The horror of this past week is in the minds of most all Americans. As a retired school superintendent, I am very proud of the courageous adults who stood up to the face of terror. They took actions beyond their job requirements, which resulted in fewer senseless deaths. There were police officers who entered those buildings with little concern for their own safety; the custodian who ran though the halls warning teachers to lock their doors; the administrators who gave their lives trying to avert the attack; and teachers who kept calm and read stories amid mass confusion, chaos and their own eventual demise. As always, the firefighters were there to assist and help establish some tranquility, shielding many from seeing the aftermath of this carnage. Lastly, there was the governor, who thought it his responsibility to inform the 20 parents that their children would never return home. Besides the term "hero," we have another title for many of these individuals. We call them public employees.
This is not the pejorative definition that you have heard in recent years. You know, the one that defines them as individuals only interested in their own enhancement. We have all heard the phrases: "If you can't do, teach" and "Those cops are only interested in their pensions." The list goes on. These employees are often demeaned on talk shows and in newspaper articles by demagogues who snipe with little regard for the facts. Those statements are evident in this community as well. Remember that it was columnist/radio host Inga Barks who said that school administrators in this country have overreacted to Columbine by establishing zero-tolerance policies. "You know," she admonished, "boys will be boys." Just look at the last Board of Supervisors contests and you will find many candidates focusing on their disdain for public employees. I remember receiving a call from our local assemblywoman encouraging all to vote for the candidate from her political stable because the other candidate supported public employees. But now their rhetoric changes. "We love our teachers, firemen, and policemen. It is just their unions we can't stand. Change your leadership and we will love and support you." Several governors are trying to do just that.
The education professionals with whom I worked during my 40 years in schools were very much like their colleagues in Newtown, Conn. The safety of children was always their No. 1 goal. That included both classified and certificated employees. These employees always ran toward, not away, from danger to protect your children. They included custodians, secretaries, teachers, counselors, bus drivers and other support personnel. Oh! And the union leaders of these groups were often leading the charge. The administrators were also proactive. I had a number of principals who told me that it was their concern for student safety on campus that woke them up at night -- not test scores.
As our politicians struggle for an answer to this violence on campuses, let me give one action we should not take. Do not think that a simple fix is to arm the teachers. Don't ask teachers to strap a gun on their waists so that when they are reading stories to the children in their care, they are also ready to mow down a crazy with a semi-automatic weapon containing a clip that holds 30 or more rounds. That is not what teachers do. There are those who say, have them get a concealed-carry weapon permit and arm them. Well, I have my CCW and that training does nothing to prepare you for protecting 30 kids from an armed attack. Renewing one's CCW requires passing a four-hour class every two years. Now, that ought to convince the armed-teacher advocates of the folly of that solution, if nothing else.
Well then, let's give them intense training. Have every teacher and administrator in this country prepared to take action. We could simply hold our professional development sessions at the gun range rather than in the classroom. If we do that, these teachers become cops. I for one would not want my child in a school system where the staff is fully armed. Can you imagine the accidental gun deaths that might result in this scenario?
That is what keeps me awake. I have a daughter who has taught 5- to 7-year-olds for over a quarter of a century. I have been in her class numerous times. It is tough work keeping these little guys focused. I could not do what she does. I know she would jump in front of a bullet to protect her children. The parents and students who have her as a teacher are indeed fortunate. She would not and should not be expected to go though assault rifle training to teach. This is not a liberal or conservative, right or left issue. It is just common sense.
William Hatcher is the retired superintendent of the Kern High School District. He, along with his wife, Carol, work both nationally and internationally in the cause of civic education.