Discussion

Introduction from Filmmaker Kate Way

This section of this website considers the topic of armed teachers within its larger cultural, historical, and economic contexts. While much public debate centers around the question of whether or not guns belong in schools, it is crucial to explore the forces that have gotten us to this juncture as a society, as well as the larger contexts in which this debate is taking place.

If one had to name some of the most important and highly contentious topics in contemporary American society, the gun debate, the shaping of K-12 education, and the level of policing and security would all be high on list. We were drawn to making a film about the arming of American teachers not only because it is a shocking trend that has been spreading largely under the radar of public awareness, but also because at its core it embodies so many of these contemporary public debates. Understanding more about the intersection of these topics – and how they are informed by history, politics, economics, and philosophy – is essential to any conversation about guns in schools, and it is with that in mind that this website has been built.

The materials presented here are intended for teenage and adult audiences and can be used alone or in group settings. Rather than a traditional, school-based curriculum, we have provided resources and discussion questions that can be used in classrooms, at community screenings, or for self-study. We recommend choosing a section on which to focus and responding to the questions through a combination of individual written reflection and group dialogue, ideally with a discussion facilitator. However, the material is organized to facilitate individual exploration as well.

The starting point for much of this material is footage we gathered in the making of G is for Gun that was not included in the film itself. The film tells the story of the small city of Sidney, OH, a school district that has been arming teachers since 2013, and follows an Ohio-based gun training for school employees around the state. Therefore, each section of the website begins with and contains clips from people in Sidney or connected to the training. In addition, there are clips from scholars, activists, and community members interviewed for the film. The materials included from outside sources relate directly to the ideas raised in the extra clips presented.

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The Context of Public Education

Overview:

Public education itself has been the subject of intense debate over the last several decades, and the system has undergone profound changes. Largely to further advance our current economic system, politicians and the business sector have instituted a range of reforms in public schools that have now been written into policy. The most hotly debated reforms have centered around the use of high-stakes standardized testing to measure both student and teacher performance, a practice that research has shown has had devastating effects on teaching, learning, and school climate. Privatized forms of schooling such as charter schools and voucher plans have also been at the forefront of debates, and have drained traditional public schools of already scarce funding.

When considering any notion of school security, it is important to understand education reform and the context of everyday life in public schools today. Reforms imposed on schools over the past two decades in an effort to make them more ‘accountable’ have radically altered the shape of teaching, learning, and community experiences. Listening to professionals on-the-ground in schools, and to educational researchers, is crucial to our understanding of what different security measures might mean for our schools and our children. On this page you will hear from people in Sidney, Ohio – the school and community focused on in G is for Gun – and will explore other resources on the current state of public education.


Part I: The Voices of Sidney City Schools, Ohio

Overview Questions: What kinds of pressures are public schools and public school employees facing today? How have schools and in particular the profession of teaching, changed over the last decade or more? What effect might this have on teaching and learning? On school security?

Watch the following clips from different voices inside the Sidney schools:

CLIP 1 –Diane Vorhees, Middle School Principal

 

CLIP 2 – Wade New, Social Studies teacher

 

CLIP 3 – Mandi Croft, former English teacher, School Board member


After watching, consider the following questions:
What are some of the problems talked about here that children bring to school with them? How well equipped are schools and teachers to handle these issues? Do you think handling these kinds of issues should be the role of schools? Why or why not?

What might schools need to better be able to handle these problems?

Several teachers mention the idea of testing, and data collection. How might these practices get in the way of teaching and learning? Of safety and security?

In CLIP 3, consider the connections that Mandi Croft – a long time classroom teacher – makes between trends in education reform and what it is like to be a teacher today. How might what she is describing inform our thoughts on school security?

The following clip was edited for the film, but cut out in its final version. In addition to other voices from inside the school, this clip features Tom Bey, Director of Shelby County Jobs and Family Services:

CLIP 4 – Sidney Economy and Schools


After watching CLIP 4, consider the following questions:

The people in this clip describe social and economic changes over time in the Sidney, OH region. To what degree can you (yourself, or through family and friends) relate to what is being said here? Has it become harder for people to support their families? How much do social and economic problems come to school with children, and how equipped are schools to deal with these issues?

Now discuss what you think might be some of the sources of social and economic struggle in this country over the past several decades? What does Tom Bey, Director of Shelby County Family Services, say in the clip? What other sources of economic strain might there be?


Part II: Deeper Dive – Connecting to Studies

After watching the media and discussing the questions in Part I, explore the following related sources and questions:

Read the following article from The Washington Post, by Lyndsey Layton: “Is the classroom a stressful place? Thousands of teachers say yes” (May 12, 2015).

What do you see discussed in the findings of the study described in this article that connects with what the people of Sidney, OH said?

The teachers in Sidney in the clips above all make reference to the detrimental impact of standardized testing and the push for data collection. Read this article published in The Atlantic, and consider how it relates to the clips above.

Much of what the professionals in Sidney make reference to in the clips above is directly related to the larger economy, and to school funding. To explore these ideas further, look at the following source and consider the questions that follow: 

Look over the following report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities from 2016.

What are trends in school funding? What impact might this have on schools?

If schools had all the funding they needed, how might that change teaching and learning? Student well-being? Security?

To learn more about where and how money is spent in different school districts, listen to this report from NPR, and explore the interactive maps on their page.

If sufficient money isn’t being spent on public services such as education, where is it being spent? Read this brief article from The Guardian on military spending the 2018 federal budget.

Do you agree with the quote toward the end of the article: “When our nation can’t manage to turn the lights on for the people of Puerto Rico, when we can’t help those suffering from opioid addiction get treatment, and when we can’t ensure education and healthcare to all of our citizens, how is it possible we can justify spending billions more on weapons…”? Do you think the way we allocate our resources as a society is in any way connected to debates about school security, or debates about guns in public spaces? Discuss or write about the different ways these things might be connected.

 

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The Context of Security

Overview Questions 

What constitutes security? What will actually make us most secure as a society? What are the economic costs and benefits of school security in its current form? What are the social costs and benefits of school security in its current form? Who is impacted most by various costs and benefits? How are notions of school security related to those of national security?


Part I: Ohio Voices on School Security

Watch the following clip, in which the Sidney Schools Superintendent and a former student who now works in the central offices discuss the security plan in place in Sidney:

CLIP 1: Sidney Superintendent’s Office

 

Shamara Foy, who works in the Board of Education Office, discusses how security has changed since she was a student in the school district, as well as her own reservations about handling a gun. Superintendent John Sheu describes the many layers of protection the district has chosen to build into their system. Both argue that guns provide the best solution to a fear that someone could try to do harm in the district. What would you say to each of them?

The next clip comes from another school district in southern Ohio, who at the time of our filming were just preparing to begin arming faculty and staff in their schools:

CLIP 2: White Oak School District on arming teachers



Ted Downing, Superintendent of a rural Ohio school district, explains that the decision to arm staff in his district came in part from not having the financial resources to hire School Resource Officers. Should schools be faced with making these decisions? How much money should schools be putting into security? Where should this money come from?

 

Part II –  Deeper Dive – Security Campaigns that Shape Generations

Watch “Duck and Cover,” a civil defense film shown to millions of school children in the 1950’s at the start of the Cold War. The campaign sought to teach children how to hide under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack.

 

Again in the 1980’s another film about the prospect of nuclear war – the ABC movie “The Day After” – reached millions of American children, and its traumatizing effects have been debated since. Read the original article about the piece in The New York Times, here.

Consider how much as a culture our exposure to and tolerance for imagining violent and catastrophic scenarios has changed since the 1950’s. What has contributed to these changes? How might the psychological and emotional effect of this kind of exposure be different for different generations of children growing up in the U.S.?

Now read the two articles below, both of which detail modern-day school safety drills, and consider the questions that follow.

“’Haunting school shooter drills become the new normal in US schools,” by Tom Dart. The Guardian March31, 2018.

What are Active-Shooter Drills Doing to Kids?,” by James Hamblin. The Atlantic, Feb. 28, 2018.

Also look over the data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics on school Safety and Security (NCES) measures.

Finally, listen to the following piece, The costs and limits of school security,” produced for NPR’s Marketplace in 2012:

Do you believe it is necessary for students and teachers to go through the kinds of drills described in the articles above? What about the measures described on the NCES website? How are we ‘shaping’ this generation? What kind of damage might be done, and what are the potential benefits? How should the costs and benefits be weighed? Choose any two people in the Marketplace piece to respond to.

 

Part III: Deeper Dive – Liability and Worker Protection 

While the potential danger to students often gets discussed in the debate over arming teachers, much less attention gets paid to the potential impact on teachers themselves (armed or unarmed). In Sidney, OH, the teachers’ union tried to grieve the armed response plan several times. Although they were against the plan in its entirety, they at the very least wanted to ensure protections for the teachers in their union. The case was brought all the way to the State Labor Relations Board (SERB), where having guns in schools was ruled not to be a change in working conditions. Listen to the following clip from Lori Hedburg, President of the Sidney Teachers’ Association.

Clip 3: Lori Hedburg, President of the Sidney Teachers’ Association

Discuss your thoughts about the issues Lori Hedburg brings up above. Is it fair to ask teachers to volunteer for this? What kinds of protections should they have? Does having guns in the workplace – in the hands of colleagues – constitute a change in working conditions? In what ways?

Now read this online article from NBC News on the problem many school districts trying to arm teachers are facing with insurance. Do you think schools should be insured for these kinds of safety plans? Should individuals? Is this a justifiable cost for schools?

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The Second Amendment and Gun Debate

Overview

To begin, look over the New York Times “6 Stories and Charts to Better Help You Understand Gun Violence.”

Make note of any of the data that surprises you, and for further discussion.


Part I: G is for Gun interviewees weigh in
 

Following is a montage of extra clips taken for G is for Gun that did not make it into the final film. Many of the people interviewed make reference to the Second Amendment, or more generally the debate about guns in American society. Watch each, and then consider the questions that follow.

What different views do you hear reflected here? Which do you find most compelling and why?

Now spend some time reading through the following report from the Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship With Guns: An In-Depth Look at Attitudes and Experiences of U.S. Adults” (2017):

Which, if any, of the findings do you find surprising? Which do you see reflected in the views expressed above? Choose one area of focus in the report and discuss how you see either gun-control or gun-rights advocates using these statistics to their benefit.


Part II: Deeper Dive – Focus on the Second Amendment

For an overview of the history of the Second Amendment and how it has been interpreted, read the following brief piece on History.com:

 https://www.history.com/topics/2nd-amendment

In what ways did two major Supreme Court decisions (District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, and McDonald v. Chicago in 2010) change the interpretation of the Second Amendment?

Listen to the following podcast on the Second Amendment and its role in the ongoing gun debate produced New York Times The Daily:


Part III: Deeper Dive – The History and Power of the N.R.A.

Watch the following brief video “How the NRA Went from Gun Club to Gun Lobby,” produced for NewYorker.com on the history of the N.R.A., and consider the question that follows.

In what ways did the focus and function of the NRA change from its inception in 1871 to current day? According to this video, what were the major causes of these shifts?

To learn more about the evolution of the NRA, listen to the podcast “The Long Evolution of the N.R.A.,” produced by Oliver Lazarus for PRI’s show The Takeaway (21minutes). The podcast features Adam Winkler, author of the book “Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” and professor of constitutional law at UCLA.

One of the points Winkler makes is that often the gun debate in American culture centers less on the Second Amendment, and more on “culture wars.” What does he mean by this? What are the stereotypes, culturally, of gun-control advocates? What are the stereotypes, culturally, of gun-rights advocates?

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Police in Schools

Overview

Some schools are choosing to arm teachers because of lack of funding for enough police presence, but the issue of police in schools is itself highly controversial. Many people question whether police belong in schools at all. When police enter school systems, many of the larger trends in policing often come with them. This has been the case with the concepts of ‘broken windows’ policing and ‘zero-tolerance’ policies, both explored below.

Often, security and discipline end up overlapping in the role police take on in schools, and research has shown – particularly in communities of color – that police presence in schools has frequently led to the criminalization of minor infractions that would normally be handled by school officials.

To explore more about the history of police presence in schools, and its many implications, follow the prompts below.


Part I: Schools and Police – An Overview

For an overview of issues related to police in schools – including a brief history – explore the following two sources, which cover similar information in different ways:

Read the article written by Melinda Anderson – “When Schooling Meets Policing,” The Atlantic (Sept. 21, 2015).

Watch the following short video produced for The 74, which gives a brief history of SROs in schools and compares their presence to that of guidance counselors:

After reading the article and watching the video, consider the following discussion/study questions:

Several times in the article it is pointed out that the original intent of SRO (School Resource Officer) programs in schools was to build positive relationships between youth and police. Do you think this still happens in places? Under what circumstances might it be more likely to happen, and why?

To what historical trends and events does the writer contribute the upswing in police being placed in schools from the 1990’s on?

The article states that often SROs do not receive any special training to work in schools. Do you think officers should have special training? In what ways might it be different to be a police officer in a school than on the street? What kinds of skills do you imagine being necessary, and why?

The video argues that adding more Guidance Counselors to schools would have a positive effect on students and discipline. Do you agree?

TO SEE HOW MANY GUIDANCE COUNSELORS SCHOOLS IN EACH STATE HAVE, GO TO THE MPR News Site ARTICLE “Money for counseling takes a back seat,” by Tim Pugmire. SCROLL DOWN TO THE INTERACTIVE MAP “School counselor-to-student ratios nationwide, 2014.”

The article and the video describe “unnecessary arrests that increase the likelihood that a child will end up in the juvenile-justice system.” This phenomenon has come to be known as “the school-to-prison pipeline” – to explore this topic more deeply, please see the sources in the next section.


Part II: Deeper Dive -The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Watch the following two brief videos on what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The following is a brief infographic produced by Al Jazeera+: “American Kids and the School-To-Prison Pipeline” (May 18, 2015).

This story was produced by NBC News: “How Schools Are Funneling Certain Students into the Prison System” (October 25).

After watching, discuss the questions below:
What might it mean for disrespect or disobedience to be subjective? How and why might students of color be more the target of this subjectivity than white students?

Kenneth D. Waters, the scholar interviewed, tells the story of one student who has to walk through terrible conditions on the way to school, through metal detectors in school, and who hasn’t eaten on over a day. Are these conditions a kind of violence in-and-of-themselves? What impact might this have on students?

The first video suggests hiring more guidance counselors and creating more equal educational opportunities. What would these take?

Toward the end of the second video, Kenneth Waters and the narrator are describing an approach to school discipline that has become known as “restorative justice.” What do restorative disciplinary practices look like?

To learn more about restorative justice, watch the following video produced by Brave New Films:



To learn about how restorative disciplinary practices are impacting schools, watch the following video produced by the Chicago Public Schools:



For guidelines on SRO best-practices, look at the following article from Teaching Tolerance:

To learn more about the impact of Guidance Counselors, read the following article from The Atlantic.

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Introducing Bullfrog Communities

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The Arming of Teachers in America