Sixty years ago, the idea of a police officer coming to your school was an exciting prospect, especially for elementary school pupils. Teachers would promote the occasion by talking about meeting ‘Elmer the Safety Elephant’ (Ontario Safety League), who was the poster pachyderm for teaching ‘road safety’ and other habits designed to keep youngsters from being hurt and away from hazardous situations. In high school, a highway traffic police sergeant might put in an appearance to speak about safe driving practices and the ‘rules of the road’, also well thought of and received.
Back then, there was not too much focus on school security, save for fire drills and the serious talk about accepting rides (or ‘candy’) from a stranger or a stranger’s presence on school property. Walking or biking to and from school was pretty much taken for granted, and the inevitable ‘dust ups’ that occasionally occurred in the school yard were dealt with in the principal’s office.
Times have changed. Indeed, they have.
Parents, teachers, and politicians continue to experience varying degrees of angst in trying to figure out why school seems to need more vigilance, at least, in terms of protection of the safety of everyone who is part of these facilities. Many stakeholders continue to advocate much more than increased vigilance using traditional methods and awareness. Others, for various reasons, and motives, have ‘pushed back’ on, for example, the presence of police officers in schools.
While the ‘why’ remains an important consideration, the immediate concern is evaluating what is actually happening.
In the United States, horrific mass killings in schools occur on a fairly regular basis, the incidents invariably fanning the flames of the unceasing debate over gun ownership under the ‘Second Amendment’, versus a call for more stringent gun control. While Canada is quite different in its regulation of firearms and ‘gun culture’, the nation certainly is not free from serious crimes involved with guns. That alone does make the prospect of a gun used to commit a crime against a student on or near school property a possibility, and some would offer, a serious risk. Guns are frighteningly ‘convenient’; you can kill without being anywhere near your victim, the ‘convenience’ increased (or aggravated) by ‘convenient’ access to these weapons.
Unfortunately, many tragedies in American schools occur with law enforcement intervening by way of ‘emergency tactical response’, that is, after the fact (killing). What happens after that is a terrible loss of faith in security of the learning environment for all.
Response emotionally gives way to reaction. Of late, there has been a call to arm teachers, a measure that is repugnant to most educators. Students themselves, due to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Florida) shooting in February (17 died), have attempted a national protest and call for the kind of gun control that politically is extremely unattractive, particularly with Congressional mid-term elections coming up in November.
A critical problem, certainly south of the Canada/USA border, is the reactionary impulse of trying to STOP this carnage and other violence, as opposed to exploring and enlisting ways to PREVENT it. In Part 2, a good look will be taken at the Canadian (especially Ontario urban) scene and the current factors that have contributed to controversy over school board policies, recent significant changes, with a view to gaining at least a foothold towards effective safety and security of students.
All blogs may be commented upon, after the text, and you are most welcome to do so, especially to promote dialogue about this important issue.
(Robert MacFarlane is a graduate of Princeton University (USA), and he has tutored in English and related subjects with Book Smart Tutors for over 5 years. Robert has given seminars on the ‘Second Amendment’ and gun control.)