Students cannot fight gun violence alone – teachers must be part of the conversation, three activists told educators at a major labor convention on Friday.
The roundtable was led by David Hogg, the 22-year-old co-founder of March for Our Lives; RuQuan Brown, 20-year-old activist and founder of clothing brand Love1, which donates a portion of proceeds to communities affected by armed violence; and Sarah Lerner, an English teacher who co-founded the group Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence.
Both Hogg and Lerner survived the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed. Brown’s stepfather and his high school football teammate died of gun violence.
“What often gets left out of the conversation when it comes to gun violence is the voice of the teacher,” Lerner said. “We are the ones who help students when they lose a parent. This is us helping and moving forward after a school shooting. We face gun violence in our own communities.
Lerner — along with Abbey Clements, who survived the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and Sari Beth Rosenberg, a New York City history teacher — founded Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence after four students were killed during of the 2021 mass shooting in Oxford. High School in Oxford, Michigan.
“We just decided enough is enough,” Lerner said. She added that the group seeks to end all gun violence, of which school shootings represent only a small percentage.
There have been 27 school shootings this year, according to an Education Week tracker. There were 34 shootings in 2021.
Teachers also need to know how to support their students who have been affected by gun violence outside of schools, Brown said. An estimated 3 million children in the United States witness a shooting every yearaccording to the non-profit organization Everytown for Gun Safety.
“You must know how to hold me when my father dies. You have to know how to hold each other when your students are being murdered,” he told educators in the audience. “In our neighborhoods, … where young people are being murdered, teachers are often not equipped to deal with this.”
fight for change
Activists addressed a crowd of about 2,000 union delegates at the biennial convention of the American Federation of Teachers. While the fight against gun violence has been slow and polarized, education can be a catalyst for change, they said.
“I know it’s true that no kind of injustice is inevitable, but I also know that in the fabric of this country today, injustice is inevitable,” Brown said. “The best place to make a change is in our classrooms, because young people spend more time in our classrooms than we do at home. It was in class that I learned about politics; I learned about voting in class.
Says Hogg: “People are not born hateful. People learn hate, they learn racism. … We have to realize that this is going to start in our educational system, teaching our young people about love and justice.”
Hogg and Brown, who both attend Harvard University, have also lobbied city, state and federal authorities to take action on gun control.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan gun bill that includes measures to keep guns away from dangerous people as well as billions of dollars in additional funding for school safety and resources. in mental health. It’s the first major federal gun legislation in nearly 30 years, longer than “the entire life of RuQuan and me,” Hogg said.
The new law does not go as far as gun control activists wanted: they favored a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks. But in passing this first gun bill, Hogg said, it was important not to “let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Hogg asked teachers to ensure that new federal funding is spent on counselors and mental health, not on policies that could lead to incarceration of students. (Last year, March for Our Lives launched a campaign to “kick school resource officers and police out of schools, and invest in creating care and community for students instead of criminalization.”) He also urged teachers to remain engaged at the legislative level of the school. state, as an avalanche of gun control bills were introduced after the recent mass shootings.
AFT delegates call for more funding to fight violence
Earlier in the day, delegates approved a resolution calling school and community violence a “national crisis.” The resolution called on the National Teachers Union to lobby state and federal lawmakers to allocate federal funds to:
- school counselors and social workers with a defined workload;
- provide schools with “sufficient security personnel who will also be trained to gain the trust of students to report any concerns”;
- community groups that work with students to prevent violence; and
- additional security measures for any school or district that requires it.
The resolution, which was submitted by the Buffalo Teachers Federation and the New York State United Teachers, passed with at least two-thirds of the vote, despite some dissent. A delegate said he was concerned about the use of federal funds to add more police to schools, given the potential harm to students of color. Black students are arrested in school at disproportionately high levels.
After the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police, a small number of school districts began reconsidering their use of school resource officers, who are mostly armed. From May 2020 to June 2022, at least 50 districts serving more than 1.7 million children ended their school policing programs or cut budgets, according to an Education Week analysis..
But school shootings, including the recent one that killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, have prompted some to restart their programs and other districts to strengthen them, despite limited evidence of their effectiveness. in preventing such tragedies.
The other national teachers’ union, the National Education Association, has also taken steps to ensure school safety at its annual representative meeting earlier this month. Union stewards there adopted a policy statement calling for an end to the “criminalization and policing of students,” but that statement stopped short of urging the removal of armed officers from school campuses.