I normally avoid putting my political views out on the web too forcefully because I want my students to feel safe to express their own opinions without worrying about my disagreement. But the #Parkland shooting transcends politics for those of us who teach. Our most fundamental duty is to protect our students, and watching our politicians squirm as they seek to cater to the NRA is just a gruesome spectacle of cowardice.
I’ve spoken out twice in the last 48 hours, first in the Twittersphere last night in an #isedchat dedicated to our reactions to this most recent school shooting, and then this afternoon when I accompanied a contingent of eleven students to a protest outside the offices of a local GOP Congressman, Brian Fitzpatrick.
I’m deeply grateful to Bill Ivey (@bivey) and #isedchat for hosting a cathartic opportunity for independent school educators to share their reactions to the Parkland shooting and its aftermath; which, if you have been hiding under a rock, has featured an incredible response in the form of student voice. I can’t speak as eloquently or powerfully as the student survivors, but I can say unequivocally: I’m not interested in carrying a gun to work. I didn’t choose to work at a Quaker school because I wanted to be a gunslinger; I work at a Quaker school to be a promoter of peace.
Here’s one of my tweets from the chat that seemed to resonate most strongly:
A5: Other than badly needed legislation, schools need to invest in more supports for Ss coping with psychological and emotional issues. That’s the training our Ts need, not time at the shooting range. #isedchat
— Eric Wolarsky (@EricAfterSchool) February 23, 2018
As for today’s IRL protest, student leaders at my school did all the real work; I just got tasked with providing adult chaperones. My passionate and politically active colleagues quickly provided more bodies than we needed to walk with eleven students to the parking lot across from our school, where a weekly protest forms outside Brian Fitzpatrick’s office. After standing in the rain with about thirty other protesters for an hour, we took the protest up four flights of stairs to the congressman’s office, flouting the five-guests-at-a-time policy of the space. There is an occupancy sign in the tiny antechamber of the suite that declares that only five people may be there. So we engaged in a little civil disobedience, which began to fluster the poor junior staffer who had to deal with us. Congressman Fitzpatrick’s chief of staff, Mike Conallen, politely emerged to engage with the protesters in the hall outside of the office suite, thus rescuing the junior staff and getting us out of the office.
Mr. Conallen was generous with his time, and wanted us to hear that “every option” regarding gun control is on the table as far as the Congressman is concerned. Neither I nor the other protesters took much solace in this news, as the GOP leadership appears to have no desire to displease the NRA and stop their gravy train, and the only idea they’ve expressed so far is to arm teachers like me. In the last 24 hours, news has come out that an armed sheriff’s deputy at the school on the day of the shooting hid behind a concrete column outside the school and did not run inside to confront the shooter. Furthermore, we have learned that the FBI was tipped off a month before the attack that the shooter possessed an arsenal of firearms and was a ticking time bomb. The degree to which politicians have let down our children is scandalous, and since trained law enforcement professionals don’t seem able to deal with school shooters carrying assault rifles, imagining that teachers will have more luck is preposterous.
Since Twitter is my jam, I too have observed a change in the tone of the response to this most recent school shooting. It feels different this time. These student protesters aren’t going away. They’ve ridiculed Marco Rubio on CNN, and people in power are beginning to wake up and recalibrate their positions. We are seeing big businesses distance themselves from the NRA, so I think the unassailable NRA glacier is beginning to crack.
The midterms are coming!