Published: Feb. 23, 2018

Original article can be found at Denver Post  
Originally published on February 23, 2018 By Patty Limerick 

In some arenas of life, I am getting better traction. 

In 1972, I left California and moved to New England. The treacherous footing provided by melted and re-frozen snow became my nemesis. While moving to Colorado reduced the frequency of that atmospheric misery called freezing rain, the relocation did not fully relieve the dread aroused by the sight of any icy surface in my path. 

But now life is transformed. In the last months, I became a loyal user of Yaktrax, those webs of stretchy material with metal spikes embedded in them. Pulled into place over the soles of shoes, Yaktrax install courage in the souls of the wimpiest of bipeds, protecting our limbs and preserving our dignity. 

Liberated from fear by the acquisition of reliable traction, my mind is free to wander to other concerns. 

This has mixed results. 

When I am walking to the university where I teach, and am headed into the company of young people, my thoughts often go to the epidemic of school shootings. When I try to think of solutions and remedies for this intolerable state of affairs, I make little progress. 

The killings at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as The New York Times recently reported, are “forcing a shift in how teachers view their responsibilities.” At every level and in every locale, teachers are asking themselves how they can anticipate danger and serve as their students’ vigilant protectors and rescuers. 

“Last night, I told my wife,” a Florida elementary school teacher said, “I would take a bullet for the kids.” 

After 43 years as a teacher, my commitment to protect my students is pretty hard-wired. While we cannot predict our future actions, it seems well within the range of possibility that instinct would lead me to put myself between my class and an attacker. But how would my acting on that impulse save them? 

And here is where my footing becomes very uncertain: Is there something that I and my comrades and colleagues in the teaching profession should be doing right now to ensure the safety of students? 

Do I stay silent on the issue of gun control because I recognize that I am no expert on the remedies for the sources and causes of these calamities? Or do I fear fruitless controversy and want to stay out of its reach? 

Working at the Center of the American West, I have forsworn the role of the activist and advocate, and embraced the role of convener of civil conversations on heated subjects. Is that sufficient when it comes to protecting the lives of young people assembled in classrooms? 

Forty years ago, I gave my first speech at a memorial service for a treasured student who had died in a collision. Thirty years ago, I gave a speech at a memorial service for a treasured student who had died from an act of violence. 

I have never stopped wishing that I could have protected those two young people. I would like to spare myself any such regrets in the future. 

I hope I will get traction that lets me move closer to that goal. In the meantime, I am glad to know other teachers are ahead of me on this trail, and I welcome your guidance on the journey ahead.