Uvalde: Reflecting on American Gun Violence | Kent Lenci | 4 Min Read

June 1, 2022

Sickened by the mass shooting, disgusted by a lack of political leadership, and fearful for my students and for my own young children, I hammered out a written editorial in which I implored the President of the United States to lead meaningful legislative action to interrupt the disgraceful pattern of American gun violence. I shared the letter with my grade-team colleagues during our morning meeting, and among those trusted friends I was reminded that while the news felt overwhelmingly grim, the future, in the hands of students who could rise to the challenges of the times, was at least a bit brighter.

That was ten years ago. Since then, many tens of millions of firearms have been added to the nation’s private arsenal, and scores of mass shootings have bloated the ledger of an American disgrace. And in that time, I have come to see that progress on our nation’s most intractable challenges—gun violence among them—will remain elusive until we collectively find the courage, patience, and curiosity to engage with those with whom we vehemently disagree because at present we are utterly incapacitated by political polarization.

For now, teachers are in the acute phase of managing tragedy, a drill that has become dishearteningly familiar: practice lockdowns; assure children of their immediate safety; watch for signs of emotional distress and consult experts and resources for further guidance. Eventually, when those immediate needs have eased, though, I hope we will take stock of what this tragedy—and the ones that lie ahead—tell us about society’s requirements for our students.

Within hours of the shooting in Texas, progressives had called for gun control measures, while conservatives admonished Democrats to lay off the “political talk” out of respect for the deceased. In turn, Democrats accused Republicans of pandering to the gun lobby. We know where this leads because we have rehearsed it dozens of times: to the next mass shooting. My personal opinion is that the Second Amendment is anachronistic and ripe for modification. Many readers, I’m sure, would agree. But this is a pipe dream. It will not happen. So where does that leave us? What to do with the grief of another tragedy and the frustration of anticipating the next one? The only solution I can envision is to help our students develop the strength to own their convictions—to seek gun reform, perhaps—while simultaneously learning from…

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Kent Lenci

Kent Lenci has taught, coached, and occupied several leadership positions at the middle-school level over the past 20 years. He is a recipient of various honors, including the Margot Stern Strom Teaching Award from Facing History and Ourselves and the NAIS Teacher of the Future designation. He earned his Ed.M. in Learning and Teaching from Harvard University. Kent has presented at local and national conferences and written on the topic of connecting students across political divides. By virtue of temperament and experience, he is well suited to gently, purposefully, and humorously leading students and faculty members through difficult discussions. As founder of Middle Ground School Solutions, Kent recognizes that polarization has scarred the country and complicated our daily lives. It can feel tricky to maintain the role of impartial educator in the classroom, and our instinct may guide us to simply stay away from “politics” at school. In fact, though, the complexity of our national political landscape presents appealing educational opportunities. Kent encourages educators to practice the skills they wish to instill in students by reaching across lines of political and ideological difference.