Teaching College Today Was Downright Eerie

When we have to fear getting an education because we might get shot, it's a clear sign that bullets have won out over brains in America.

It is one of those things that you didn’t sign up for as an educator, the idea that you might have to wear a bulletproof vest to lecture on how to edit business communications. That doesn’t cross your mind when you’re getting your master’s degree.

But last night, as my college sent out a mass email about the FBI’s warning over some sort of violent action that might take place at a Philadelphia-area college, I seriously thought about canceling class.

Many of my colleagues did just that: Maybe it was fear, or maybe it was the fact that half of their students started emailing them, saying that there was no way they were coming to campus today, so, to be frank, it was more of a logical choice to call it quits before even showing up. In short, what’s the point?

I got some of those same emails from students, asking if they’d be penalized for not attending class, saying that they legitimately were too scared to show up.

“Of course you won’t be penalized,” I wrote back.

Heck, even I was a little scared. I had an awful time sleeping last night, despite the fact that I knew most likely nothing was going to happen. I had strange dreams about locking desks and wires and talking snakes that somehow announced that a shooter was on campus.

When I arrived this morning, the place was a ghost town. The secretary in my academic division was fielding one phone call after the other, mostly professors calling out “sick.”

I ran into one of my colleagues who was holding office hours.

“Normally I sit in my classroom,” she said. “But today, I just didn’t want to be alone, with all of that glass. It felt vulnerable.” She mentioned that groups in Australia were calling for a boycott of America until we fixed our gun laws.

I arrived to my classroom to find that only half of my class showed up, and I’m kind of okay with that. As soon as I entered the room, I pulled the shades down on the windows. We were workshopping some student writing today, where we essentially go around the room and make comments about each other’s pieces. I made it a point to tell everyone to “be kind” and made that commitment to myself. Be super kind. The last thing I needed was some kid pulling out a gun when I told him or her that they had a comma splice.

At the end of the class, a totally lovely student stayed after to chat, and, I’ll admit, I wanted to be out the door, and certainly not alone with anyone, even him, on a day like today. As we finished our talk (cut short by me turning out the lights), I walked out to find the hallways eerily silent.

I got in my car and only after I got on the road did I realize that bullets won out over brains today, that it has become a world where we fear getting an education because we might get shot, or stabbed, or blown up in the process. There’s been talk for years about America turning into an anti-intellectual puddle of muck. This was literally one of the best examples of that.

And I don’t see anything changing in the near future. There’s no way that gun reform is going to happen given the current political climate, and what exactly are college administrators going to do? Set up classrooms with bulletproof glass in the front and little bulletproof cubbies for each student? That’s not happening.

Nope, we’re stuck in the muck, just waiting for someone to raise their hand to answer the all important question: What is wrong with us?

Bryan Buttler is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G-Philly. Follow @bryanb82 on Twitter.