Thursday, February 24, 2011

Write and Bear Arms

I moved to Texas in 1983 with the intention of staying maybe two or three years, however long it took for me to earn my Master’s degree. Twenty-eight years later I am still here, having now lived in Texas more than half of my life. Until moving to the Dallas area, I had never lived in any one place longer than four years. Just in case you are wondering, my family was not on the run from the law or in the Witness Protection Program; my dad was in the Navy. When duty called, we moved, usually from one coast to the other.

There is much that I love about Texas – the wild flowers, many of the people, chicken fried steak, and the Texas State Fair. But, like with anything, Texas also has its negatives. Right now, in my mind the biggest negative in the state of Texas is the unfortunate marriage between politics and education. Education has become the abused spouse in this partnership. As with any marital relationship, when the two “parents” don’t support and respect one another, it is the children that get hurt. The children I speak of here are our students.

I could pontificate here on my feelings about state mandated testing, our legislature’s censuring of our nation’s history in adopting textbooks, or the severe budget cuts being faced by our schools all the way from pre-school to college, but I’m not going to do that. I want to talk about something that is truly a matter of life and death – the bill before our state legislature, which is probably about to be passed, that allows the carrying of concealed weapons on college and university campuses.

What are they thinking? How can anyone truly believe that such a proposition is worth debating let alone worth passing into law? The sad reality, at least to me, is that over half of the Texas House of Representatives supports this measure and the Senate already passed a version of the bill two years ago and is expected to do so again.

In one of my classes this morning, the topic of handguns on campus came up. Only about half of the class was aware that such legislation was pending. When they heard about it, their response was a unanimous, “That’s scary!” Yes indeed. That is scary. This particular class, which is diverse in every way-age, race, and gender-wanted me to explain to them why handguns on campus are necessary. I couldn’t do it. Most days I feel competent to stand before my class and educate my students. Today I felt woefully unequipped to answer their questions and address their concerns.

Those who support an individual’s right to “conceal and carry” purport that guns on campus will create a safer environment for our students. They offer support for their argument by saying that in light of the shootings that occurred on the campus of Virginia Tech and more recently on the University of Texas campus in Austin, if more people had been armed, someone else could have shot the original shooter and lives would have been spared. Would lives have been spared? Or, would there just have been more bullets flying around? The truth here is that no one can say what the outcome of any of these tragic situations would have been had more students or faculty members been armed, but I stand by my opinion that the greater the concentration of deadly weapons in any one place, the greater the number of potentially dead human beings.

Though shootings on college campuses have been in the news of recent, the ratio of shootings to institutions of higher learning is quite small. I have spent nearly every day of my life for the past thirty-two years on a college campus as either a student or faculty member. I can honestly say that I have never felt the need to be armed. Looking back, there may be a few times when I am quite thankful that some of my students were not armed. I say that somewhat jokingly; however, if the legislation allowing guns on campus passes, such a statement will no longer be said it such a way, but rather in an air of fear. Fear. That is an awful environment within which to work or to learn. Seemingly, our state’s lawmakers don’t seem to agree. Or, maybe they do. For them perhaps being unarmed in the classroom generates an atmosphere of fear. Surely not.

In Texas, all public high school students must pass the TAKS test – the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. This test evaluates a student’s potential for success upon graduation. Students are tested in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Should the “conceal and carry” bill pass, perhaps a sixth test should be added – marksmanship. If students are going to be protecting me while on campus, I want them to be as skilled with their guns as they are with their words and numbers. And as an added bonus, this will provide jobs for all those teachers who are being laid off because of cuts in the budget for education. And, the state would collect money for all those teachers who would then have to pay to take the test for this additional certification.

I am not speaking poorly of education in Texas. Really, I’m not. I am married to a teacher and both of my children graduated from public high schools in Texas. The education my children received has served them well in their college careers. I must say, however, that I am glad that neither of them is attending a public college or university here in Texas; nor in Utah, the only state that has already passed conceal and carry legislation with regard to college campuses.

Texas likes to think of itself as a leader in the nation. Right now I wish that our legislators would become followers, followers of their counterparts in twenty-seven other states who have voted down this type of legislation.