by Robbie Gringras
The political awakening of students throughout the land following the Parkland shooting, has surprised and inspired many. Whether or not the subject is on their curriculum, every Jewish educator knows that Gun Control is a topic that their students are interested in addressing. As such, we have an opportunity. Our students are motivated, excited, engaged!
What contribution might educators make at this time?
I would suggest that one contribution – among many others – might be to equip our students to fight their good fight without them losing sight of the shared humanity and shared citizenship of their opponents. How can they maintain their righteous passion and drive, and at the same time hold on to a sense – despite it all – of a United States of America? How can our classrooms provide space for disagreement and struggle, yet make sure that opposition does not turn into hatred?
We would suggest that the Gun Control debate revolves around four fundamental questions that our students would benefit from exploring:
How do we stay safe?
What makes us American?
How can we be free?
How do we relate to our territory?
Our students who are demonstrating and campaigning for gun control probably do not need to even check their answers to these questions. Even without asking we might assume that it is clear to them that safety will come from gun control laws applied more consistently and broadly than ever before. They probably know that being American is about liberty and tolerance, and not about being the shame of the world due to its gun violence. They presumably wish to be free to go to school without armed guards (or teachers), and they know that only the US has such a crazy attitude to guns, and that those who do not live on the coasts think totally differently about this and that they are wrong.
So far so unsurprising. Where these four questions come in useful is in enabling the liberal learner to understand the “other side”. The “other side” of this gun debate would argue that one is safe from bad guys and from bad governments when one owns a gun of one’s own – the more powerful the better. They might argue that the Constitution is the sacred heart of what makes us American, all amendments included. Freedom for them would be meaningless if the State took away their right to armed self-defence, and the right to defend one’s territory – especially one’s home.
In assessing these two sets of answers (and of course there are many other possible combinations of answers), the student may emerge with two conclusions. First, “I totally disagree with them. They are totally wrong, and I shall do all I can to achieve what I believe,” but also: “I understand that we both share four fundamental concerns. This is what binds us. Our different attitudes to these shared concerns are what make us opponents in our shared endeavor to get better answers to these fundamental questions.” The latter conclusion can and should live together with the first.
Funnily enough, if you end up managing to draw your students into this conversation on gun control through these four questions, you might find your class is delightfully prepped to talk about Israel, too!
For the penultimate line of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, contains four words that map very neatly on to these four questions your students will have explored: To Be (safety) a People (national identity) Free In Our Land (territory) – Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’Artzenu – להיות עם חפשי בארצנו. Pretty much every aspect of Israel you might explore with your students are about the same four fundamental concerns – for safety, collective identity, freedom, and land – expressed through these same four questions.
For more about these Four Questions in Israel Education, take a look at Makom’s work with 4HQ.