Why Race Should Be Included In The Conversation About Arming Teachers

Mar 2, 2018
Originally published on March 2, 2018 8:16 pm
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Our poll also reflected a racial disparity on the issue of letting teachers carry guns. People of color were far less likely than whites to back the president's proposal.

STEPHANIE GATES: When I first heard the idea of teachers being armed, I was like, that's absolutely ludicrous.

CHANG: That's Stephanie Gates. She's been teaching in Chicago public schools for 25 years. She's African-American, and most of her students are black or Latino.

GATES: I think the conversation about arming teachers is different for teachers of color because we live in a culture where we have implicit bias. And teachers of color are judged by the color of their skin. So if there's a situation where there's an active shooter and the police enter the building, how do the police know who the active shooter is? And if there's some prejudgment there, they might assume that a teacher of color's actually the shooter.

CHANG: Last week, we spoke with a superintendent in Texas, Ricky Stephens, who has a program much like what President Trump put forward. Some teachers at his schools carry guns, but only the ones who want to and the ones who are trained. Here's what he said.

RICKY STEPHENS: Parents, teachers, even students were saying that that they feel so much more comfortable knowing that they have teachers, who they don't even know, walking the halls that are ready to protect them.

CHANG: So I understand that you don't want to carry a gun at your school, but can you see the point that someone like Ricky Stephens is making - that it would make some people just feel safer?

GATES: So I live in a neighborhood that has high crime. In the summertime on particular days, particularly when it's really hot, we'll have increased police presence. And also when there were shootings that took place in different places in the country, I noticed that we get increased police presence. As someone who lives in the neighborhood where this happens all the time - when I'm driving around and I see increased police presence, it doesn't make me feel safer. It actually makes me feel less safe - because when I see a police car on this corner, and I drive another block and I see a police car on that corner, it makes me think that, at any moment, something can happen.

CHANG: Right. So what you're saying is that the presence of more authority figures in a school, who happen to be armed, can actually increase tension?

GATES: I think it can. We know that the research says that children of color are suspended at higher rates. They're expelled at higher rates. And so now you arm teachers which, I think, would make the environment even more hostile to students of color who are already targeted in some schools.

CHANG: Are you worried, too, that some teachers might not always make the best decision on when to use a gun?

GATES: I think that's a possibility with anybody who carries a gun. And also if you're talking about a teacher who's armed in an active shooter situation, who's to say where bullets go? Worst possible scenario, I'm an armed teacher. An active shooter's in my building. I, you know, engage in a shootout. Who's to say I don't shoot a student?

CHANG: It seems like so many people right now are expressing such tremendous fear after Parkland. Can you relate to any of that? Do you share any of that right now?

GATES: Of course I share fear. I'm a teacher. I walk into a building every day. It concerns me greatly because parents send their children to school to be safe. And I tell that to my students all the time. I say your parents send you to school, and they expect, at the end of the day, for you to come home from school. So yes, it's a fear. And it's always there. But it - if it's greater than what I do, then why would I get up and go to work every day? I have to take that fear. I have to deal with it, and I have to do what I can during the course of the day to make sure that the students, who are entrusted in my care, can go home at the end of the day. All I can do is what I can do.

CHANG: Stephanie Gates is an elementary language arts teacher in Chicago. Thank you so much for talking to us.

GATES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.