Sunday, January 13, 2013

Aux Armes?

I did a lesson on American vs. French stereotypes before the holidays, and one of the things that constantly came up was:


In the aftermath of yet another gun tragedy (this time in Newtown, CT), and a renewed interest in debating gun control back home, I decided, since the stereotype is becoming all too real and evermore difficult for me to defend as...well, a stereotype and NOT TRUE, that I would like to do a lesson on gun control with my students. 

It totally plays into the subjects they expect us to prepares students for, too: gun control could fit (with or without a little maneuvering) into "Myth and Hero," or "Spaces and Exchanges," or even "Places and Forms of Power." The topics are so vague, it's not much of a stretch at all.

It doesn't really matter if the kids like it or not, anyway, but I'm betting they will. It's a hot topic right now, and it would do them some good to catch up on current events. And it's definitely more interesting for me than listening to them recount their weekends, or tell me what they ate for Christmas dinner--the lessons of the past week--why prepare for an empty crowd, after all?

In my research, I've come up with some interesting things. At first, like most Americans, I was just horrified at the school shooting, and wanted to know what happened exactly. New gun regulations was one of the first things to come up, then comparison statistics of gun violence in other countries, including the firearms ban implemented in the UK after a similar school massacre occurred in Dunblane, Scotland. But you know what?  The United States has a hella bunch of guns out in circulation: 300 million at one count, which is enough for every man, woman and child in the country to have their very own. 

Later, I started reading reactions to the news, like the "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" article and other calls to arms (sorry) for better mental health resources in the United States such as "Can You Call a 9-year-old a Psychopath?" from the New York Times. Although reading about the woman with an uncontrollable, possibly autistic teenager, and a clearly psychotic nine-year-old shoved off to a case-study sleep-away camp were fascinating, I unfortunately found them way too tough for my students. There would be so much explaining to do on a cultural level, not to mention the length, the advanced gives me a headache to think about, honestly.

But are those really side issues to the gun control debate, or do they reach the heart of the matter? What comes first, limiting gun use, or limiting people who feel the need to use guns to harm others?  What comes first, the psychopath or the NRA membership? Are video games to blame? There are no easy answers. And the questions lead to even more divisive topics.

Part-time opinion writer for the New York Times and French professor at Princeton Christy Wampole wrote a piece commenting about the fact that overwhelmingly the mass shooters of America are young, white men, and opined that they feel disenfranchised, like their lives are unimportant, maybe even meaningless. They have no place in society, because women (and minorities) are taking away the "hero" status of the young man. Whereas his grandfather brought home the bacon to the wifey after a glorious stint in Normandy or the Pacific, the contemporary American young man cannot even be guaranteed that he will have a higher salary than his wife. In effect, he has nothing. Sitting alone in his basement playing World of Warcraft he is even outsmarted by his computer, because his sparring partner in Chechnya recently found himself a girlfriend--one who won't talk back, or want to do something dumb like go to college. 

This premise, not of a need to redefine masculinity in our culture--which is what I was hoping for--but of blaming women and minorities for usurping power from white men, was even weirder and scarier to me than the idea of allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools to protect students from future school shootings. Although sometimes in France it feels like the world has not changed since 1950, that's not a good feeling--unless benevolent sexism comes out in my favor. My guess is either Ms. Wampole has taken too literally her francophilia, or her Texas roots are showing (she mentions in the article she grew up near Fort Worth).

Thank goodness someone with more sense also wrote an opinion piece I found on Gawker: "The Unbearable Invisibility of White Masculinity," by David Leonard, I found much more to the point. In it, Mr. Leonard argues that portraying a mass killer as a victim just because he is or was white (he cites the Wampole article as well) is inexcusable, and a privilege that apparently comes with being white. One of the underlying reasons, he argues, that people are so shocked over the Newtown killings, and the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO, over the summer, is partly due to the fact that they occurred in mostly white, suburban neighborhoods that are supposed to be safe--as opposed to the south side of Chicago, which is mostly black and obviously unsafe. People expect to be murdered out there.

Obviously, I'm just expressing my own opinions and frustrations now, since those pieces are way too tough for my students, too. I found a much simpler article from US News & World Report complete with gun pictures (I honestly had no idea what an AK-47 or an M16 looked like before I read the article); that should start them off--from there, I'll drop a few gun stats and ask some probing questions. That will fill an hour, and maybe even give the kids some food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. An update on how the lesson went (since I'm retiring it today):
    It mostly went well, as a current events/critical thinking piece. Stereotypes aside, the boys seemed most interested, especially with the "Rambo" and "French Connection" references I made. The girls, not so much.

    Highlight: when the students came up with good solutions to America's gun problem on their own (restricting bullets instead of restricting guns to get around the Second Amendment, for example).

    Lowlight: yesterday when my group of TES students told the teacher they thought I really brought a gun to school.

    I think I will continue with a new topic next week: the history of Jazz. More my speed, anyway, and (I hope) more universally appealing..!