On April 16th, The Foundations of Education classes gathered in a small cafeteria at Carson-Newman University and shared what they had learned about school shootings. We shared the video production (see below), findings from research, shared music accompanied by interpretation, and heard from experts in school security planning and a veteran/police officer.
In total, there were 11 committees. As with any good inquiry, more questions were raised as students presented their reports. Each report sparked further discussion. Students compared their experiences of school security, from chain-link fences with razor wire to children running through school parking lots during recess. Reactions included fear of openness and repulsion that school spaces were prison-like. Most of the students who began in favor of teachers being armed modified their positions, but the discussion was informed by data on law enforcement reaction times, not emotional outbursts on the second amendment. Broad, preventative techniques on social-emotional learning were discussed along with anti-bullying campaigns.
The most horrific for me, which shows my naivete clearly, was the presentation of the meme committee. Of course I know about trolls, and I know that there is no perfect reaction to tragedy, but as a parent, I was disgusted by the black humor and racism represented in, for example, a meme with a perturbed-looking woman in a hijab with the caption, “When a white kid shoots up a school the same day you planned to bomb it.” Another showed the Columbine shooters with the caption, “We were shooting up schools before it was cool.” I suppose I expected memes to focus on policy, and some of them did.
One of my favorite presentations was from the music committee, which shared a piece of music and then described, in the language of music theory, how the piece was appropriate for the topic. I don’t know about minor modulation, specialized chords, or the other specialized vocabulary the committee used to discuss the song, but their discussion of the hope, frustration, and repetition hit the nail on the head in terms of my reactions to school shootings.
This wasn’t an ideal project for some students. I didn’t give them much structure, and I was really building the plane while learning to fly it. But the work we did echoed an old call from John Dewey. He noted in 1935 that “our time is not consistent with itself. It is a medley of opposed tendencies.” Teachers must, he said, bear some responsibility for putting the times back in some kind of order. To do so, they must have an idea of what is going on in the world. They must have an “intelligent understanding of the social forces and movements of our own times, and of the role educational institutions have to play.” In this project, they took on school shootings, developed further awareness, shared perspectives, and came away with a greater understanding of their role as future teachers in making schools safer.