Antoinette Tuff: The Power of Stories and the Power of . . .

. . . Compassion.

A remarkable young woman prevented another shooting in a school, and she did it without a gun.

oaklandFor a number of years, I taught ninth grade English in Oakland Unified School District, a job Wayne la Pierre and the NRA would like me to be armed for. I started out in a school in a mostly Mexican neighborhood so bad it was called “the kill zone”. Everyday, I parked my car behind concertina wire and passed through a metal detector to reach my classroom.

I believed it was my job not only to teach English but to teach the path of peace. My students saw so little of it.

We started each year with an essay by Alice Walker describing how she lost her eye in “gun play,” and then we moved on to a story by Fresno writer Gary Soto called, “Being Mean,” which the kids all loved. In the story, the children of a couple who are employed in a broom factory are left to their own devices during the summer. They do all the scandalous things you would expect kids to do under those circumstances, and needless to say, it does not turn out well. The first line of the story was this: “We were terrible kids I think.”

gary soto3By the end of the student’s writing and reflecting on the story, I always revealed something of Gary Soto’s biography, that he was the son of farm workers in the Central Valley and now was a full professor of English at UC Berkeley and a renowned poet. Is there anything in this story, I would ask, that would predict this transformation from a terrible kid to an English professor? Just as I hoped, someone would inevitably point to the first line, to the phrase “I think”. The writing assignment that night always involved comparing a time you acted without thinking vs. a time you acted upon reflection.

By the time we got to Romeo and Juliet, the students could see that Romeo’s impulsivity led to his being banished etc., and they did not think he was “Fortune’s fool,” as he wailed at the end of the Act. “He should have reflected on his actions,” they would write.

Can you imagine my teaching those lessons with a loaded gun?

This stupid idea reveals many things, but for sure, it shows an absolute ignorance of teaching in today’s world. Does the NRA think that teachers are standing at a podium in front of a chalkboard like in the 1800s, gun at the ready? Maybe. But in the real world where I lived, the kids worked in groups; I moved all over that classroom, guiding, questioning and so on.

Tell me where would the gun be then? Locked in my desk? It would HAVE HAD to have been locked in there, you know. The key, of course, would have had to have been in my purse, which would have been locked in my file cabinet. Well, you get my point.

Maybe the NRA would suggest that I put it in a shoulder holster and strut around the room with it. And what if a rather large ninth grader, maybe even a kid held back who was maybe fifteen or sixteen, decided to wrestle me to the ground for it? What then, Wayne?

I’m sure the NRA answer would be more guns. They are, after all, a gun manufacturer’s organization in the business, you know, of selling guns.

My answer is more people like Antoinette Tuff. (and Gary Soto,too.)

Here’s what she did:

antoinette-tuff“Tuesday’s gunman incident at an elementary school near Atlanta ended with no injuries or deaths. This is mainly thanks to Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk who spent about an hour calmly persuading the gunman to put his rifle down and surrender.

Tuff feared the worst when she encountered the gunman carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons in her school office. She told reporters, “I saw a young man ready to kill anybody that he could.”

She told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that much of her conversation focused not only on trying to understand the gunman, but also on trying to get the gunman to relate to her. “I just started telling him stories, ( emphasis mine)” she said, and things like, “You don’t have to die today.” Tuff told him a story of tragedy in her own life, and explained to reporters that she simply asked him to put his weapons down and surrender to police. She “talked him through it” by reminding him that “life will still bring about turns, but we can learn from it.”

Thank you Antoinette Tuff and all who walk in the way of peace.

(from Ranger 995 on Daily Kos)

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