It’s become commonplace for people to respond to President Trump by urging others not to take his statements seriously – not to give them attention or credence because “it’s a distraction.” Or “it’ll never happen.” No doubt, as a rule, Trump’s ideas are rarely well-thought-out. His policy proposals often seem to have been invented entirely off-the-cuff – as he speaks or as he tweets – and as such are hardly policy proposals at all.
Trump’s notion of arming teachers in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida might be a perfect example of this. “It’s a distraction.” “It’ll never happen.”
His call to “harden schools” does echo, some have suggested, a proposal the NRA made back in 2013 following the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. That proposal recommended hiring more school security officers and arming select teachers. There aren’t a lot of details in Trump’s plan – and so many unanswered questions about how it could possibly work – but that hasn’t stopped other politicians from making similar statements, from unveiling similar proposals.
They’re not simply demanding more weapons in schools. They’re demanding more weapons and anti-weapons technology, along with more surveillance capabilities. “We’ve got to invest in metal detectors,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said earlier this week. “We’ve got to invest in bulletproof glass. We’ve got to invest in steel doors. We’ve got to invest in upgraded locks.”
This is the second time I’ve written this year about guns and schools, something that I’d much rather not have to do – not because the topic strays from my focus here on this site on education technology. Rather, because all of this is ed-tech, but it’s rarely addressed as such.
To reiterate what I wrote in that other essay: we need to expand what is too often a narrow definition of education technology – one that obsesses with gadgetry but fails to consider the context into which gadgets are introduced; one that lauds “innovation” but refuses to understand systems, structures, histories; one that champions products but overlooks practices; one that embraces “what’s new” and ignores “what’s just”; one that insists that “technology” means “computers in the classroom” and “technology” means “progress.” This narrow definition circumscribes what we think of as ed-tech, how we talk about ed-tech, how we imagine its development and its usage, and how we address the technological systems and practices that are already deeply embedded in any educational setting.
“Hardening schools” is an education technology endeavor, whether or not we take seriously anyone’s suggestions about giving teachers guns. For now, “hardening schools” explicitly calls for hardware like those items listed by Governor Scott: metal detectors and bulletproof windows, as well as surveillance cameras and various sensors that can detect gunfire. It also implies software – social media monitoring and predictive analytics tools, for example, that claim they can identify students “at risk” of violence or political extremism.
The hardware and software already exist in schools – although we know that these technologies are not implemented evenly across all demographics or across all schools. Perhaps the emphasis should be placed less on insisting that arming teachers will never happen and more on recognizing the ways in which these disciplinary regimes are already in place, the ways in which data and assessments are so readily and efficiently weaponized, and the ways in which education technologies facilitate a culture of surveillance and compliance and control.
It is happening.