The United States may be the Wild West of the civilized world. Many perceive us as a nation of freedom-loving gun-toters, and it has its perks. It takes a gritty spirit to successfully defend the homeland. We have been unconquered. Not every nation can say that.
Some want to strengthen the Second Amendment, and others want to weaken it. All, though, can recognize the need to balance our freedoms with public safety.
The aftermath of a school mass shooting rightfully focuses on the immediate loss of innocent life. The long-range view, though, is dire as well.
Our schools are already struggling. According to the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, the United States ranked 30th in math and 19th in science out of 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
It’s a challenge to find and keep high-performing teachers in the classroom. They deal with multiple frustrations daily—some students who don’t apply themselves, a lack of tools they sometimes need to be successful in their job, and no increased financial reward or recognition for excellent performance.
And now we must add a sense of lack of safety to the mix.
A 2013 School Improvement Network survey reported that 31 percent of educators felt their school was not safe from gun violence. Now, that number has jumped to 69 percent.
At some point, these high-performing teachers will make the reasonable conclusion that they can take their skill set and be equally or more successful in another endeavor. And feel safer.
Our country can’t withstand that loss. A report entitled, “U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” published by the Council on Foreign Relations, states, “Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security. Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.”
In order to keep our best teachers in the classroom, we must ask them what they need in order to feel safe and keep their students safe. It also wouldn’t hurt to survey our high-achieving college students who are pursuing teaching degrees.
We need to listen—and then deliver to the best of our ability.
There have been many suggestions to make our schools safer: Secure entrances with locked doors that require the individual to be buzzed in, increase police or security officer presence, utilize metal detectors at entrances, strengthen background checks for firearm purchases, allow concealed carry permits in schools, raise the age to purchase certain firearms, eliminate certain firearms, conduct active shooter drills, address mental health and social breakdown issues, educate all that when you “see something, say something,” and hold accountable authorities when they drop the ball.
Some of these solutions must be debated and tackled at the federal or state level. Others can be considered now at the local level. For every solution, there’s the potential of an unintended consequence. And nothing will make our schools 100 percent safe. But teachers’ voices should be one of the loudest when we aim for that goal.
In Iowa, a child who has reached the age of six and is under sixteen years of age by September 15 is of compulsory attendance age. Unless home schooled, kids have no choice and are required to be in these school buildings.
Teachers, though, choose to be in the profession of teaching. And they can choose to leave.
A loss of effective teachers from our schools would be harmful to our nation. A poorly-educated populace could lead to a different kind of Wild West—one that none of us wants.