As a teacher of high school English, I have rather a unique perch from which to observe the passing trends of American interest and life. All manner of things come up in our discussions of literature: drugs, relationships, the nature of men and women, parenting, you name it. But only rarely does the interest of teenagers turn to firearms, and even more rarely to the Constitution, particularly the Second Amendment . . .
Adults who appreciate the Constitution, and particularly the vital role of the Second Amendment in securing the rest of the Constitution, tend to take for granted the role of upcoming generations in preserving the Constitution. We often take for granted that our children, kids in general, have the same concerns, the same vital understandings that we have.
In training new teachers, one of the first things I tell them is never to underestimate the intelligence of kids, but never to overestimate the amount of information they have. New teachers are continually amazed by the sheer numbers of word definitions, idioms, concepts, and understandings of human nature kids don’t know. Some are even surprised when teenagers behave like teenagers. I’m not; I just don’t let them behave like rude and stupid teenagers.
Despite having virtually unlimited information at their fingertips in ways we could not have imagined only ten years ago, most kids lack the information, the convictions, necessary to preserve liberty. In researching topics for a research paper, my students occasionally come across an article like this, published in the Wisconsin Gazette by one Tom Hastings, director of “PeaceVoice” who teaches in the “conflict resolution program” at Portland State University:
“What country fetishizes, lionizes, valorizes, idolizes, and sacralizes guns as much as does our United States? OK, possibly Mozambique — the only country with an AK47 on its flag, but really, it’s long past time to end this obsessive ‘My Precious’ attachment of Americans to instruments of death.
This morning of Dec. 25, 2014, of the nine top stories from US Reuters, six were about shootings — four new ones and two about the national movement against shootings of citizens by police. This pandemic of sick violence, punctuated by mass killings of children, has gone on far, far too long. It is long past time to repeal the stupid Second Amendment…
The only logical path, given the clearly decided role of the Second Amendment, is to repeal it. American people are tired of mass shootings and police shootings and family feud shootings and sibling shootings and accidental toddler shootings and teen suicide by gun (highly popular). We are exhausted by the proliferation of death, of threats, of bloodshed, and by the NRA/gun industry moral garbage spewing forth every time someone challenges the ubiquity of guns.
Repeal the Stupid Second Amendment. Surround it, grab it, bring it in the back room, pull down the shades, and end it. OK, petition for it, get it on the ballot, and get it done by enough of the US populace, by enough people in enough states, to get it consigned to the dustbin of history.”
We’ve all seen hundreds of rants just like it. Uninformed, deceptive, propagandistic, dripping in condescension and hate, it’s nothing new for us, but for most teenagers, it may seem novel and insightful, and the inherent anger may be superficially attractive.
In some respects, my students may be somewhat unusual. I teach in North Texas, where most people find the right to keep and bear arms unremarkable. To them, firearms are tools, used for recreation, and simply fun. There is little or no controversy involved. Most people own guns, like them, that’s that.
In my annual media unit I bring up the case of Kitty Genovese, the young woman in New York City murdered by a knife-wielding attacker while many neighbors watched and did nothing to intervene. There is some evidence that this famous case had to do with police mistakes, but there is little doubt that no one came to her aid, and she died as a result.
Hearing of this case, my students, virtually one and all, say that in such a situation, the bad guy would be blown out of his socks as soon as they–or any of their neighbors–could lay sights on him. There is no boasting, no hyperbole, they would simply get a gun–a gun likely one of several in their home, in many cases, their gun–and shoot the man trying to kill an innocent woman.
But even in North Texas, not every teenager shares these sentiments. Some find arguments such as Hastings’ very persuasive. They just don’t know better. Most of their history teachers are not hostile to the Second Amendment, but some are. In any case, they’ll study it, briefly, normally once during their high school years, and probably won’t learn in any depth of its history and the absolutely necessary place it holds in our republican government. Few will be taught that its primary purpose is to allow citizens to overthrow a tyrannical government. Few will be taught that it has nothing to do with sports or hunting.
And imagine the indoctrination kids receive in states that don’t respect the rights of their citizens to self-defense. I can state without fear of being contradicted that in those states, history teachers and others routinely misrepresent the Constitution for partisan political purposes. To them, guns are evil, anyone wanting one is insane or criminally dangerous, there is no such thing as a right to self-defense, and the Second Amendment guarantees only the right of the government to have armed forces. One need little imagination to imagine what Mr. Hastings is teaching his classes on this subject.
Beyond these bare, basic issues, kids know virtually nothing of contemporary law relating to the possession, transportation and use of firearms. In the between classes conversation of my students, I’ve heard virtually every cliché and bit of media narrative one might imagine. In the Michael Brown case, kids wondered why the police didn’t just shoot him in the leg–that’s a very common misconception for kids and adults alike–and made clear their ideas of armed confrontations came entirely from video games, TV and the movies.
Because I teach English, I’m careful not to take class time on what are, in many ways, issues unrelated to my curriculum, but when I reasonably can, I add a bit of fact and reason, and direct kids to reliable sources.
What most people don’t know is that teachers are very limited in their time and influence. I’ll see a given student for less than five hours a week for about nine months of their life, and every minute of that time is carefully planned. All that I, or any teacher, can do is provide the best possible opportunity for learning my education, experience and resources–provided by the public–can manage. It’s up to each student and their parents to take advantage of that opportunity.
But all too often, for issues of such importance as the Constitution and the Second Amendment, parents must assume the majority of the responsibility for the education of their children. It has not always been thus, but it is now. Most schools provide at least a foundation of civics, but it is up to parents to ensure their children become Americans by choice, and not just by birth, and that they truly appreciate what that means.
Fortunately, we have some advantages. Those that want to restrict liberty must, of necessity, lie. They rewrite or ignore history, distort facts and statistics, and torture logic. Anyone that has been involved in the study of these issues has seen all of this and often.
Those that want to preserve, even expand, liberty need only tell the truth about our history. They need only direct kids to verifiable facts and the means to verify them. They need apply only simple logic, which can lead only to conclusions supportive of individual liberty and limited government by the people, of the people and for the people.
Teenagers usually have a broadly based sense of moral outrage, even if they can’t define the word “morality.” When someone is lying to them, it bothers them. People trying to fool them make them angry. Not only can we use that knowledge, we can help them deepen their understanding of human nature and politics by guiding them to the truth and encouraging them to research it for themselves.
And of course, nothing encourages kids in the shooting sports like having the opportunity to shoot under proper guidance and instruction.
The opponents of liberty know that indoctrination of the young is vital. They think and act for the long term, which is why they have worked so hard and long to make inroads in the schools and colleges across the land. But strong family ties and relationships with wise and impressive adults can counteract cynical, manipulative indoctrination with fact, logic, and love.
That’s something we dare not forget if we want individual liberty to thrive. That something we dare not forget if we want our children to know an America where freedom still reigns, an America they must defend, and if necessary, re-create.