They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. NRSV, Isaiah 2.4
I remember the first time my school practiced a “Lock-down” drill. When the phrase came over the loudspeaker, we moved into position. My hands shook as I grabbed the special red key hanging to the right of my classroom metal door. Jamming the key into the keyhole, I turned it toward what I prayed was the locked position. I directed the four special education students in my Speech office to crouch near the closet away from the windows. My words came out in a hoarse, garbled squeal. Our assistant teacher closed the shades while I velcroed a laminated brown poster board onto our classroom glass door. Blocking out the morning sky, no one could see in or out. Finally, I joined my students in their hectic circle on the green linoleum floor.
You could’ve heard a pin drop save for my own heart beating wildly. In the calmest voice I could muster, I whispered, “Remember friends, this is just a drill.”
Just a drill.
Seconds felt like hours as I silently prayed Psalm 23. “You maketh me lie down in green pastures, you restoreth my soul…”
As a speech-pathologist in a public school by day, and a UCC Minister after hours and on weekends, these safety drills had become a regular part of our school routine. Newtown, and the subsequent mass school shootings of the past six years, changed the daily life of school forever.
No longer the safe space it once was, school administrators added safety drills, new jargon and bulletproof glass to our reading, math and social studies curricula. As my 5-year-old nephew told me last week in response to his favorite aunt’s question, “How was school today,” Fitz replied matter-of-factly, “we did a lockdown to keep the bad man out of our school.”
The notion of arming teachers with guns as a response to gun violence is abhorrent and absurd. After twenty years of working in New York City and Connecticut public schools, I believe it is antithetical to the purpose and mission of education to train teachers in the art of target practice.
School is for opening minds, building kind and smart kids and offering a foundation of rich thinking skills for future dreams and healthy relationships. (Most importantly schools should provide a safe and nourishing haven where students and teachers develop the bonds of trust, the only way to create feelings of being nurtured , protected and sheltered.) More guns is not a solution to mass shootings but only stockpiles more madness taken from the latest NRA playbook.
As we sort through creative and non-violent solutions to changing the trajectory of gun violence in this country and march to legislate greater gun controls, we’d do well to recall the wisdom of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.”
Since the Parkland, Florida shooting, students across our country are showing us the way to change our bystander ways. We are being asked to follow the lead of these brave teens. Let us stand up together for the sake of our children and promote our common life through peaceful means. Neither shall we learn war any more.
My dear children: I rejoice to see you before me today, happy youth of a sunny and fortunate land. Bear in mind that the wonderful things that you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honour it, and add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus, do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common. If you always keep that in mind you will find meaning in life and work and acquire the right attitude towards other nations and ages. (Albert Einstein talking to a group of school children. 1934)
The Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager is the Associate Minister at The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Her first career was as a speech-language pathologist in public schools.
The Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager is the Associate Pastor at The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.