Guns in the Book Bag

NO lockers. No book bags. No real sense of safety or trust.

That's the dubious welcome-back awaiting a growing number of students in American schools, where the presence of deadly weapons is changing the face of education.

In an effort to keep guns out of students' hands and eliminate hiding places for weapons, administrators are taking extreme measures. Some principals have removed lockers. Others have banned book bags. Still others have installed metal detectors at the front door and deployed trained dogs in the halls to sniff for guns.

Forty years ago, the movie ``Blackboard Jungle'' portrayed a school in an impoverished New York City neighborhood where a teenage thug terrorized classmates and teachers. At the time the movie was considered an exaggerated horror story. Now fiction has become reality on a broad scale.

The National School Board Association estimates that students bring 135,000 guns to public schools every day. Even smaller cities, suburbs, and rural areas find it necessary to enact zero-tolerance gun regulations that carry tough penalties for violators.

The safety of students and teachers is paramount. And under terms of the ``Goals 2000: Educate America Act'' approved by Congress last spring, districts that fail to enact regulations on guns could lose money for federal education programs.

If metal detectors and dogs can prevent danger or tragedy in classrooms, these emergency measures will prove worthwhile. But this is an intolerable way to run a school if it is taken as the new norm. If a classroom is supposed be the place for educating minds to an acquaintance with new ideas and new skills, a place for trying to produce civilized and competent adults, this is a cruel parody of an educator's ideal.

Schools have traditionally been regarded as havens, not garrisons. Teachers don't go into teaching to be security guards. Students don't go to classes to dodge bullets or learn a sad new alphabet: A is for Anxiety. G is for Guns.

Guns in school cannot be treated out of context, as a separate problem. Any solution must address the whole gun culture, falsely based on the premise that a gun in the hand - the brutish force of bullets - empowers a man or woman or child as nothing else can. It is a notion so utterly antagonistic to the premise of education that only education in the largest sense can refute it.

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