“Oh Jessie, you shouldn’t have,” said Wilma Nurcher, a Grade 3 teacher at Duckenrun Elementary School, in Wichita, Kansas, accepting yet another cellophane-wrapped gift basket of field dressings, tourniquets, and bullet clips from a grateful student. As she did her eyes strayed to a large stack of nearly identical presents she’d already received on this, the last day of school.
“No really, you shouldn’t have. To. But thank you.”
Mrs. Nurcher is just one of the many teachers encountering a new trend in this year’s gifts to faculty members: tactical wear, munitions, and survival gear.
“I’ve gotten everything from combat helmets to night vision goggles,” says PE teacher Rosie Grimms, “And I will never want for camouflage face paint, hollow tips, or a Bowie knife again,” she adds, brandishing a small hunting store’s worth of Ops make-up, ammo, and 8-inch steel blades that her students have given her, in gratitude for their year of service together in theatre.
Experts believe the militarizing of teacher’s gifts is directly related to the increased threat of extreme violence in schools today. With shootings in educational facilities on the rise, and gun advocacy groups having convinced many Americans that what’s missing from their schools are firearms, and mercenary teachers with hair-trigger fingers and nothing to lose, students have become all too familiar with the gritty realities of modern schoolfare.
“To talk about the senselessness of the active shooting drills, is to attribute sense to mass shootings themselves,” says a somber eight-year-old with a thousand-yard stare, showing a surprising familiarity with the German writer Sten Nadolny. The young man’s hands are hitched into the shoulder straps of his bulletproof backpack, as he expertly surveys an athletic field for approaching threats.
“The only thing that makes the risk of going to school psychologically tolerable is the brotherhood among students,” adds a girl standing nearby, also without taking her eyes off a nearby treeline.
“It’s just like old Vonnegut said,” agrees the first student, who – despite being born four years after the man he is quoting passed away – has been raised in an age whose depth of absurdity the great writer would have understood all too well.
“We are what we pretend to be. So we must be careful what we pretend to be.”
Mrs. Nurcher, who has been listening in on her students, juts her chin in equal parts frustration and sadness, and looks back in the direction of her desk, and its heavy stack of fatigue-green presents.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I’d give anything to return to the days of getting endless amounts of bath soaps.”