Quite literally, schools have become a battle ground, not just over the direction of education policy, but the very safety of our children. With this historically new development comes the Emporia School Board’s decision to allow armed guards on school property come Feb. 1. The shootings in Connecticut in December highlighted an increasing political tension over gun safety and control, brought on by desperate gunmen in recent years. For better or worse, Emporia schools are fanning the fire.
It’s not clear yet what deterrent effect the addition of armed guards at schools will have. What is clear, however, is that Emporians perceive a need for protection that warrants the use of deadly force. The reaction is understandable. A school should be a place of safety, where parents can leave their children in the hands of responsible professionals with a reasonable expectation that no harm will come to their young ones. This, sadly, seems a distant memory.
The gun ownership debate took center stage shortly after the Newtown shootings, but we shouldn’t forget that this wasn’t the first or last of this type of violence. Towns like Aurora and institutions like Columbine High School in Colorado carry with them memories not easily forgotten or reconciled. Have we come at all closer since then to understanding what really occurred and what the social and political implication of these murders is?
The truth is that violence in schools is more common than once thought. The proverbial image of a South Chicago high school capped at its entrance with metal detectors is not without factual merit. Places of poverty, where education has either been conceptually abandoned or displaced, have been sites of violence for generations. But we don’t hear about those murders much anymore. The stakes for popular attention were raised and it took 26 deaths at an elementary school to refocus our attention.
Violence is so dramatic and so baseless that our reaction is only to prevent it. But to garner political leverage from a particular act is to erase the multitude of tragedies that struck before without notice. We need not forget Connecticut, nor forgo the grief it wrenches from us, but we must also pursue the problem of violence in schools with an understanding that peace has evaded Americans in all classes, races and ethnicities for decades.