As a public school teacher I try to remain wholly unbiased in my instruction. Not only is this a position that I have taken professionally, but also on a personal level. I feel it is my duty to remain as impartial as possible when discussing contentious issues. Given the current political climate, one of the more controversial matters to discuss is firearms laws and regulations. My favorite course to teach is Contemporary World Issues. The curriculum in this class lends itself to being incredibly topical . . .
Since school started in August there have been countless news stories concerning firearms leading to many class discussions and debates. The students in my class are very diverse in both background and personality – the best thing a teacher could ask for in a current events course. Here is a breakdown of the eight students in my class:
Student A: 17-year-old female. Very bright and an incredibly good writer. She is well-spoken and knows how to keep a discussion going without belittling those she disagrees with. Motivated by her desire to learn new things. Pacifist due to religious beliefs.
Student B: 16-year-old female. Quite lazy and inattentive, but has a hidden gift for eloquence in her writing. She is very willful and not open to changing her opinion, when she has one.
Student C: 15-year-old male. Squirrely kid. Likes WWII history. Both parents served in the military from mid 90s to present. Conservative in almost all social issues and still learning to express his political mind. He gets his opinions from mom and dad who get theirs from Fox News.
Student D: 16-year-old female. Foreign exchange student from Austria. Speaks very good English (and German of course). Reads CNN online. Well read. Has a hard time understanding some idiosyncrasies of rural America.
Student E: 18-year-old male. Has an outstanding mind for science, particularly physics. Very rational in his opinions. Likes sports and fitness. High achieving in academics and seems to enjoy school.
Student F: 17-year-old male. Redneck. Very Redneck. Works with cattle and drives a ridiculous pickup to school. Wears cowboy boots every day. On more than one occasion he has implied that Obama should die. Very lazy in school. Does the bare minimum, even if he is interested in the topic.
Student G: 18-year-old male. Loves football and the 49ers. Soft spoken, but will speak up if he feels like he can contribute something unique. Hard to read at times, but very kind and polite.
Student H: 18-year-old male. Foreign exchange student from Italy. Speaks decent English, but can read and write it very well. Well versed in world history. Very liberal in his principles, but ironically got placed with a host family that is analogous to Student F.
This smorgasbord of individuals, with their assorted opinions and ideals, brought about an amazing dialogue when it came to the topic of firearms. The small class size also facilitated the intimate and personal nature that every teacher desires for his or her class.
Oh, I almost forgot to introduce myself. I am a 23-year-old male. I grew up farming with my family on the upper great plains of the United States. I am a lifelong firearm owner and enthusiast. I love hunting and target shooting. I have had my concealed carry permit for 4+ years and wish I could carry in the classroom. I dislike Obama for his disregard for the U.S. Constitution, not for being “a secret Muslim born in Kenya.”
Can you see where remaining impartial with these students could be a challenge?
After several small gun-related discussions in class at the beginning of the year I decided to just teach a whole unit, which I aptly titled “A History of Firearms in United States.” We would start at the American Revolution and work our way to present day. When planning the lessons for this unit I forced myself to keep opinions at bay and focus on facts; the cold, hard, usually-boring-to-most-people-especially-teenagers facts.
What surprised me was the positive response from my students; they were on board from the start, even the chronically lazy ones. If you are a teacher, or have ever been in a classroom with apathetic teenagers, you can understand my amazement at this. After the first lesson, which covered the technology behind 18th century muskets and their use in battle during the American Revolution, Student A said, “It’s so weird to learn about guns this way in school. Usually teachers just lecture about loving or hating them.” The rest of the students described similar experiences that other teachers had put them through in previous classes.
Hearing this really upset me as an educator. The purposeful indoctrination of young minds, no matter how well-intentioned, can be extremely dangerous. It is my responsibility as a teacher to guide students along the path towards learning, critical thinking, and problem solving, not goad them down the route that I deem the best. I see this too often in the debate over gun control, and both sides are guilty of it. The amount of propaganda and misinformation that is spread to the ignorant masses is hazardous to the intellectual conversations that need to take place. We must focus on the truth in order to educate. I kept this sentiment in mind as we progressed through this study of firearms.
In the next lesson we discussed the drafting of the Bill of Rights. I wrote the Second Amendment on the board in its entirety – all 27 glorious words. I read it aloud to the class and then asked them several questions: Why did the Framers use these particular words? Did they only mean a state-sponsored militia? Does this apply to all firearms or just muskets? I then sat back and observed as their minds churned and a lively debate arose in my classroom.
Sides were quickly chosen. Students F said that everyone should have guns, not just the military; people need them to defend themselves. Students B and C concurred and brought up examples of firearms being used throughout history to protect the weak and disenfranchised. Students A, D, and H retorted saying that technology from the late 1700s was nowhere near what it is today and that the Founding Fathers would not want machine guns in everyone’s possession. Students E and G floated around the middle of the aisle and asked questions to keep the debate going. From here they branched off to varying topics, all the while keeping it moderately polite. It was a joy to watch them actively engaged in civil discourse.
The subsequent lessons covered the following: Hunting, advancements in firearm technology, short biographies of Browning and Stoner, National Firearms Act of 1934, Gun Control Act of 1968, school shootings, NICS, and current firearm legislation in the United States. Throughout the unit they had various projects and essays to complete, which they enjoyed. Even Students B and F turned most of their assignments in on time.
One of the more lighthearted moments during all of this occurred when Student H asked, “How many firearms can a person own in the United States?” I simply replied that there is no limit; if someone wanted 16, 100 or even 500 they could own them as long as they had the money to support such an expensive hobby. In a thick Italian accent he scoffed, “Why the hell would you need 100 guns? In Italy you can only have 5.” Student F piped in sarcastically, “Because this is ‘Mericuh, that’s why! We don’t put limits on freedom.” We all laughed for a moment, but both Students D and H still could not believe the pervasiveness of firearms in America.
While their opinions differed sharply when it came to background checks, magazine capacity laws, and automatic weapons, one of the issues that everyone in the class did agree on was the absurdity of short-barreled rifle and short-barreled shotgun regulations. They concluded (through their own rational thought, I might add) that the laws were instituted with fear in mind instead of logic. I smiled to myself and dreamed of the day when a particular teacher’s salary might be high enough for him own several SBRs.
I ended the unit with a constructed response (3 typed pages) to the following question: “Given all that you have learned, what is the best solution for stopping violent crime in the United States?” The responses to this question were as wide-ranging as my students’ personalities, but what pleased me the most after all we discussed was that their arguments were supported by factual evidence.
The pro-gun students pointed out that mass shootings almost always take place in areas that do not allow people to conceal carry. The gun control advocates brought up studies that show that a majority of Americans are in favor of more rigorous background checks. Yet the one thing that every student used in their essay – something I, and probably most Americans, agree with – was the need for increased funding and support for people suffering from mental health problems.
They all earned passing grades. (Although Students B and F turned their papers in late and only received an 80%). In the end they learned something new and I enjoyed teaching the material. There was a spark of excitement in their attitudes towards each lesson. They actually strove to remove some ignorance from their lives and did not fight me every step of the way, as certain students are liable to do.
There was something special in excluding my biases from these lessons. I was able to examine the facts behind the numerous aspects of this enormous debate and relay that to my students. I realized that while many of the roots of my opinions concerning firearms are comprised of emotion, those roots are entwined in a rich soil of dates, statistics, court cases, and a thought-provoking history that is worth digging up and running one’s fingers through in order to uncover the truth.