Until now I’ve avoided the debate over arming teachers in classrooms for some excellent reasons.
One is that few things are more inflammatory in idaho than the gun-control debate. My last foray into that quagmire ended with a fellow panelist taking a swing at me on public television. And he was the pro gun-control panelist, the alleged pacifist.
Another reason is that my experience with guns is pretty much limited to blasting away in my teenage years at jackrabbits, game birds and, on one memorable occasion, my neighbor’s hunting dog. In my defense, the dog was hidden by brush and looked exactly like a pheasant.
I do have considerable experience with teachers, however, including being married to one. And it occurs to me that one aspect of the debate over arming teachers has been overlooked.
What if the teacher is a nut job? We rightly worry about armed intruders in our schools, but what’s to prevent an armed teacher from going over the edge?
In saying this, I mean no disrespect to the majority of teachers who are stable, competent individuals. If all teachers were like Mr. Borque, for example, the argument to arm teachers would make a lot more sense.
Mr. Borque was the American Government teacher and football coach at our school. He was built like a linebacker and looked like a Marine sharpshooter, which for all we knew he may once have been. One look at an armed Mr. Borque would have sent a would-be shooter fleeing in terror. And in the event of a shootout, there isn’t the slightest doubt who would have prevailed. If Mr. Borque had been at the Dallas School Book Depository on Nov. 22, 1963, JFK would be retired and living happily on his book royalties now.
Mr. Borque, however, was an exception. The majority of my teachers, from first grade through college, were, shall we say, ill-suited for armed combat. And a few were absolute loonies.
Before rebelling against a decade of parochial education and switching with two friends to public high school, I attended schools staffed almost entirely by nuns. Some were gifted teachers and kind, gentle souls. This was in the days, however, when their less than kindly colleagues inflicted discipline that today would be illegal. Sister Brutus, for example. (That’s not her real name; if I used her real name, she’d track me down and beat the living daylights out of me.)
Sister Brutus had what she quaintly referred to as a “boo-boo stick.” Made of heavy plywood, it had a face with tears painted on the business end. If you screwed up in class – and it didn’t take much – she put a check after your name on the chalkboard. Each check represented a lively whack with the boo-hoo stick after school. The more checks, the more whacks.
One boy in our class amassed an astonishing number of checks almost every day. It wasn’t that he was such a horrible kid; I think he just rubbed her the wrong way. Every night after school, he was whacked, and whacked and whacked some more. He rarely cried, probably due to the calluses.
God knows what would have happened if Sister Brutus had been armed with a .38 instead of a boo-hoo stick. She might have winged the poor kid for good measure.
Sister Screwloose seemed outwardly normal, even fun-loving, until the day she found out that one of the boys in our class had invited one of the girls over for Sunday dinner with his family. We were then in sixth grade, and to her way of thinking this was the equivalent of one of the boys inviting a girl over for a spirited orgy.
Instead of the usual classroom routine, she devoted the entire day to making fun of the youthful “offenders.” We were encouraged to draw cartoons of them and write things about them on the chalkboard. Everyone seemed to know it was wrong but her. The next day, at the request of their parents, the principal, the pastor and quite possibly the pope, she apologized profusely. The apology was heartfelt, heartbreaking. We were sorry for her. But we were sorrier for those two kids.
The following year, another breakdown. Two of the class troublemakers drove our seventh-grade teacher berserk. She was escorted from the school babbling. We never saw her again. I hate to think what might have happened if either of those women had had revolvers instead of rosaries hanging from their belts.
The same went for Mr. Jitters, one of my teachers at Boise High School. The man was terminally nervous. One of the class clowns exploited his agitation by playing one of those tasteless jokes that only high school boys found funny. He slipped the textbook out of the projector Mr. Jitters was using to highlight passages on a movie screen and replaced it with a Playboy centerfold. When the resulting snickers caused him to turn around and see what his pointer was pointing at, he turned a deep shade of red and wordlessly left the room. A substitute teacher replaced him for the rest of the week.
Years later, I happened to run into Mr. Jitters. He said he was never comfortable teaching and had left the profession for another line of work. I didn’t ask him whether he’d have felt more comfortable if he’d been packing heat. Given his shaky condition, a scary thought.
My English teacher at Boise High School taught us the finer points of usage and passed on her love of literature to those who were susceptible. She was a good teacher, but she was old and frail. It was all she could do to climb the stairs to her classroom. Somehow I can’t see her strapping on a Glock before setting off to work in her Rambler every morning. Or fending off a burly student bent on stealing her piece.
One of my foreign language teachers at the University of Idaho was as excitable as he was inspiring. It was nothing for him to climb on top of his desk, wave his arms and jump up and down. If he’d been wearing a gun, he could have shot himself in the foot.
Another of my college teachers could have posed for a Norman Rockwell painting of a kindly college professor – tweed jacket, bow tie, twinkling blue eyes. He was wise and gentle, universally loved. He could have been armed with every weapon imaginable, and I don’t think he could have hurt anyone.
Strict gun control laws like those adopted in some countries will probably never happen here. But it’s hard to believe that our best minds can’t come up with a better response to Newtown than strapping guns on the mixed bag of individuals who teach our children. If good is to come of the tragedy, it will be that it leads to a civil discourse and finding a middle ground that reduces the likelihood of future tragedies.
That will be mainly up to the members of Congress – who aren’t known for harmonious relations. Let’s hope they don’t vote to arm themselves.