U.S. and World Politics

Maryland Teacher Speaks Out

Pat Elder, who teaches GED classes at Great Mills High, says to end gun violence America must tackle the militarization of schools and broader society

Jaisal Noor Interviews Pat Elder

Jaisal Noor: Just days before the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C., which is led by the survivors of the Parkland shooting in Florida, there has been another school shooting, this time in southern Maryland. Authorities are saying at least two students are injured after a student opened fire shortly after classes began at 8:00 A.M. 

We are here with Pat Elder, who is actually a teacher at Great Mills High School, which was shot up this morning. He was there last night. He teaches GED classes, and he’s also a longtime opponent of the militarization of public schools around the country. 

Pat, we know that details are still emerging about this. It happened just two and a half hours ago. But tell us what you know right now, and what your thoughts are right now. 

Pat Elder: Well, my thoughts and prayers go out to those that have been injured. I know a lot of folks at this high school where I teach, and my son attended. So when it hits close to home like this it’s a different deal. Certainly I’ve been railing against the militarization of schools and particularly the JROTC program for 20 years. And so I don’t really know at this juncture if there is a link, a direct link between the shooter and the JROTC program and militarism in general. But I’m deeply upset. I have to say that more than 100 times I’ve thought about what it might be like if, you know, a shooter opened fire at Great Mills High School. So I’m deeply upset. 

Jaisal Noor: There been students marching, more than a million marching around the country, and they’re calling for basic gun reform. They’ve called out the NRA for opposing this, they’ve called out politicians, from the mayor in Baltimore to Donald Trump, for not doing more to address gun violence on a local level or national level. 

You know, we don’t know all the details about this shooting yet, but in general, speaking more broadly, can these types of incidents be prevented if there’s more restrictions on guns? 

Pat Elder: Well, obviously that’s the direction we have to head in. But I think that the gun culture is so entrenched in a rural area like southern Maryland it’s going to take a generation to undo. I’m all about connecting the dots between militarism and gun violence. And I’ve been upset thus far to see that the people organizing the march coming up on Saturday really have not brought militarism into the discussion. I believe deeply that militarism is a root cause of gun violence in America and we need to take a look at it, and understand that Nick Cruz, for instance, was actually trained by the army. The army put a lethal weapon into his hands when he was 14-years-old, and of course he went on to become the Parkland shooter. 

Jaisal Noor: You talked about militarism in our culture. And it’s so pervasive that it’s hard to even identify all its tentacles in our society. 

But a lot of people don’t know that the No Child Left Behind Act, which was passed by George W. Bush, military recruiters got the contact information for every public school student in the country unless they opted out. And this became a great boon for military recruiters nationwide. Can you talk a little bit about that history, and how common it is to have military recruiters either on school campuses or just stationed right outside? 

Pat Elder: Well, there are two components to that legislation. The No Child Left Behind Act, which is now ESSA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, basically it says that if a military recruiter requests the contact information, that is, name address and phone number, of children in a particular high school, the high school must comply with that request. 

However, the school was supposed to let parents know that they have the right to opt out, and that’s what is not taking place across the country. When the legislation was enacted they didn’t really explain how the heck schools were supposed to go about telling parents that they had the right to opt out. And so a lot of schools simply aren’t doing anything at all. In the state of Maryland we passed legislation, and we’re the only state to pass legislation, that requires the placement of the opt out language. That is, do you want your child’s information going to military recruiters, yes or no. That’s on the emergency contact form, which is the only form annually a parent must fill out. That’s one component of the No Child Left Behind Act. 

The other one has to do with access, the access that military recruiters are granted to the schools. The legislation today, the federal legislation, says military recruiters are supposed to have the same access as college recruiters. But we know across the country that’s not the case. Military recruiters oftentimes eat lunch in the cafeteria with kids, the same cafeterias they take apart at night and set up as firing ranges. And so the college recruiters are usually required to simply meet with three or four kids in the counselor’s office. 

So military recruiters have much, much greater access to children. They show on the parking lot in a lot of places, they have free rein in the school. And this is something the American public needs to be aware of and needs to understand. These guys are psychological predators. 

Jaisal Noor: Details are coming out, and I’m looking at this report from NBC, and it said that the school resource officer was alerted to the shooter, and he quickly confronted the gunman and he fired at least one round at the shooter, and the shooter exchanged some shots with the officer. As these details continue to emerge, and will emerge throughout the day, what are your final thoughts on this shooting that’s touched your community, and you as a teacher at this school. 

Pat Elder: I’m upset. I’ve been working for 20 years to try to get people to understand that we have a violent culture, and that any time you put guns into the hands of children, whether those guns are play guns, or guns that are used in the U.S. Army video games—and their greatest technique in recruiting in America is the America’s Army video game—are part of that violent culture. 

And so they have millions of children that are able to do a free download. And it’s a first person shooter game and they get to shoot up people. And the Army pays for it. And so the Army doesn’t really care whether the children’s fingers, you know, are fixed on virtual or real guns. And so they just want to wrap as many young fingers around as many guns as possible. It’s an insidious practice, and it filters out throughout the rest of the country, and it’s a shame that the march that’s coming up on Saturday isn’t willing to connect those dots. 

Jaisal Noor: All right. Pat Elder, thank you so much for joining us. And our thoughts certainly go out with you and the community at Great Mills High School. 

Pat Elder: Hey, I’m small change in it. My heart goes out to the families and those that were hurt today.

The Real News, March 20, 2018