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Will guns on campus scare away high school students and their parents?

Rick Diguette is a local writer and college instructor. In this piece, he warns that allowing guns on Georgia's college campus may make parents think twice about putting their academically gifted high school students in dual enrollment programs.

By Rick Diguette

Recent passage of Georgia House Bill 859 makes it all the more likely that concealed carry permit holders will soon be authorized to bring loaded firearms into classrooms on all of Georgia's public college and university campuses. Just as I do not believe putting more guns in more hands in more places will effectively address the problem of gun violence, I'm equally concerned that this legislation may have a chilling effect on Georgia's extremely popular Move On When Ready (MOWR) dual enrollment program.

MOWR allows public and private high school students to enroll in classes at some of the state's public postsecondary institutions. The college credits they earn serve the dual purpose of fulfilling high school graduation requirements. And as a result of changes made to the program during last year's legislative session, tuition and almost all fees and textbook costs are now paid for in full by the Georgia Student Finance Commission.

Students participating in the program during their junior and senior years can graduate from high school with the equivalent of the first two years of college completed. Although most MOWR students don't take that many classes, it's still an option. But if House Bill 859 makes it through the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, I fear we may see a steep decline in program participation.

Some years ago I served as the dual enrollment coordinator at the college where I teach and met with hundreds of high school students and their parents. To say they were excited about the program would be an understatement, but they also had legitimate concerns. Some parents wondered if their academically gifted high schoolers possessed the emotional maturity to succeed in a college environment. They were also concerned that dual enrollment students might not be treated as equals in the classroom by their slightly older classmates as well as their professors.

I was able to address these concerns because in my experience it was rare for dual enrollment students to enjoy anything but unqualified success. They also gained valuable college classroom experience. Perhaps best of all, I was certain the MOWR program would continue to pay academic dividends long after they had graduated from high school.

Although I no longer serve as a dual enrollment coordinator, I'm not sure I could be quite so confident about the MOWR program should House Bill 859 become law. Nor do I think I could address the concerns of parents and students as effectively as I did in the past. In my view allowing concealed firearms in a classroom imperils the very nature of a learning environment.

Knowing that some classmates and/or professors have armed themselves suggests, at least subliminally, that a violent attack is always a clear and present danger. It also suggests that the trained security personnel employed by the college are inadequately prepared to deal with emergencies. If students are always worried that an armed and dangerous individual might at any moment appear at their classroom door, their ability to maintain focus and learn is bound to be compromised.

It is also quite likely that professors and students would be less willing to address controversial issues in the classroom. Although the free and open exchange of ideas has always been a hallmark of the college experience, it is reasonable to assume that professors and students might self-censor their views rather than risk provoking a response from someone in the classroom who doesn't share those views and who might also be armed.

While there have been a number of deadly incidents on college campuses in recent years involving armed and dangerous individuals, I don't think they warrant the intrusion of guns in our college classrooms. And if I were the parent of a child who wanted to participate in MOWR, I would have to think long and hard about that if some version of House Bill 859 is eventually signed into law.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.