Yesterday and today, the American president, Donald Trump, suggested that weapons-trained teachers should carry concealed firearms to keep the peace in schools. His proposal comes after yet another school shooting in the United States, one of a regular series of mass murders that is, or should be, a shameful embarrassment for politicians and the gun lobby in that country.
Today, Trump insisted in a tweet that “ATTACKS WOULD END” if teachers were armed, but, as I implied in a recent essay in Film-Philosophy, this is a case of insisting on a hypothesis when other countries have a proven alternative that dramatically reduces gun violence. It’s simple: far fewer available guns, especially automatic weapons of war sold to the general public. Few convenient weapons of carnage, few mass murders. Amanda Holpuch’s story in The Guardian today includes various other reasons why Trump’s plan is far-fetched, including the unlikelihood that a teacher would shoot accurately under pressure (not to mention with a pistol against a machine gun or a rifle easily modified to shoot automatically).
Partly because ridding the country of most of its publicly available automatic weapons is inconceivable to its president and to many others, we hear “solutions” such as arming teachers, but what does this solution imply about Trump’s vision of education?
Although I think it presentist and ageist to disbelieve an idea simply because it is old or shared by someone old, in this case Trump's vision should be dismissed partly because it is out of date. In my previous post, I quoted Marshall McLuhan, who wrote about the classroom as “an obsolete detention home, a feudal dungeon.” How true, when you consider Trump’s proposal, which is in effect to reinforce the idea that schools are jails presided over by armed guards. I mean, teachers.
When I suggested—again, in my previous post— that we should envision the classroom as if it were the International Space Station, I tried to aim high, to the stars. Trump is aiming low, dungeon-level low.
I would add that his model of education, with its hard-to-crack security, appears to be the one that Paulo Friere described as the banking model, in which teachers simply “transfer” knowledge to students, like a bank transfer. Trump himself said today, “I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected.” In this model, teachers have all the power, including knowledge, and they dispense it for clients who have paid their tuition, so that a diploma or degree is a commodity rather than a qualification. This model is capitalist in one of the worst senses of capitalism, the so-called neo-liberal capitalism in which even intangible "things" are monetized.
Contrary to this model, many contemporary teachers and professors believe that students need to be more in control of their educations and learn better when they are posed problems that they have to try to solve on their own, and with guidance as necessary. This alternative model puts significant authority in the hands of the students. Relatedly, some Indigenous models concentrate on shared dialogue and storytelling, and lessons are narrativized hints that have to be interpreted.
Again, the students have more power over their educations, and they are therefore more likely to take responsibility for what, how, and when they learn.
To arm a teacher is to enforce the teacher’s power and authority, but it is also to suggest that the manner of teaching should be authoritarian, not merely authoritative. This notion is a serious problem when it comes from supposedly democratic government. Democracy emerges partly out of education, which is, in some traditions, the opportunity to learn citizenship—not to be merely indoctrinated into patriotism, but to choose reasonably from varieties of government one that would represent you. Trump’s suggestion demonstrates to me that his vision of democracy is corrupted by authoritarianism.
I feel a responsibility towards my students, but I don't want so much authority over their lives that I am responsible for their lives, too. They need to learn to care for themselves and for others as much as I do, and if looking out for each other was more a part of American culture, perhaps there would be less hatred. Canadians, with our democracy, need to remember this lesson too. The classroom should be more like democracy and less like tyranny.
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. “The Classroom as Prison Cell with Armed Guards.” Publicly Interested, 22 Feb. 2018, www.publiclyinterested.weebly.com.
Joel Deshaye is a professor of English literature with an interest in publics, publicity, celebrity, mass media, and popular culture.