Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kids, Guns and Schools

When it comes to the subject of kids, schools and guns tensions start to rise. With school shootings seeming to happen more frequently and the terrorized knee-jerk reactions of politicians and frightened parents and teachers, never before have we seen children so punished for being children. Kids who talk about guns, draw pictures of guns, even point their fingers, bite pastries into gun shapes and wear gun shirts have been suspended, the police have been called, they have been expelled, punished, questioned to the point of wetting their pants and so on.

Our Son at 1 year with his first toy gun.
 The American parent is forced with a conundrum. What do I tell my child's school about guns and what don't I? Is it any of the school's business? Will my child be persecuted and his opinions be tainted because of the negative attitudes of staff against firearms? Will my child's teachers even care?

This is the first time I have had to ask these questions for myself because it is the first time I've put my child into school.

My son, who will turn five this year, is starting preschool this fall. While I desperately wanted to home school him I had to self evaluate and be honest with myself about my abilities to teach my own child at this stage in his life. I came to the hard conclusion that, as of right now, I am not the best person to teach him (for several reasons).

That being said, it should be a surprise to no one that guns are a very large part of my son's life. He sees guns every single day of his life. He makes everything (and I do mean everything) into a gun. He gets to play with trainer guns and toy guns. He knows how to identify the different parts of guns and anything that explodes makes his day. He begs us to let him go shooting with us and he's been to the range with us quite a few time to watch. He even demands to see our targets at the end of range sessions.

Of course he is not blind to what is on TV as well and his play reflects that. He talks about shooting bad guys and shooting down airplanes and every airplane toy he has is a combat aircraft that shoots any and everything which consequently explodes.

We continue to actively construct his play in a positive manner. We influence his morals in regards to firearms in that it is inappropriate to talk about killing people. However, I refuse to make him feel ashamed for liking guns. I will not attempt to reconstruct his entire idea of play in the few short weeks before he is off to school. I also refuse to construct an idea for him that his parents are ashamed of being gun owners by encouraging him to hide that part of his life when we are so open about it with him and so many others who we come in contact with every day.

I would also much rather be proactive than reactive.

At 2 years, learning how to load and unload a shotgun
with dummy ammunition.

His preschool teacher scheduled a home visit with me and our son and I fully intended to bring up the subject with her. If it didn't come up I would have brought it up and if she hadn't scheduled a home visit I would have sought her out to talk about the subject. I was (and am not) above going to the administration with my concerns and questions as well.

My intent was simple and two fold:
1) Inform them that guns are a part of my child's life and therefor can be expected to be talked about, drawn and mimed in school.
2) To gauge their response and to see if this was something that was going to cause problems for my son.

If this was something that was going to cause problems I would refuse to let him attend that preschool and I would find another that was more accommodating to his lifestyle.

I do believe in being modest about who you talk to about your firearms and I do believe in teaching your children to be modest about their firearms talk as well. I think it is important that children learn what is appropriate and not appropriate conversation in certain venues. However, in school, a place where they are encouraged to express themselves and where teachers are expected to get to know their students to better tailor their teaching to them, something as routine as a four-year-olds gun play is going to eventually come out. In which case, I'd rather it come out in a candid conversation between me and his teacher than through panicked, knee-jerk reactions to him constructing a gun out of legos.

At our home visit his teacher asked me if there was anything she needed to know about our son and his play. I openly explained that both my husband and I were firearms instructors. Guns are an every day part of our child's life and he talks about them and mimics play with them. I told her that he knows that talking about killing is inappropriate and can be corrected if that occurs. I expressed that in today's political/social climate guns can be a touchy subject and asked if that was a problem. She said no.

She thanked me for telling her. She asked if there were other things he would likely talk about like camping or fishing, favorite pets, and our conversation moved on to tornadoes. 

When I asked on my facebook page if anyone felt the need to discuss firearms with their child's teacher one commenter asked whether or not I felt it necessary to talk about the power tools in my home. While I agree that, to me, a firearm is no different than a power tool, it cannot be denied that the topic of Daddy's gun when brought up by a child in school is a whole lot more politically and socially charged than if that same child talked about his Daddy's power drill.

Some have expressed that it's not the teacher's business. Of course it's not the business of the teacher to know everything we own. But it is that teacher's business to get to know his or her student and to learn the interests and motivations of that child to help construct a learning program that works for that child. Knowing that a child has a great fascination and love for firearms would be on par with knowing that another child thinks he's Spiderman or loves bugs.

It's also the teacher's business to keep their children safe. Some teachers, driven by fear and the hyperbole regarding guns, believe the way to do that is to persecute and punish any child who talks about firearms.

Learning how to grip a handgun.
Having that kind of teacher for my son would be a recipe for disaster. He would be punished for the lifestyle his parents chose and for his loves and innocent play and that would be unacceptable to me. It would be a negative environment for him where he would not be able to learn and flourish. At worst it could negatively affect his opinion of me and his father because of our lifestyles. It would be irresponsible of me to put him in that environment. And the only way I would know what kind of atmosphere I would be subjecting him to would be to be open about it with his teacher.

As he ages and with every passing grade and with every new teacher (should we choose not to home school him or his sister) we will reevaluate any conversation we feel we might need to have with his teachers about firearms and their role in his life. If he moves on to enjoy other things then it's logical that talking about firearms and mimicking play with them will cease and there will be no need to bring it up once he understands that kind of thing is private. If, however, he chooses to compete in shooting sports, hunt or otherwise work with guns on a regular basis, I will be his advocate and do my best to insure his learning environments and teachers will not persecute him for those choices and interests.

I don't believe in being ashamed of being a gun owner and I don't believe in letting people who believe differently than me socially persecute my children to push their agenda and fear. Especially when I put them in a position of authority over my child.

The decision to make a proactive stance when it comes to my child's freedom to express his interests in firearms was the right decision for our family. It may not be for others and for a variety of reasons. And I respect that. Perhaps your family is not as passionate about firearms as ours is and your children do not have the same interests. Maybe you don't want your children to have interests in firearms and don't want them to talk about them or mimic play with them. Perhaps there is good reason for you to keep your firearm ownership a secret. Those are the decisions that you need to make for your own family and for your child's own education.

What about your family? Do you feel the need to take a proactive stance with your child's school regarding his (or her) interest in firearms?

5 comments:

  1. I don't have a family but if I did I would probably follow your lead on this. Reading this to me sounds like your family is very healthy and intelligent about guns. Not that my opinion matters but I give you a thumbs up. I think it's also good that you let the teacher know about his interests and your feelings on that and hopefully that teacher will respect you as parents and your choice and not judge or condemn your child or reprimand him for any behaviors. By the pictures he looks like a very well adjusted child.

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  3. Great post. This is very thought provoking. This issue is one I've thought a lot about recently. My oldest child starts kindergarten tomorrow, and one of the things that has weighed on my mind is how to address the whole gun issue. We live in New York, and while many people we know are very gun friendly, others are very anti-gun. This is true even within my immediate family.

    For better or worse, guns haven't been quite as central to our family life as they have to yours, so my daughters don't really talk about them for the most part. I don't try to keep guns secret from them; I just don't have them out much and they're more interested in dolls and animals than guns. Add to that the fact that my wife is very paranoid about who knows that we own firearms, and the default is simply not to bring them up.

    Your approach seems very mature. It's something I might like to graduate into out of our less optimal "don't ask don't tell" policy. I'll have to gauge the openness of my daughter's teachers. Thanks for the food for thought.

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