Thursday, February 24, 2011

terror and congressmen.

for those not familiar with the current bill being tossed around the texas state legislature, SB354, it goes something like this:  colleges/universities would waive the no weapons on campus rule, allowing students, instructors, visitors, and support staff to carry licensed, concealed handguns on campus and to class.

few times has a bill so uniquely scared the crap out of me.  i cannot think of a single reason why i should want my students, my bosses, or myself to be able to carry a weapon.  there is simply too much going on at an institution of higher learning to warrant this--too much conflict, too much argumentation (and that's a good thing), and too much diversity--to make this a safe law.  

so, given the fact that i'm terrified that this bill will pass, i've decided to exercise my civic duty and contact my state representatives.  below is the gist of the e-mail/letter i sent:

It’s a scene familiar to any Quentin Tarantino fan: several men, guns drawn and blazing, hold each other in a standoff that can only end one way—badly.

I use this brief moment of film history not to demonstrate the emotional power of the end of the film Reservoir Dogs but to express a concern I have over allowing students and instructors to carry weapons on college campuses.

Picture the typical college classroom:  roughly thirty students—all races, nationalities, ages, sexual preferences, and religions—sit crammed into desks in a fluorescent-lit room.  They discuss topics ranging from the banal to the highly controversial.  Suddenly, what was an even-keeled conversation takes a turn, and a true argument begins.  How this scenario plays out depends almost entirely upon the environment.

Two angy, passionate students in a current college classroom are forced to settle the argument one of three ways:  resort to temper tantrums and name-calling (at worst), agree to disagree and move on, or use logic, reasoning and evidence to make their case (at best).

The point is that the environment is controlled.  It is, relatively speaking, safe.  The use of force is not permitted.

The introduction of guns to this equation complicates the issue quite a bit and eliminates some of the freedoms associated with higher education.  In other words, instead of three possible outcomes, there are four.

In my role as a college instructor, I often find my students thinking and acting irrationally.  They get upset easily when it comes to their grades, their homework, their opinions.  I stress to my students every semester that my classroom is a safe place—one where they can feel free to express themselves so long as they understand that everyone else is free to do the same.  I require argument, but I also require respect.  These rules have led my classes to have fruitful discussions on a wide variety of matters, thereby increasing their critical thinking, social, and argumentative skills.

Allowing guns on campus diminishes my ability to get my students to these goals.  Why would someone raise their voice to state a controversial opinion if one of the possible consequences is being shot?  It is hard enough to get students to open their minds and discuss things rationally without the added pressure of deadly weapons.

Critical thinking and learning cannot take place in an environment of fear, and that is just what Senate Bill 354 does—creates and sustains an environment of fear.

Why would anyone want to sacrifice such a noble freedom—that of learning, of improving oneself, of growing as an individual and citizen—for another?

Many proponents of the bill cite the recent violent attacks on college campuses as reasons for passing this bill.  Why let them—the immoral minority, the weak, the mentally-ill—win?  By giving into fear they are winning.  By passing this bill, the state legislature will have created an environment which will allow them to carry out their plans faster and more efficiently. 

I implore you to keep weapons off of college campuses by voting against SB 354.  Keep our students, our support staff, and our instructors safe.  It is the only way to ensure that Texas remains a state where learning and knowledge are valued and protected.

so my reading public, i ask you to pray to whatever deity you choose.  pray for us--for those of us in the trenches, for those of us who still think the pen is mightier than the sword.

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