Editorial | When teachers reach for their guns
Garth Anderson, ahead of next month's conference of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), should offer an expanded and inferentially deeper explanation of his recent remarks on teachers taking firearms into the classroom, or even complain of having been quoted out of context. He would know that the latter is the default against almost any misspeak.
Mr Anderson, the principal of Church Teachers' College and president-elect of the JTA, appears to have no problem with teachers, once they are firearm holders, taking their guns on to school campuses and using them if they feel threatened.
" ... The school environment today is much different from those days (1980 when the current education code was written)," Mr Anderson was quoted in this newspaper last week as saying. "Sometimes it gets hostile, making protection of life and property necessary. Based on what is happening in schools today, teachers might well be feeling the need to protect life and property."
The larger issue is the process by which this protection of life and property is to be achieved, and whether guns, borne by teachers, have a place in what ought to be mind-shaping, learning environments.
The backdrop to Mr Anderson's comment on this topic is the education ministry's recent advisory to teachers who legally own guns that if they take their firearms to school they are not to be exposed, including to "the student body at large".
The ministry said further: "Firearms are not to be used to intimidate any member of staff. Firearms are not to be used by teachers to quell any form of disturbance involving students or any member of staff."
The antecedent to his declaration/clarification of the ministry's gun policy is a number of recent incidents involving the use of guns by teachers at school.
In one case in Trelawny, a teacher who was confronted by students he deemed to be hostile allegedly drew his gun to ward them off. Last November, a 15-year-old student at the Robert Lightbourne High School in St Thomas was accidentally shot by a teacher who fired in the air to frighten intruders away from the school compound.
NEED FOR PROTECTION
Mr Anderson argued that once a person is a legal firearm holder, if not locked away at home or some other secured place it should be on the individual's person. He did not address specific incidents in which teachers used their guns, but said: "The school is like any other workplace, where there is need for protection."
They hardly are!
Schools are populated primarily by children who attend these institutions not only to be inculcated with facts, data and skills for processing information, but a code of values by which the society wishes to organise itself. This is not a mere transactional environment, as it is the case with most other workplaces.
Among the values and skills is the sanctity of life and the value of resolving dispute without resorting to violence. Of course, as Mr Anderson observed, the school environment, in many cases, is not the same as, say, four decades ago. In some instances, it has grown harsh and coarse, mirroring the community and society in which it exists.
But difficulty doesn't mean surrendering fundamental values or an armoured charge against perceived delinquents. The new school environment may demand of teachers greater deftness and new coping skills and a recognition that retreat doesn't equate to cowardice.
The point is, teaching was never easy. It's just harder now.