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TED2018

Diane Wolk-Rogers: A Parkland teacher's homework for us all

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Diane Wolk-Rogers teaches history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, site of a horrific school shooting on Valentine's Day 2018. How can we end this senseless violence? In a stirring talk, Wolk-Rogers offers three ways Americans can move forward to create more safety and responsibility around guns -- and invites people to come up with their own answers, too. Above all, she asks us to take a cue from the student activists at her school, survivors whose work for change has moved millions to action. "They shouldn't have to do this on their own," Wolk-Rogers says. "They're asking you to get involved."

- Educator
Diane Wolk-Rogers has been a Florida public school teacher for more than three decades. Full bio

I teach history
00:12
at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
00:14
On February 14, 2018,
00:18
my school experienced one of the worst
mass school shootings in American history.
00:22
People want to know what we saw,
00:31
what I felt.
00:34
I don't remember everything,
00:37
but I do remember I went into crisis mode,
00:39
mother mode.
00:43
There was no emotion.
00:44
I lined up the kids,
00:47
I held up a sign so they could
follow me through the hall,
00:48
just like a fire drill.
00:51
I heard shots from one direction.
00:53
Luckily, we were already
moving in the opposite direction.
00:56
We made it outside.
01:01
We made it to safety.
01:03
I called my mother.
01:06
"I'm OK."
01:08
I called my husband.
01:09
"I'm OK."
01:11
Then my daughter called, my voice cracked,
and I knew I had to pull myself together.
01:13
I sat alone in my thoughts,
01:22
worried about my colleagues and students.
01:24
We sat there, only understanding
that somehow, Valentine's Day --
01:30
We sat there, only understanding
that somehow, Valentine's Day
01:38
had ended up with our babies dead,
01:42
and we didn't know what to do next.
01:45
It's been two months,
01:52
and every day I still hear the echoes
of the "pop, pop" sound of the gunfire.
01:54
I remember the fearful faces
of my students
01:59
when we knew it wasn't a drill.
02:02
Still, there's no constant emotion,
02:05
except for flashes
of pain, grief and anger
02:09
triggered by the news,
02:15
or an insensitive comment,
02:17
or just silence.
02:19
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
lost 17 precious lives
02:26
on that horrible day.
02:31
After, students asked us, the adults
02:37
the hardest question:
02:41
How can we stop the senseless violence?
02:43
This was the most difficult
question I've been asked.
02:47
But it was not the first time
I've been humbled by a student's question.
02:52
I've been teaching
in the public schools for 33 years,
02:56
so I know you have to admit
what you don't know
03:00
before you can share what you do know.
03:03
In fact, there's a method
to being an engaged student,
03:06
teacher, citizen.
03:11
First, listen closely
to the person asking you a question.
03:13
Second, admit your vulnerability.
Admit what you don't know.
03:20
Third, do your homework.
03:25
Fourth, humbly share your knowledge.
03:28
I know all about this process.
03:33
My students ask really
thoughtful questions all the time.
03:35
They're eager to learn,
03:39
and sometimes they're eager
to prove their smarts.
03:41
And believe me, they know
when I have no idea of the answer,
03:45
so in those instances, I say to them,
03:49
"That's a great question.
Let me research that and get back to you."
03:52
So when my students asked,
03:57
"How do we stop this senseless violence?"
03:59
I listened,
04:02
and then I admitted,
04:05
"I don't know."
04:08
And like I always do when I don't know
the answer to one of my questions,
04:10
I began doing my homework.
04:14
And as a history teacher,
04:18
I knew I needed to start
with the Second Amendment and the NRA.
04:19
In case it's been a while since
you've been sitting in a history class,
04:25
here is what the Second Amendment
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actually says:
04:30
"A well regulated Militia,
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being necessary
to the security of a free State,
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the right of the people
to keep and bear arms,
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shall not be infringed."
04:41
Meaning, the federal government could not
infringe on the rights of citizens
04:45
to participate in well-regulated militias.
04:48
The Second Amendment
was ratified 226 years ago.
04:53
It was written in a time before
the federal government's armed forces
04:58
were among the most powerful in the world
05:01
and when state militias were viewed
as necessary to protect the states.
05:04
Fast-forward 80 years, to 1871.
05:09
The American Civil War
had ended a few years prior,
05:14
but a couple of Union officers
05:17
had witnessed some pretty shoddy
marksmanship on the battlefield.
05:19
So in an attempt to prepare their men
for any future conflicts,
05:24
they founded the National
Rifle Association
05:28
to promote rifle practice.
05:31
In short, the Second Amendment
was written to ensure
05:35
that our newly formed and fragile country
05:38
had access to organized state militias.
05:41
And the NRA's original mission was
to ensure future soldiers had good aim.
05:45
Someone could teach an entire course
05:54
on how the next 150 years influenced
the gun regulation conversations
05:56
we're having in the United States
06:01
and our interpretation
of the Second Amendment.
06:02
Almost every pivotal moment
in our nation's history
06:06
in one way or another
06:10
influenced how we as a people
06:11
manufacture, debate,
regulate and feel about guns.
06:13
A lot of change has occurred.
06:20
As a matter of fact, it wasn't until 2008
06:22
that the Supreme Court
ruled for the first time
06:26
the Second Amendment protects
an individual right to possess a firearm
06:29
unconnected with service in a militia
06:33
and to use that arm
for traditionally lawful purposes,
06:36
such as self-defense within the home.
06:40
Within the home.
06:43
This change over time is striking to me,
06:46
because it reminds us
06:50
that the interpretation
of the Second Amendment
06:51
and cultural attitudes about guns
06:55
have changed over time.
06:57
Which gives me hope
they could change again.
07:00
(Applause)
07:05
It's an incredibly complex
and dynamic history lesson,
07:13
but it's not the lesson
I'm here to teach today,
07:16
because we don't have time.
07:19
I'm not talking about time,
07:20
the time that I have here
to stand and speak.
07:22
I'm talking about the fact
we don't have time to lose.
07:25
According to the CDC,
07:30
over the last five years,
07:32
on average, each day 96 people
are killed by guns in the United States,
07:34
and if we don't figure out how to answer
my students' question soon,
07:41
one of us could be next.
07:47
So, if the question is,
how do we stop this senseless violence,
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the best way I can think to answer
07:56
is to look at multiple choice.
07:58
You remember multiple-choice
questions in high school, don't you?
08:00
Let's start.
08:05
Choice A: this will end when we
hold gun manufacturers responsible
08:07
for the deadliness of their products.
08:13
It might surprise you to learn that we've
actually thought about this before.
08:16
Between 1998 and 2000,
08:20
30 counties and cities
sued gun manufacturers,
08:23
saying they should
make their products safer
08:27
and do a better job of tracking
where their products are sold.
08:29
In response, manufacturers argued
08:34
that they had no direct liability
for how their products were used.
08:37
They said the stores who sold the guns
and the owners who bought them
08:42
were responsible
should anything bad happen.
08:47
In response to this
and many other lawsuits,
08:51
the NRA lobbied
for the passage of the PLCAA,
08:54
the Protection of Lawful
Commerce in Arms Act.
08:59
The PLCAA passed
with bipartisan support in 2005
09:03
and entrusts gun manufacturers
09:08
to design guns safely,
09:10
stores to sell those guns responsibly
09:13
and someone to own
and use the gun responsibly.
09:17
And so when 17 students
and faculty die at my school,
09:23
no one in this chain
will assume responsibility.
09:30
Let's take a look at another option,
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Choice B:
09:44
this will end when we
hold ourselves accountable
09:46
and regulate the estimated
300 million guns available in America.
09:49
Yes, voting is one of the best ways
09:55
to take personal responsibility
for gun violence.
09:57
Making sure that our lawmakers
are willing to pass commonsense gun reform
10:00
is one of the most effective ways to get
those 300 million guns under control.
10:05
And also, gun owners
can take personal initiative.
10:11
If you own a gun,
10:15
ask yourself:
10:17
Do I have an extra gun I don't need?
10:19
Could it fall into the wrong hands?
10:22
Have I attended the latest training?
10:25
Perhaps as a gun owner,
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you should also ask
10:31
whether you have been
taking care of your mental health?
10:32
When it comes to gun violence,
the mental health argument falls flat
10:36
if we don't acknowledge
our own personal vulnerabilities
10:40
to mental illness.
10:43
One in six Americans
will struggle with mental illness.
10:45
If we own a gun, we should be
rigorously engaged in the upkeep
10:50
of our emotional well-being
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so we don't pull a trigger
10:57
in times of illness.
10:59
Otherwise, we should
seriously ask ourselves
11:01
whether we really have the time
and attention to own a gun.
11:04
Perhaps for some of us
11:12
it's time to lay down our arms.
11:15
Then we have Choice C:
11:20
this will end when we do a better job
of taking care of each other.
11:22
Many social issues affect
why people buy and use guns.
11:26
Sixty-two percent of US gun fatalities
11:30
between 2012 and 2016 were suicides,
11:34
yet we call people maniacs
and psychos, shaming them.
11:39
We are creating barriers
for people that need help.
11:44
Why are we embarrassing each other?
11:48
Let's make it easier, not harder,
11:51
for people to access
better mental health care.
11:53
What else? Sexism, racism
and poverty affect gun ownership
11:57
and gun-related fatalities.
12:02
On average, it's estimated that 50 women
were fatally shot each month
12:05
between 2010 and 2014
12:10
due to domestic violence,
12:13
and women are still dying in their homes.
12:16
Let's empower women
12:20
and give our young boys a chance to learn
12:21
how to work out their conflicts
and emotions with words, not weapons.
12:23
And the "Washington Post"
reported that last year,
12:29
nearly 1,000 people were fatally wounded
12:33
by on-duty police officers.
12:36
Talk to Black Lives Matter
and the police union about that.
12:39
We need to tackle this.
12:43
(Applause)
12:45
At the end of the day,
12:52
perhaps people won't feel the need
12:54
to buy and use a gun
12:56
when they all equally feel safe,
12:59
healthy, respected and cared for.
13:04
All right, discussion time is over.
13:10
It's now time to answer the question.
13:12
How do we stop this senseless violence?
13:14
Is it Choice A,
13:17
Choice B,
13:21
Choice C?
13:24
Now, I know what you're all thinking.
13:26
You remember that
multiple-choice questions
13:28
almost never end
with just three possibilities.
13:30
There's always that fourth,
Choice D: all of the above.
13:33
Maybe that's the answer here.
13:38
Or maybe "all of the above" is too easy,
and this is not an easy problem.
13:42
It requires deep analytical
thinking by all of us.
13:48
So instead, I'm asking you
to do your homework,
13:54
write your own Choice D
13:58
using supporting detail.
14:01
And if you're not sure where to start,
look to my students as role models.
14:03
They are armed with incredible
communication skills
14:07
and a sense of citizenship
that I find so inspiring.
14:10
(Applause)
14:14
These are public school kids
engaged in the issue of gun regulation,
14:24
and their endeavor has moved our hearts.
14:29
And they shouldn't have
to do this on their own.
14:33
They're asking you,
14:36
they're asking all of us,
14:38
to get involved.
14:39
This isn't a spectator sport.
14:42
So what's the right answer?
14:45
I don't know. Listen,
I'm no gun control expert.
14:49
I teach the humanities.
14:52
To be human is to learn,
14:55
and to be part of a civilization
is to share your knowledge.
14:57
This kind of honest,
brave and sincere engagement
15:01
is what I ask of my students,
15:05
what I expect of myself as a teacher
15:07
and what I demand of you now.
15:10
Every one of you
needs to do your homework.
15:14
And then what?
15:17
Humbly share your knowledge
with each other.
15:18
Please teach your family,
15:21
teach your community,
15:24
your city council, your state legislature.
15:26
Teach Congress a lesson.
15:30
Thank you.
15:33
(Applause)
15:34
Thank you. Thank you.
15:38
(Applause)
15:40

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About the speaker:

Diane Wolk-Rogers - Educator
Diane Wolk-Rogers has been a Florida public school teacher for more than three decades.

Why you should listen

Diane Wolk-Rogers began teaching because she was passionate about supporting too-often neglected young people facing challenges and vulnerabilities. Early in her career, she received awards for her work providing special education support to students with learning and emotional disabilities. In 2001 she joined the faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where she teaches AP World History. 

In 2006, Wolk-Rogers became engaged in LGBTQAI activism, and she now serves as the faculty advisor for MSD’s Gay/Straight Alliance. She recently gained national attention for speaking publicly in support of the #neveragain movement led by her students at MSD after the shooting that occurred there on February 14, 2018. Their activism inspires her to fight for a safe learning environment for all.

More profile about the speaker
Diane Wolk-Rogers | Speaker | TED.com