Every time a classroom door opens in the middle of a class, I momentarily freeze. I look toward the door, no longer able to hear my professor’s words, only coming to a place of relaxation when a student or somebody else who’s meant to be there meets my eyes.
I’m scared of it being someone who has come to shoot my peers and me.
This has been true throughout my time at college, in all kinds of classrooms. Maybe you think this is paranoid and stupid. As the child of two psychoanalysts, I might try to consider this a quirk of mine that speaks to some larger insecurity relating to some larger truth about myself that only a professional can solve for me.
Or maybe this is a sign of how internalized these shootings have become, how automatically the shootings are part of our lexicon, both with each other and within ourselves. My understanding of what is conceivable on a moment-to-moment basis, of what my present environment might bring me, feels like it has to include these shootings because of how often they occur.
I imagine what the implications of this automatic acceptance of the possibility that this would take place would have on younger kids. The Sandy Hook shooting, frequently cited as the event that introduced this modern era of public shootings in the U.S. (at schools, concerts and movie theaters alike), only happened in 2012, when I was 15. I imagine what it’s like to be growing up in elementary schools around the country that are under threat, as silence continues to emanate from our lawmakers.
I saw an Instagram post from Shaun King, the writer and civil rights activist. He had taken a photograph of travel blogger Tanai Benard’s Facebook feed. Benard is a mother of a 10-year-old child who was explaining the protocol his teachers taught him in case an “active shooter” came to his school.
The child says, “The teacher is supposed to shut and lock the door, put the black paper over the window on the door. Then myself and three other boys are supposed to push the table against the door. After that the class is going to stand behind us on the back wall.”
Shocked that her Black son — only one of three Black children in a class of 23 students — would be asked to stand in front of the whole group, Benard asks him, “Why did you get picked to stand in front of everyone else if a shooter came to your school?” And the child answers: “I didn’t get picked. I volunteered to push the table and protect my friends.” Benard asks him why. And he says, “If it came down to it I would rather be the one that died protecting my friends than have an entire class die and I be the only one that lived.”
Benard’s 10-year-old child goes to school with a life-or-death mindset, willing to sacrifice his body for his classmates. This is simply part of the process of going to school, even from such an early age as 10.
This question of gun control, then, is not about anything besides these children. This is not about preserving the cultural tradition of the Second Amendment — that is an argument that deals with the connotations of the debate rather than the debate itself. This is not about mental health, either — of course, people who kill others en masse are mentally deranged. Every single country in the world has these people. But only the United States arms them. Last year, President Donald Trump signed a bill revoking gun checks for mentally ill people.
No. There are two sides in this debate: the National Rifle Association and the government that it funds versus these children in American schools. How we respond to this set of questions will impact not only the future students to die at the hands of one of these attacks, but also those who survive; left to learn in an environment of danger and potentially grave sacrifice. Students have been forced to understand themselves and their peers as competitors, not collaborators. They become tactical pieces in an effort to save their own lives, using time in school to push tables against walls and hide.
Hide. Go to school and learn to hide. Is there no more backward lesson to teach our children than that? Elementary schools and high schools alike ought to be a place where students flourish and find themselves in their passions, their friendships, where they can freely and safely navigate the pressures and contradictions and messy developments of life.
I do not know the implications of this kind of fear-based education. I don’t think any of us can until some time further down the line. But I do know that in my own life, my most fruitful educational experiences, in and outside of classrooms, have occurred when I have felt least strongly a need to hide. Instead, they have come when I have been able to come out and speak in such a way that my voice and my story gets developed, where there’s a free and open exchange of ideas across differences.
We cannot do any of this if we are hiding for our lives. Hiding.
Isaiah Zeavin-Moss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org