Elementary, my dear…
Guns, therapy dogs and new-age education

I don’t think there is a sane person among us who thinks that school safety should be considered a given. Recently, though, with the entire world tilting toward insanity, the concern has been just what constitutes school safety in the first place. It appalled me to read in a recent issue of Education Week that “according to Everytown for Gun Safety — a gun-control advocacy group — 15 states allow concealed carry of some sort in schools, and this year two dozen states considered similar policies.”

When I was teaching, just a generation or so ago, the debate about school safety was mostly about making sure students had been inoculated against contagious diseases and that playground bullies were dealt with in a fair and timely manner. There was also some effort to provide counseling after a traumatic event such as the death of a schoolmate. And, of course, there were fire drills and, in some schools where I taught, earthquake drills. And, back in the dark ages during the cold war, we revived (for a time) the air raid drills I remembered from the 1940s when I was a student, myself.

But never in my experience was there even a whisper of the suggestion that teachers or school personnel should carry lethal weapons. We were educators, for heaven’s sake, not armed guards or undercover cops. We were trained to help children acquire knowledge, competences and values. As far as I’m concerned, about the only bits of equipment we really needed to accomplish those daunting tasks were a piece of chalk and a chalkboard – or if you were lucky enough to be located on the beach, a stick and a patch of hard sand. A gun was not part of the equation.

Granted, we now seem to feel that teaching is all wrapped up with fancy-schmancy stuff like interactive white boards and state-of-the-art laptops on each desk. And who would think that a kid could learn anything at all without a backpack full of felt-tipped markers and glue sticks and nutritious snack foods? It’s amazing to think that civilizations have evolved successfully for four or five millennia without GPS trackers and other safety apps for parents and now… we’ve advanced to teachers being armed with weapons?

Lest this entire scenario seem just too bizarre, how about making sure your local schools are also equipped with therapy dogs? That seems to be another new-age answer to the school shooting syndrome. Therapy dogs, their proponents point out, are not service dogs. While service dogs are trained to focus on their owner to the exclusion of all else, therapy dogs are trained to react and respond to people and their environment. Proponents say that therapy dogs can reduce stress and provide a sense of connection in difficult situations.

There’s a bit of a disconnect for me with regard to the therapy dog scenario. Granted, there are lots of stresses in kids lives these days. Probably more than there used to be and probably of a greater degree — if you can, in fact, measure degrees of stress. My own thought (and I was trained as an educator, mind you, not as a mental health care specialist) is that different people react differently to stress just as some students respond to some learning situations and others don’t.

Providing nutritional snacks to solve poverty or sending in therapy dogs to help reduce stress after the trauma of a school shooting seem like band aid approaches to ailments requiring a surgical solution. Why is it that we can’t confront our national poverty problem head on? Why can’t we curtail the manufacture and sale of guns? We seem determined to sacrifice our future, one way or another.

More recently, the suggestion of our nominal leader is that we station armed guards in the front of places of worship. Next it will be in front of theaters and restaurants and office buildings. And, for the wealthy, probably in front of their homes. What are we coming to? Is this our concept of civilization? What happened to the civil part? And where will our children and our dogs be safe? Surely it won’t be in our new age schools.

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