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Guest Commentary: Turning the Ideas of a Few Students Into a Movement

What happened in Parkland, Fla., last month nearly happened just a week later right here in Montgomery County, where I teach high school.  And now, mere days after Montgomery County students took to the Capitol to stand in solidarity with young people everywhere, we heard news of the school shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, right here in Maryland.


I can only imagine the terror of teachers just like me and students just like my own experiencing the horror of school gun violence.


Great Mills may stoke demand for the president’s and Betsy DeVos’ suggestion that the solution to this madness is to give teachers guns. So the specter of a classroom firefight could loom over every room, in every school, at all times. The idea that we introduce more weapons into a space cherished as a sanctuary for learning is a violation of the deepest order.


It’s the sort of policy solution that – if your kooky uncle suggested it at Thanksgiving dinner – would cause you to roll your eyes and snicker with your family on the drive home. But this happens to be president of the United States, so now we are all caught in an argument started in bad faith and grounded in nothing but the ill-informed instincts of an executive who can’t be bothered to think deeply or check facts.


Samir Paul


Anyone who teaches knows this is a ludicrous idea. Special education teachers are busy working to ensure students can graduate; they don’t have time for firearms training. Math teachers trying to prepare students for STEM careers know their overcrowded classrooms are no place to ask untrained shooters to discharge a deadly weapon. History teachers will remember that if barricades and armed security personnel on the Fort Hood military base couldn’t prevent one of the worst mass shootings in our history, no amount of fortification in our schools will ever do the job. We don’t have a security problem; we have a gun problem.


With Tuesday’s news, Maryland now endures here at home the loss and heartache that the community of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School feels. Even before this shooting, I’m proud that our students — here, in Maryland, and across the country — did not take their safety for granted. Instead, inspired by their peers in Florida, they took to the streets — twice. I saw their courage firsthand as I proudly marched with them to the Capitol and the White House in February, and I was glad to be arm-in-arm with them once again last week.  They are succeeding on this issue where adults have failed. They are not allowing this moment to dissipate.


And in the process, they remind me what it will take to solve this problem of ours. Jedediah and Katie showed me that even if protest is only the first step, it is a step worth taking. Rachel and Daniel taught me that we should never be afraid to shout the obvious truth amidst a chorus of cynics and lobbyists telling us not to believe what we can plainly see with our own eyes. And Amarins and Brenna demonstrated that with the truth on your side, smarts and initiative can turn the idea of a few students into a movement that has helped keep the attention of the nation.


“Out of the mouth of babes,” we too often say when surprised by the wisdom of children. Maybe it is time to recognize that the psalm from which we take the phrase was not highlighting the occasional moment of accidental insight kids are sometimes capable of. Instead, it points us toward something real: the insights and instincts of the youngest among us are free of the biases of experience, untempered by the cynicism of power and politics. Young people see the world not as it is, but as it can be — as it should be.


We have to honor the memory of kids from Stoneman Douglas, Great Mills and schools across this country. This Saturday’s March for Our Lives is a crucial opportunity for people of all ages to link arms with the young people of this country and tell them with one firm voice: We hear you, we stand with you, and we value your safety over the gun industry’s profits.


I thought when I marched with my students the first time that I could not be prouder to see them raise their voices. I was wrong. Seeing them sustain this effort and do the hard work of movement building has left me even more hopeful than I was before. It’s time for the adults in their lives — teachers, parents and lawmakers — to listen to them and to do better for them.


Samir Paul

Samir Paul is a computer science teacher at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. He is a Democratic candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 16. Follow him on Twitter at @samirpaul.


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Guest Commentary: Turning the Ideas of a Few Students Into a Movement