I was walking to one of the last classes I will teach after spending ten months in Spain. In the hallway were various groups of students ranging in age from twelve to seventeen. Just as I was weaving my way through them to get to my class “on time” (give or take five minutes—it IS Spain, after all), I heard quite a bit of shouting from a group of boys down the hall. The level of their voices made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as I immediately sensed danger. Was there an argument that would lead to a physical fight? Would someone end up on the floor?
I looked down at the group, and within seconds I was reminded, once again, that this was no American high school, no American set of adolescents, but rather, the smiling, jubilant faces of boys shouting just for fun.
Teachers here don’t have to worry about guns, knives, drug busts or gangs. There’s almost no such thing as violence of any kind. It wouldn’t even occur to most Spanish students to throw a punch or make a threat. They joke and play and spend their lives outside of school soaking up American video games and movies, filled with violent acts and destruction that is excruciating for a weak-minded girl like me to watch. But they would never actually do any of the things presented in what is to them a fantasy world.
While this year hasn’t been easy on my family and I, I have great appreciation for some aspects of this culture. So many times I’ve had Spaniards ask me, “Why does America think it needs guns? Are we living in Biblical times? An eye for an eye? Haven’t we developed more as a society?”
It is ironic that the ruler of the free world takes our freedom away every day by making us live in fear. When are we ever going to be able to wake up not having to worry that our children can go to school and be safe from some psycho who’s armed enough to defend an entire nation? When will we see an end to the political banter that ends nowhere, so afraid of stripping a singular right from the great Bill of Rights, when we all know the historical (and presently not applicable) context with which it was written? When will we begin to realize that violent acts are NOT A PART OF EVERYDAY LIFE?
Are we really born more violently than the rest of the world? I don’t think so. We are born with the same choices in life, to choose the right or wrong path. But more and more, as a society, the wrong path seems to be more tempting to Americans than to anyone else on Earth. We have a culture that has a far-reaching influence on the rest of the world, primarily through media. And yet… rather than adoring it, admiring it, wishing that they could be a part of it, I have a feeling that most foreigners would admonish huge segments of our society. No public health care. Universities that cost more than anyone could ever afford to pay. And guns available to every man, woman, and child…
I wish I could say that I look forward to going back to America with the same excitement I had about coming here. In so many ways I do. America will always be my home, will always pull at my heartstrings and be at the core of who I am. But living abroad, even for the brief period that I have, has made me question the values of my country more than ever before. How phenomenal it would be for my girls to go to school and never witness a fight, never have to worry about who’s carrying what, never have to have a lockdown or hide behind desks because an armed criminal has escaped.
In Spain, there are rowdy students. Disrespectful students. LOUD students. But there are no fights, no guns, and virtually no violence. It is so easy to say, guns don’t kill people, people kill people… but what are we really saying when we make available the ultimate weapon? The weapon becomes the ultimate ruler of our society, and its violence trickles down into the tiny cracks of our humanity… through the Internet, the movies, the streets… the hallways of our schools.
When will we be able to walk the hallways of our schools, the true foundation of our future, without feeling like prisoners? Something needs to change. How many people need to die for us to realize that something needs to change?