Saturday 15 December 2012


I was at my College's staff Christmas party when Paul showed me the awful news of the mass-shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We've both watched the coverage of this with horror and deep sadness. There is much to criticise of the things said (the media's continued demonisation of all with mental illness, the continued worshipping of guns in the name of the Second Amendment, and their assertion that only a parent could possibly imagine the grief felt by those caught up in it), but most of those are for another post, another person, another day perhaps.

For now, I want to pay tribute to the teachers, our brothers and sisters in education, whose actions saved the lives of their classes and without whose bravery the loss of life could have been even more terrible. This is apparently going to be the front page of the Independent on Sunday:

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Under the photo, the caption reads:
As the shooting started, teacher Vicki Soto, just 27, hid her 16 pupils in the cupboard, and when the gunman came into her room, she told him the class was in the gym. He murdered her, then turned his gun on himself. The children survived.
Three other teachers were also killed while trying to protect their students.

Five and a half years ago, during another massacre at a US educational establishment, Virginia Tech, Liviu Librescu died barricading the door to his classroom and allowing his students to escape. 16 years ago, just four months after the Dunblane disaster, Lisa Potts suffered terrible injuries to her arms defending nursery school children (even younger than those at Sandy Hook) from a machete attack. In Mexico, Martha Rivera Alanis kept her children safe during a shoot-out a block from their primary school, getting them to sing songs while they kept out of the line of fire.

Numerous teachers have surely done the same in their time. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America has said teachers should be armed - I have not seen a single teacher saying they agree with this. Teachers with guns would not help in the slightest. Where would we put them? In our desks, locked away? It would take too long to access it. On our person? That just tells a shooter to take out the teacher first and then the students. And where would we fit in the training needed to be able to shoot to kill someone who was trying to kill us? Members of the Armed Forces spend months - years even - being trained to do so.

To suggest that, had the teachers had guns the tragedy could have been avoided, is to lay the blame for this at the feet of the teachers. Yet another thing that is apparently teachers' fault. As with the examples above, and no doubt many more, teachers have shown again and again that when the lives of their students are threatened, they will step in to defend them, to buy them time, to let them escape, to give their lives for the youngsters they love.

We have not had a major incident at my College. We have a lock-down procedure, which will override the computers in each classroom with a warning. We have to lock the doors, switch off the lights and hide away from doors and windows. The doors in our new building can only be opened from the outside with a staff pass and my lab is the furthest point from the main entrance.

My thoughts are with the families and colleagues of all those killed yesterday. I can hardly imagine something like this happening here, on my campus, but I only hope that, if that terrible day comes, I can muster some of the courage of the brave men and women who have put themselves between their students and an attacker.

1 comment:

  1. The bullshit around school shootings is growing old. "Is it too many guns? Is it not enough guns? Is it mental health? Is it the entertainment media?" Two important cultural issues are never raised: first is the behaviour of the news media, and second is the way in which we raise boys.

    Both have serious deficits, both are likely to be serious contributory factors to this kind of violence, but neither is mentioned. The closest anyone gets is the theoretical feminists talking amongst themselves about the nature of men, but if we accept that "the child is the father of the man" then we must accept that the choices these men make are informed by their upbringing. I despair.


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