In the Suburbs / We must act now
On March 14 at 10 a.m. I joined about 30 of our students in the gym at our charter school In Bridgeport for the National Walkout Day to honor and remember the 17 students and teachers who lost their lives in the recent Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and to speak out against guns. One of our social workers facilitated the event as we held one long orange ribbon and shared feelings about the shootings and guns. Some students used construction paper at the front of the gym to write brief notes to victims’ families. The facilitator spoke of precious students who would never know the beauty of life, college, marriage and families and rewarding careers. My tears came much too easily.
We were reminded about the importance of caring about other people, standing up against bullying and paying closer attention to students who appear to be displaying tendencies toward mental illness, are acting overly aggressive or who may make public comments or overtures about, God forbid, shooting students or teachers.
At the end of our 17-minute ceremony, we collectively took 17 steps forward, making a commitment against guns and agreeing to stand with the students of Parkland against any more school shootings. It was thanks to the efforts of those students that this national day was held.
When the 17-minute walkout ended and we returned to our classes, the normal day continued and few students talked about what had happened. By the following day, I heard no conversation about the walkout and the impact it may have had on our students. Barely a week later, I asked one of the student coordinators of our event whether students seemed more sensitized or concerned. She shared that while the walkout definitely impacted a lot of our students, she still believes that shootings will continue. Sadly, I worry about the same thing.
And how ironic is it that as I am completing this column a southern Maryland high school was turned upside down this past Tuesday when a student shot multiple students, one of whom was allegedly a girlfriend who had broken up with him. A security guard confronted the student and killed him. Could a teacher have pulled the trigger? I doubt it.
In a class discussion with our principal on the same day, he suggested arming teachers is not a good idea. His strongest argument was that schools are naturally emotional places, especially in urban environments like ours, and teachers in cities like Bridgeport would probably not be comfortable or receptive to carrying guns, despite a higher level of violence than in many suburban schools.
He did offer a ray of hope that school shootings could end, or at least be reduced, if we all remain more sensitive to students with mental health, anger issues or violent outbursts. Another point I took away from our principal’s discussion was that when he was growing up in the 1970s, fist fights among boys were pretty common. But in the ’80s a lot of that fighting stopped when guns took over from fists as the way to settle arguments.
But where do we go from here? Can our voices and our efforts to reign in potential shooters and owners of AR-15 rifles make enough difference to sway our legislators and lead to some early prevention programs? I honestly can’t say.
Certainly, the nationwide walkout created a first step toward doing something about this national sickness and making our schools safer. And this Saturday’s march on Washington to convince our legislators to pass stronger gun legislation, where hundreds of thousands of students and adults will stand with Parkland students in solidarity against school shootings and violence, will, I hope, send a message.
I hope legislators will at least continue to listen to these young, passionate students, many of whom were forced to experience horror beyond anything they ever imagined.
I do know this. If we are to make any progress in stopping or at least reducing gun violence and school shootings, we must not forget the victims of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and all the other schools that have been part of these students’ young lives. And I do say “we.” All of us should support the brave, intelligent students who stood up to say, “Enough is enough,” with actions and not lip service.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.