Recently I had an opportunity to speak to a group of two-year college writing teachers in Texas. The topic very much on their minds: guns in their classrooms. As I learned, the Texas legislature has passed a new law, which takes effect this coming August. Here’s what it says:
Effective Dates: August 1, 2016 for all state 4-year colleges and universities; August 1, 2017 for all state 2-year and junior colleges.
The new Texas law will permit individuals who have obtained a concealed handgun license (CHL) to carry their loaded, concealed weapon in college and university buildings. Each college and university may determine certain sensitive areas and buildings* where concealed weapons will continue to be prohibited. Each college and university must publically display campus policies on the official school website, as well as widely publicizing it among correspondence with the institution’s faculty, staff, and students. Previous laws permitting the concealed carry with a license on open campus grounds and in locked vehicles in parking lots will remain unchanged….
(You can read more at http://www.armedcampuses.org/texas/. This site also has a petition to keep guns off campuses.)
The teachers I talked with are enormously concerned about this new law and what it will mean for their teaching and for their students’ learning. More than a few of them described “training” they are taking to help them prepare for and deal with the new law: they are warned to “be very careful” not to introduce topics that might upset students. And if a shooter appears in their classes, they are to face the shooter and shield their students.
Of course we talked about other things—primarily about how to help all of our students develop into confident and competent writers. But these conversations about guns in classrooms are what have stuck in my mind. Every. Single. Day. Many teachers I spoke with seemed fearful but resigned: “This is Texas,” they said. Maybe so, but I came away thinking about the havoc this new law can have: we all know that college students are at a vulnerable time in their lives, that many of them are suffering from anxiety and depression. Research also shows that college-age students’ brains have not fully developed, especially in the area controlling split-second decisions. These facts make having guns in classrooms seem counterproductive, at the very best. In addition, this law is almost certainly going to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and on one of the foundations of higher education: the opportunity to encounter ideas across the spectrum, including those that may be difficult to understand or accept.
I am fortunate to have taught at a university without guns, and I hope that will continue to be the case. What I would like to do, though, is join a national movement of teachers, especially those who teach on campuses where guns are allowed in class, to declare that we will not teach in an atmosphere of grave danger.
Arriving at the Bush International Airport in Houston on my journey home, I was met by a large red sign on the outside door:
Would I meet a person carrying a concealed licensed firearm? In fact, I did not—at least not that I know of—but I was more cautious than usual. It was a long day, and I hated concentrating on people with guns rather than thinking about students and their learning.