Early on in my teaching career, our school went on lockdown. This was not a drill. One of the most surreal moments was when a kindergartner pulled scissors from his pocket and said, "Don't worry, teacha, I got you."
As we hunkered down in a corner and I tried to simultaneously comfort young children and text my family, I kept thinking, "We should not have to prepare for this." Since then, things have only gotten worse.
In 2020, firearms surpassed automobile accidents as the leading cause of death for children under the age of 19 in the United States. Let that sink in.
As a seventh-generation Arkansan, I have certainly been exposed to guns and responsible gun ownership. I come from a family of women who have been known to chase black bears away from their property with a broom, and I do understand the reasoning behind someone keeping a hunting rifle or a personal firearm. Beyond that, someone's right to assault weapons should not be enshrined by law to supersede other people's basic rights to safety.
Recently, the Arkansas School Safety Commission presented its final report on school safety recommendations. One component focused on mental health practices that school districts should utilize to "develop and maintain a positive climate, encourage trauma-informed practices, deter bullying behaviors, and promote social-emotional learning (SEL) and healthy peer relationships."
I believe this is a crucial start, but it won't work in isolation. Mental health access is more important than ever, notably for our young men. But while each tragedy we endure has a different nuance, the common thread among them is access to firearms.
There's a saying among educators: "Maslow before Bloom." Abraham Maslow's theory is a hierarchy of five levels of human needs, and Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy is a classification system of different states of cognition. "Maslow before Bloom" refers to the idea that we can't learn until we have secured the universal basic need of safety.
This is true inside and outside the classroom. Collaborating with school counselors, resource officers, and social workers is crucial toward upholding this universal need for safety.
There have been over 600 shootings in the United States this year. In Arkansas, we have a long legacy of gun violence to contend with. From the 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro to a Prescott classroom, and from a North Little Rock football game to the March 2021 tragedy in Pine Bluff, the unnamed innumerable losses continue to rock our communities as we senselessly lose beloved young lives.
After yet another horrific news cycle, I commiserated with one of my principals who said that "our job is to educate children, but before we can do that, we have to make every effort to ensure their safety as well as the safety of faculty and staff. We work hard knowing that we aren't built to be a fortress. We prepare to do the best we can to protect our students, teachers, and staff, but we are institutions of education and not combat-trained military bases."
I agree with him wholeheartedly.
Powerful testimony from students last summer concluded with an explanation on why we shouldn't have to accept the "very real possibility" of a school shooting. The Arkansas Legislature has made a great first step by releasing the final report. Now we must take those ideas and ensure that equitable implementation of social emotional learning and stricter gun control measures occur quickly and statewide. We must listen to our students.
While Sarah Sanders mentioned safety in her "Arkansas LEARNS" platform, how will this plan address access to guns? Our new governor claims she will "prioritize school safety by focusing on physical security, additional resource officers, mental health, and training to implement best practices."
Her administration must also include red-flag measures and magazine restrictions in order to prove that this is a priority. More guns in hands won't equal a safer environment, as evidenced by the abject and heinous failure of over 300 armed law enforcement officers in Uvalde, Texas.
We need our state leaders to prepare for this because teachers and students shouldn't have to. We need our state leaders to update current state laws to ban assault weapons and to implement red-flag laws. Show us we will be safe in classrooms.
Do it for the kids ready to defend their teachers with safety scissors.
Amanda Ladish is a secondary Critical Reading/English Language Development teacher in Springdale and a 2022-2023 Teach Plus Arkansas Policy Fellow.