and socialization that teachers so carefully watch over in their students — it all operates below a shadowing weight. Teachers have so much on their plate already. They don’t need more.
From Education Majors
Becoming a teacher has always been a dream for sophomore Lucy Horn. The Elon education major said the entire reason she wants to teach is to have an impact on kids, but after seeing gun violence enter classrooms, she’s realized that dream also comes with concerns.
“You can’t say as a teacher you’re supposed to step in front and take a bullet,” Horn said.
Horn said she’s had the dream to become an educator since elementary school, but there are many factors to consider as she plans to head into this profession.
“There’s been such an increase in gun violence that this is a whole other part of my future career that I have to consider,” Horn said.
For sophomore Lindsey Hefty, going into the education profession can be scary, especially when anyone can be a victim in a classroom.
“I’m going into a profession that puts my life in danger every day and it doesn't seem like people care,” Hefty said. “I think it’s important to remember that students aren’t the only victims. Teachers are also victims.”
The distress shared in the profession is not only marked by the fear and experience of shootings, but also the insensitive way that violence is introduced in the classroom. Violence is now introduced in schools in ways that are structurally insensitive and heavy handed. For example, schools are now hiring training groups to simulate shootings that prepare the school for shootings, such as firing at students and teachers with pellet guns or firing blanks during shooting drills. Much of teaching is a pursuit of creating a space of growth and development. Violence has crept into that space. Now educators have an environment of both growth and possible violence. Educators find it difficult walking through the dissonance and balancing the two sides of that coin.
Scott Morrison, professor of education at Elon, found violence prevention training on younger kids to be both disturbing and insightful.
“It's quite an education when you sit with 5 year olds and tell them they have to be quiet to practice if someone comes on campus to harm them,” Morrison said. “I don't know what would cause politicians to change their vote, but I would recommend sitting with 5 year olds during active shooter training.”
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic caused learning delays for all ages. Educators are now making up for severe learning gaps for students coming from different backgrounds. They’re struggling to make up lost ground while also navigating a potentially dangerous environment. Additionally, children who are disabled and children who are neurodivergent are almost completely ignored during online learning and active shooting situations.
Morrison also said he was concerned about the safety of disabled children during active shooter situations.
“During school shootings, students with disabilities might not be as safe as others because of physical limitations or intellectual differences,” Morrison said.
Education majors spend the majority of their training learning how to best handle sensitive ideas like race, religion, sexuality and the language we share — but they’re also expected to handle other issues like the flu going around classrooms, parent-teacher meetings, and now the possibility of violence.
It’s not the teacher’s burden, it’s the voter’s
Handling gun violence should not be a teacher’s burden. It is the burden of voters — especially the lawmakers. Violence has been normalized in America and its signs are neglected. According to Everytown For Gun Safety, in 56% of school shootings, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs before the shooting. These acts are often noticeable outbursts. As a country, we let them linger in our mind and often act only after the violence has occurred.
Currently there are a number of lawmaking decisions that greatly increase the risk factor for school shootings in North Carolina — registered stalkers are allowed to purchase firearms, there is no law regulating assault weapons and no laws that require the registration of firearms that are purchased. The most concerning of the laws, in regards to mass shootings, is that there is no limit to magazine capacity and caliber restriction on weapons, meaning that a person can have as many bullets as needed and as large as required. And just recently, the North Carolina State House voted to override a veto of a bill that minimizes standards for pistol purchasing.
High capacity magazines were used in the most deadly mass shooting in American history and were developed for anti-personnel purposes. The high capacity magazine is something that pro-gun lawmakers are starting to reconsider, yet it is still a structural catalyst in our law.
The strongest step in stopping gun violence is voting out the figureheads prescribing pro-gun solutions. Legislators that are indifferent to the struggles of their constituents will never make a good law.
Pro gun organizations like the NRA donate large sums to politicians so they can push catalyst laws to keep the gun industry prominent. Out of the five senators that have benefited the most from NRA funding, two were from North Carolina — Sen. Richard Burr with $6,987,380 and Sen. Thom Tillis with $4,429,333.
Before another shooting happens there is a period of shared time when it can be stopped. That moment is every moment we have as voters and citizens before a shooting. Many people are now numb and have lost hope to act. Through the acceptance of violence in our culture, we give it power. There is nothing close to an easy way to end violence and society’s flaws in classroom’s, but voting in local elections could ensure responsible leaders are in power.
Men who are paid to not change will never change. Why do we insist on our government being like this? We are citizens, we elect. It is our job to root out those who you believe don’t protect our interests. Keeping the next generation of teachers safe is the role of the community, not the individual.