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Schools and freedom

May 31, 2022

As expected, Texas Republicans use a school shooting to forward the notion that schools should be made more and more like prisons:

We have to harden these targets so no one can get in ever except through one entrance. Maybe that would help. Maybe that would stop someone.

Schools are not prisons. They should not have a prison architecture. They should not have prison regimentation. Teachers are not guards. They should not be expected to train and act like guards. They already are overburdened teaching students, and caring for them in the ways children normally need. Children are not prisoners. They should not spend much of their youth in a prison-like culture.

BrianShields_TheBoatLakeAn important measure of freedom is the degree to which the young can wander. When visiting Amsterdam a couple of years back, we stayed at a hotel that opened into a pedestrian plaza. Also there were a couple of restaurants, and some businesses. And an elementary school. Part of the plaza had a playground that the students used at recess. There were no physical barriers between it and the rest of the plaza. So those children saw ordinary street life. Their play was part of it. Sometimes, when chasing a loose ball, they interacted with adult strangers. Even with tourists who didn’t speak their language. Their teacher would be there watching, making sure her charges didn’t wander too far. Not armed, just a responsible adult.

That easy interaction between different social groups is an important part of a free society. Children are attuned early in life to where their society places walls and gates, where they are not allowed, where others are not allowed.

Many on the American right have been steeped in a notion of “freedom” that comes from bad science fiction. They no longer have any sense of how free societies work in reality. They don’t see that hardening schools is a significant move away from that. One that will have a generational cost. As US schools race in that direction, many abroad will puzzle that we yet boast about American “freedom.”

Amanda Marcotte writes an interesting Twitter thread about growing up in rural Texas. She has some relevant thoughts about schools, and what they mean to freedom in a deeper sense:

Texas teachers are overworked and underpaid, and they stick with it because they care about kids. Schools provide extracurricular activities and libraries, both of which are invaluable to opening up the bigger world to kids stuck in small town life. And teachers who often are happy to talk to them about life beyond Your Small Town. (Since they went to college.) And now our schools are under a multi-pronged assault. Loose gun laws that make school shootings common is a huge part of it. But Republicans are also banning books, defunding schools, and otherwise trying to wreck public education. That’s just not irresponsible and bizarre in the 21st century, where education in the linchpin of our economic system. It’s taking away the only lifeline that many, many, many kids have.

Boy howdy.

For some reason, the political atmosphere feels different after Uvalde than it does after school shootings past. Are more Americans starting to see through the gun-fetishist fantasy, that freedom can mean only arming ever more people ever more heavily? Don’t know. I’m glad to see some of their other nonsense called out.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Douglas Rothkopf permalink
    May 31, 2022 8:39 am

    Not to mention that sufficient access doors are required for fire codes/ safety. Further drive past any school playground and see chain link fences if any at all between the street and children at play.

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