Peace isn't something that just happens in the absence of conflict: It’s something we must actively choose. Schoolteachers are experts at helping children learn to be considerate and cooperate with others. We teach them that heroes are people like Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Rosa Parks, who nonviolently stood up for a cause. We teach that if they’re hit on the playground, the best response is not to hit back but to get help and seek other solutions.
Any teacher worthy of the profession believes they can directly make a difference in the world. In every child's face we see the future. If we want it to be peaceful, we need only raise one generation of peaceful children. It’s that simple!
That’s why we won’t carry weapons: I refuse to undermine all my efforts to teach peace by demonstrating violence. That’s why, as an educator, I support all efforts for better gun control, including enforcing Asheville’s existing ban on guns on city-owned property, as proposed by Council member Cecil Bothwell. Instead of letting mad gunmen dominate the headlines, let's make headlines by taking this bold step toward peace.
As with 9/11, I will always remember what I was doing when I heard about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. But the last thing on my mind was arming the teachers at Rainbow Mountain Children's School.
Research has shown that children learn primarily by example. That means we, as educators, must demonstrate optimism. If our reaction to Sandy Hook is to treat every public place as a war zone, this feudal vision quickly degenerates into a world where gangs are paid off to protect, and no one ever feels safe. If that’s how we react, that’s the future we create.
Many psychology experiments have demonstrated what’s known as the "weapons effect": The mere presence of such implements can plant the thought of violence in our subconscious. Subjects exposed to either real weapons or toys give more violent answers to unrelated multiple-choice questions than a control group not shown weapons.The more guns become part of our lifestyle, the more violence will be simmering beneath the surface. Add the onslaught of violence portrayed in the media and the declining access to mental health care, and we’re creating a very dangerous world.
It’s simple logic, and the facts back it up: A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a suicide attempt, criminal assault or unintentional shooting than in self-defense, a 1998 study found (http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/gunviolence).
The desire to own and use guns is part of our survival mechanism. And like driving a car for the first time, controlling an object so powerful is a rush. (This Second Amendment right, however, concerns using firearms as a tool, not for enjoyment, as Mike Kent, promoter of last weekend’s gun show at the WNC Agricultural Center, told the Asheville Citizen-Times.)
Hunting to provide for ourselves is also instinctive. I have a hunting license myself, but assault weapons are different. Their only purpose is to kill people in numbers. People who believe they may need one to defend themselves against their own government or their neighbors have given in to a future vision so bleak that owning guns won't improve it anyway. I implore you to pass on something better to your children.
If we’re serious about creating a peaceful future, we must ban the sale of assault weapons. It’ll take a generation or so for this policy to really have an effect, but in the context of our children's future, that’s not so far off. Meanwhile, City Council should bar gun shows at the Civic Center — or at least make them off limits to kids.
Ultimately, the answer is self-governance, the same thing we teach kindergartners: Be kind to one another. As Lao Tzu said:
"If there is to be peace in the world, There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations, There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities, There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors, There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home, There must be peace in the heart."
That’s what we should be teaching our children — and modeling every day.
Renee Owen is executive director of Rainbow Mountain Children’s School.