By Karen Petree
A newly introduced Texas law would allow teachers to kill their students.
Texas Republican state representative Dan Flynn submitted HB 868, The Teacher Protection Act, to the state legislature on January 22. “An educator is justified in using force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of students of the school that employs the educator if, under the circumstances as the educator reasonably believes them to be, the educator would be justified under Section 9.31, 9.32 or 9.33, Penal Code, in using force of deadly force, as applicable, in defense of the educator or students.”
The proposed law comes at a time when stories about students attacking teachers abound in the news. A recent attack caught on video and posted to YouTube shows a freshman student in New Jersey attacking a teacher after he confiscated his cell phone during class last month. The 62-year old teacher apparently didn’t fight back. Flynn’s bill was filed days before that video came out, but according to Flynn, teachers don’t feel they can defend themselves.
“It’s plain and simple; we have teachers who are afraid to defend themselves. I think it’s a timely piece of legislation to help protect teachers.” Flynn told radio station KETR. An attorney for the Association of Texas Professional Teachers told the Houston Chronicle that Flynn’s law would not add any additional protections for teachers that don’t already exist in Texas law. As a teacher in Texas, I already have all of these rights to self-defense. In fact all Texans, educator or otherwise, already have these rights written into the penal code, whose language is almost identical to that in HB 868.
But besides the legal technicalities of the Teacher Protection Act, what’s more concerning is what legislation like this does to our school system and the kids it seeks to educate. I’ve read a lot of comments on social media and articles regarding the proposed law, and a lot of supporters justify it with comments like, “kids today are uncontrollably bad! (so of course we need the legally sanctioned right to kill them!)” This attitude isn’t anything new in conversations about education, and the this-generation-as-bad-apples excuse has been recycled since time immemorial. But what does it solve to legally reframe the teacher-student relationship?
As a skeptical teacher who considers her current job not so much a profession but a means to getting elsewhere in life, I have to say they’re really not so bad, these kids. They’re figuring out how to balance responsibilities with social lives, how to date and be in relationships, all the while constructing who they are. Sometimes dragging them kicking and screaming through these coming-age-processes can feel like divine retribution for crimes committed in a past life, but as far as the teaching part goes, it’s a great job. Young people’s natural curiosity and dauntless approach to life is uplifting. Many of them haven’t learned to shut out their dreams or conform to monotony. They haven’t learned to value money over people. That’s not to say it’s a utopia. Teaching is also heartbreaking work. There are homeless students who show up without basic supplies. There are kids so despondent you wonder how they got out of bed. Some in such a short time have already learned to be angry and bitter and terrified of the world.
But let’s not forget that the kids we’re talking about are relatively new here. Sixteen years isn’t much in the span of a lifetime.
In school, we surveil everything our students do – their phones, what’s on their desk, when they can go to the restroom, what page they look at, when they can drink water, what corner of their paper they write their names on, what color ink they use, where they sit, when they stand, when they eat, where they go, which direction they walk in the hallway, whom they can talk to and when they can talk.
They didn’t create this mess they’re living in. We did. They haven’t had the space to do it yet. And now we want to blame them for the senseless violence of the world we made (and continue to make)? We’ve fashioned a world so far gone that we preemptively pass legal sanction of the deadly use of force specifically against the kids in our schools? The kids that we assume will imitate us?
I don’t want to be a high school teacher forever, but while I’m in my classroom, my job is to teach. In order to teach, you have to model. Model pronunciation. Model the structure. Model problem solving skills. Model self-control, respect, and good citizenship. What do they learn when I model being afraid of them?