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Guns and schools

After the school shooting in Florida, students across the United States of America, and some students beyond the US borders, have been organizing, marching and crying out for change.

It is pretty clear that the second amendment of the United States’ constitution will not be repealed without a civil war. There is not enough desire for change at the legislative level and there is not enough power for change at the societal level. Cynics say that if the murder of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School could not change laws, nothing will.

Some sports stores have decided to ride the wave of public outrage by restricting the types of guns they will sell as well as by raising the required age level. Ultimately the law of supply and demand will determine who will sell what to whom.

Legislators can tweak some laws, ban bump-stocks, raise gun ownership age level, and stop selling guns to psychos but these are only cosmetic changes. Gun owners will still be able to modify their guns, young people will still be able to get guns, and crazy people will buy guns before they are registered as sociopaths.

Some very interesting and innovative proposals have come out this latest tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School. Wrapping schools in Kevlar, installing bulletproof doors and windows, retrofitting entrances with airport-like metal detectors and arming teachers might protect schools and students. But violence is like Niagara Falls; it can be dammed but the overflow has to go somewhere. Secure schools will inevitable reroute the violence to other congested places such as shopping malls and places of worship. Protecting students and teachers has great merit but it does not get to the heart of the problem.

Teachers know that education is the best catalyst for meaningful and enduring change. So how do we use education to address the crisis of school shootings?

Education is a process and teaching around the issue of violence will take time. (If we had started shortly after Sandy Hook we would be six years ahead.) The education that is required is not necessarily about guns. It is about people, community and how we communicate with each other especially when we feel like no one is listening. Fortunately people can change.

Training begins with teachers. They must be able to identify individuals who are in crisis. Teachers are the first line of defence when it comes to preventing emotional escalations. Teachers must have immediate access to other professionals that can be counted on to help when things appear to be spiralling out of control. For teachers who like to claim that this is not their job, it is now. The world has changed and teachers need to evolve to meet the changing needs of all students.

Once teachers are trained and are modeling appropriate behaviour, the next group to be educated is the students. Curriculum must be redesigned to address the emotional and psychological needs of all students including those who live in the margins. This does not require dropping any subjects or adding hours to the school day. There are ways of using existing subjects to teach these lessons.

Primary schools students need to learn how to self-regulate and how to display empathy. These skills will be very useful in high school where they will be put to the test on a daily basis.

High school can be an amazingly positive experience for many teens. It can also be a horrible and lonely time. The dynamics are confusing and the power struggles can be enormous. Teenagers are imaginative, clever, ambitious and resilient. They generally want to live healthy, happy and fulfilled lives. And they can be taught; taught to communicate with compassion, to care for each other, and when necessary, to protect each other.

Knowledge is power. Today’s students will eventually wield this power. Schools are uniquely designed to disseminate information and provide resources that can be used to prevent future tragedies. The lessons taught in classrooms today will be put into practice tomorrow in our courtrooms, our parliaments, and in society in general.

Change starts with individuals and it grows exponentially therefore students should continue to march and protest. Although the protesting may not change others, it will certainly change those who march.

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