May 2018

Line in the Sand: School Shootings

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman

Look, parents. I get it.

I was a freshman in college when two kids from Columbine became monsters. I watched it unfold live, skipping classes that day and thinking about all my friends who were still in high school, and how terrifying it must be for them to come to school knowing they could be walking into a bloodbath.

And I thought in that moment that everything had changed. It was a thought I’d have ad nauseam, through Virginia Tech, through Sandy Hook, through all of the killings that just barely appeared as a blip on our media radar. But with Parkland, something felt different. Maybe it was that we were all sick of feeling like something would change and then seeing the exact opposite happen. Maybe it was the way Parkland’s kids, and students all over the country, finally said enough was enough.

I’m not here to argue gun control. I’ve said my piece on that issue, and if you’re thinking I came to condemn gun ownership, I urge you to read what I’ve written before. It’s a constitutionally enshrined right, and we have damn few of those left. At the same time, don’t pretend that something like this can keep happening without something—anything—changing.

What I’m here to talk about is our role as parents. As I said, I get it. I have three children of my own, and you better believe the thought of their mortality has crossed my mind on those dark days when the news cycle is still spinning the latest tragedy.

But we need to do better. Shortly after the Parkland shooting, a threat was posed to one of our area schools via Snapchat. I’ve only used Snapchat a handful of times, and I’m not entirely sure how seriously you take a threat called in by someone with big fake goo-goo eyes and sparkly cat ears, but it was deemed a threat.

In response, parents did the worst thing they could do. They threatened to pull their kids out of school entirely. And in doing so, they showed their kids that the best way to respond to a threat is with reclusion. That if you have a choice between standing up to a threat and lying down in the hopes it goes away on its own, you should always protect your own neck.

I have nothing against home schooling. I know several people who have chosen to home school their kids and, by and large, their kids are happy, well-adjusted and just as prepared as my kids for life beyond academia. It’s when you choose to withdraw your child from the classroom out of fear that you show them the immense power they should allow fear to have over them.

Instead, I choose courage. I send my kids off every day to a school that could very easily turn into the next Sandy Hook. The next Columbine. The next Parkland. I do this not because I’m not worried about their safety, but because I want them to see you don’t simply lie down when the world turns ugly. I want them to join the chorus of voices across the nation demanding some kind of change.

Whether or not you agree with those voices, you have to admit that, when faced with the options of retreat, inaction or standing up, those kids have shown tremendous character by having the bravery to stand up.

Maybe now something finally will change, and the hopes that lay in the terrible aftermath of all those tragedies will finally be fulfilled. I can’t say what those changes will be. Maybe they outlaw so-called “assault rifles,” despite strong voices proclaiming that the problem isn’t the gun. Maybe they invest in tighter security, arming every teacher. Maybe they invest in mental health.

I simply don’t know. But I do know that change is coming. And I choose to show my children that it’s their responsibility to be part of that change rather than fading into the background as change happens around them.

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Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson
Forgive me for plagiarizing myself, but my August 2016 Line in the Sand column started like this:

Long before school shootings, or any mass shootings were a thing, “14-year-old Michael Arnone opened the door to room 274 on April 18, 1990; he was late for Paula Niven’s first period history class at Brick Township High School in New Jersey. Arnone carried with him a guitar case and an oversized gym bag. In his case and bag were the provisions Arnone believed he might need for his school day: a two-liter bottle of Pepsi, a bag of chips, a pack of cigarettes, a loaded shotgun, and 18 rounds of ammunition. Arnone announced to his teacher and classmates that he didn’t want to go school anymore, and with that, he held up his gun and commandeered the classroom.”

The quoted excerpt was written by David Niven, son of that teacher. Mrs. Niven was my freshman English teacher. My economics and politics teacher. My favorite teacher.
I had sat in that very classroom two years before Arnone’s attempt at who knows what. And, a year after. I honestly don’t remember that day. I remember our vice principal being on Good Morning America shortly thereafter, hailed a hero (he was) as he barged in and tackled Arnone. He was also a dad. His daughter was in that classroom.

I am sure this was shocking news in Brick, New Jersey in 1990. But, of course there was no Internet, no social media, so the story fizzled quickly. Students went to school the next day, and the next. It was an anomaly.

Today, news of a school shooting no longer shocks the country. We’ve seen that headline too many times. Last month a threat at River Ridge Academy in Bluffton fueled a social media storm and an onslaught of parents taking their kids home from school. That event prompted this monthly debate when Barry asked me, as an educator, would I carry a gun?

Last week, as I hurried to the restroom before class started, taped to the wall outside the restroom, on the second floor of the Hargray building at USCB, was a little sign with data points on college campus shootings. Hanging in the stall of the restroom was a campaign poster for the upcoming student government elections. I remember walking down the hall to my classroom thinking about the campaign poster, and its odd placement. I didn’t give the campus shooting data a second thought until I started typing this story. It makes me wonder. Are we so desensitized to this topic that it didn’t even stop me in my tracks?

In 15 years of teaching at six different colleges/universities, there have been two instances that had me concerned for my safety, and the safety of my students. And honestly, other than those two days, I’ve never really thought about a potential threat. If we spend our days worrying about what might happen, I fear we may miss what is happening. So, when asked if I would want to be armed in the classroom, my answer is a vehement no.

In 15 years, I have taught the same class approximately 60 times. I still prepare an outline for every class though, just to be sure I stay on track. Point being, sometimes it’s a struggle to stay on topic with two dozen opinions firing back at me. I couldn’t handle a lecture and a side arm.

I’m not trying to make light of the current state of our world, but I do not believe that arming everyone is the answer to stopping a lunatic whose single purpose is to cause harm.

The first time I was legitimately scared was a decade ago. A student threatened me via email with a suggestion that I should be careful walking to the parking lot after class. I sent the email to the department chair, who sent it to the dean, who didn’t feel like it was a direct threat. I responded that I wanted security to be at my classroom if this student was to remain in the class. There was no security, so I took matters into my own hands. I had two Hilton Head Island firefighters in my class; I pulled them aside, explained the situation, and they walked me to my car every night after class.

The second instance happened at USCB a few years ago. I had a student who wasn’t prepared, so he wasn’t allowed to present his speech. Those are the rules. I don’t remember my (or his) exact words, but I said something like, “You can leave class now.” And he responded with something along the lines of, “You’ll be leaving permanently.” He walked out but lingered in the hall. I locked the door and called security. They came and took my statement and talked to some students to make sure we all heard the same thing. He was removed from the class. And I did see security make laps past my door in the following weeks. I don’t know if he was still on campus, still taking classes; I didn’t ask. I guess in hindsight I should have?

I don’t know what I would do if I were put in a situation like those we have seen so much of recently. My gut tells me I would protect my students. And I believe my students would do the same for me and their classmates. But, we’ll do that the best we can unarmed. Public speaking class is stressful enough; we don’t need weapons in our classroom too.

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