+ Lethal Weapons
Miss Ethel Laventhal, 4th grade, P.S. 101, Brooklyn, NY was my first teacher crush. I was in Class 4.3, next to the intellectual behavioral bottom of the four homogeneously arranged classes of that grade. It was done that way then with no concern for such obvious “labeling”. Expert in the matter of sizing up kids, Miss Laventhal recognized my misplacement, told my mother what needed to be worked on, praised my improvements and achievements. Next year saw me in Class 5.2 and the next in 6.1. I was oblivious of her professional intentions but the benefits were significant for my future. However, I did take in how her skills were applied to other children.
There have always been troubled children. There have always been those children in schools with baggage that rendered them noticeable to administrators, teachers and peers. Miss Laventhal spotted the one in her class. I knew he was trouble; nasty, pugnacious, uncooperative; the one to whom you gave wide berth if you were smart. But I saw how Miss Laventhal won him over. Even at the age of ten I marveled at the miracle. She made me want to have that kind of influence as a teacher.
Later when I was teaching in public and parochial elementary schools and when I served as teacher librarian in a middle school Miss Laventhal’s radar became mine. I was not alone among my peers. We could all speak the names of the most needy children, those burdened with excessive emotional baggage, those with short fuses, those social misfits, those most insecure and therefore most likely to act out, and those whose futures we worried about. Statistically, there are just bound to be some emotionally disturbed or just plain needy children in every school. One such child was in my care in second grade. When she entered puberty her mother stabbed her to death in their home.
Troubled children have always meant possible tragedy but now an element has been added to the equation. The equation reads, “TROUBLED CHILDREN + LETHAL WEAPONS = TRAGEDY.” I believe that the weight of lethal weapons is what tips the scale in favor of tragedy. Certainly we can always improve our ability to notice troubled youngsters (not to to mention disturbed adults). We have to notice, to compensate for their losses, to help them achieve, to assist them in development of social skills, to remove them from harmful environments and more. Today, in spite of the rhetoric, we do not seem to have the political will to support such efforts adequately. But I believe, that even more importantly, we do not not have the political will to face the import and truth of the equation and act to remove military weapons from the open market, to stringently regulate all lethal firearms, to require by law (inspection necessary) locked domestic storage for all guns. It is only these measures which can remove lethal weapons from the equation which includes innocent toddlers, those with non-existent impulse control, youngsters and adults in momentary extremis of anger, frustration, depression or pain, and those clinically diagnosed with a mental disorder.
Simply put, I believe that even though it is definitely necessary to attend to the emotional needs of the troubled, some of that discussion merely distracts from the elephant in the room. Our current gun laws leave the equivalent of sticks of dynamite readily at hand to be used by any one so inclined. Those so inclined include curious children, troubled youth, those angry or resentful adults eager for revenge, the abusive spouse, or those in a manic state.
Stringent background checks are not the answer. It is impossible to sift out all possible troubled souls and identify dynamics predictive of violence. It is no longer a matter of tiny steps to restrict gun purchases. We have arrived at the point of no return which which will shatter those clinging to Second Amendment rights established when it took almost a minute to load a rifle with just one shot.
Gun possession must be severely limited in this country. We must acknowledge in an honest way that there simply is no other choice.
And we must remember the miracles wrought by teachers in every age.