Opinion: Arming teachers changes school climate

(N.Y.) Overlooked by most mainstream media in the debate over whether or not to arm teachers is recognition that the question touches on intricate moral issues with far-reaching consequences for public students nationwide, a professor of educational ethics argued in a new position paper.

Douglas Yacek, a lecturer and research fellow at Leibniz University Hannover, Germany concludes that while there are compelling pros and cons on the question, both sides have overlooked the ways that armed teachers can undermine the student’s right to a traditional education.

“Armed protection transforms the role of both the teacher and student such that the conditions of democratic teaching and learning are seriously endangered,” he wrote in the latest issue of Teachers College Record, published by Columbia University. “Efforts to prevent school violence may be counterproductive, especially when they are not coupled with larger-scale socioeconomic reforms.”

The idea that armed teachers will make American classrooms more safe is not a new one. In fact, at least 15 states now allow teachers to come to class armed. Following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, more than 80 bills allowing teachers or other school personnel to carry weapons were introduced by state lawmakers in 2013, according to a report from the Council of State Governments.

Almost all of those bills eventually became law.

Yacek, however, argues that even under the best of circumstances—where only highly-trained teachers are allowed to carry guns and only those found through psychological to be of the most level-headed—the mere presence of guns inside the classroom changes student behavior.

“Even if the weapon is never discharged, the looming danger may therefore cause students to consciously or unconsciously censor their conduct, or it may have the opposite effect, making students more likely to respond to normal instances of stress with aggression, a phenomenon known in social psychology as the ‘weapons effect,’” he wrote. “In either case, students are dissuaded from acting authentically and spontaneously. Moreover, students’ feeling of uneasiness may become a palpable fear that danger is always imminent and that their fellow classmates pose this danger.”

Yacek concedes that giving teachers access to guns can promote student’s perception of safety and that proper gun training of teachers is possible.

“While it is likely that at least some of the violence in schools results from the ‘tension’ created by security measures like armed teachers, it is also possible that their presence could be a reassurance to students worried about school violence,” he explained.

That said, one of the underlying arguments for arming teachers—that ‘only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun’—is flawed because of the nature of the type of criminal that is most likely to target a school.

“Armed teachers serve as a direct deterrent when the criminal is, like most people, acting from at least semi-rational, risk-averse motivations and is in possession of considerable self-control,” he pointed out.

And typically, he noted, the common attacker of a school is not usually rational or risk-averse.