Tasha Graff
Feb 23, 2018 · 4 min read

You want to arm teachers.

You don’t want to pay for books or pencils or tissues, but you want to pay for an arsenal and gun cabinets for every classroom (or maybe I’m supposed to pay for that, too?). You don’t want to pay for my college education to teach, but you want to pay for military training for me to kill. (Did I mention the background check I had to become a teacher? The fingerprints I send to every potential employer? The tests I took? The certification I keep updated? Wouldn’t it be nice, at a minimum, that someone purchasing a weapon had to do the same thing?)

You don’t think healthcare is a universal human right, but you think a military assault weapon that can mow down a classroom in seconds is a right that is so inherent that the deaths of countless children mean nothing. You say mental illness is a problem when a white boy or a white man does something wrong, but send your money to building walls and banning refugees and attacking Planned Parenthood rather than paying for health care access. You don’t want students to be able to choose what bathroom to use, but you won’t entertain the question, “Why are all the school shooters [white] males?” You won’t provide clean drinking water to children in Flint and elsewhere, but you don’t mind that students practice lockdown drill after drill all over the country like we’re in a war. You claim to be the party of family values and life, but you put the NRA before the lives of children and families. There are rules against me putting my arms around a kid in crisis, but you want me to be armed with a weapon designed to kill.

Sculpture made of surrendered guns, Copenhagen, 2015.

The halls of a high school are always teeming with emotion. And in between talking about poetry and essays, I’ve comforted kids who’ve lost parents or siblings or friends. I’ve celebrated with students their first publications, acceptances to college, first jobs, quitting smoking and a first passing grade. I’ve cried at their funerals. I’ve watched them battle cancer. I’ve disciplined them and loved them. I’ve talked with parents. I’ve responded to kind emails and angry emails and despairing emails. I’ve written grants for books. And I’ve bought a lot of tissues.

For my classroom. For teenagers. Those smart, self-possessed, generous, rash, tenacious, weird, brilliant beings. I see them every day. I read their words. I listen. We learn together. And you can vilify them all you want as they deal with the world we dealt them: war-torn and broken and yearning to breathe free. You can call them ignorant or actors or pawns in the machine. But they are students of American history, not bought politicians kowtowing to lobbyists. They know when the constitution was written. They know how and when it was amended. They know in our country, slavery was commonplace, native people were slaughtered, and women were the property of their husbands. They know that a militia was not a nation of teachers with assault rifles and magazines. They know. They understand. And before you accuse them of being unpatriotic, they don’t hate America just because they understand history. They love our country enough to want better, to live safely, to survive. They know right and wrong. They have been taught to apologize when they make mistakes. They’ve protested on the streets of Ferguson and on sports fields and now in DC. And they have had enough. They’ve been ignored. Oh, how they know what it is to be ignored. They understand when adults try to manipulate them. They’ve been brought up on dystopian fiction. And they’re smart. They see through lies and money and greed. They see blood on your hands. And they have had enough.

They know that from our history, the people have endured, risen up and, in some cases, triumphed. And generations later, despite the wounds of slavery still oozing into our penal system and our voting rolls, despite the constant vituperation by Fox News and company about the black lives matter movement and feminism, we have made progress. We have made art and music and invented medicines and broadened access to education. And yet. Children are dying in school. They see the blood pooling. They hear the calls to arm teachers and have guards and make schools into prisons. So they are calling BS. They have had enough. Shouldn’t we all have had enough?

You say teenagers are too young to know about gun control. We say they’re too young to die.

Written by

Teacher. Traveler. Reader. Poet. Aspiring cook.

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