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February 14, 2013

Paranoid or Preventative?

It's a typical day in classrooms across America. Students turn in last night's homework, take their seats, open their notebooks, and settle in for a lesson in handwriting. Or calculating the diameter of a circle. Or avoiding being shot by a madman.

Schools from elementary to high school are now putting students through "lockdown drills" to rehearse what to do if someone starts shooting up the campus. Some have been practicing like this since Columbine; others only began after the Sandy Hook school massacre in December.

The drills usually begin with a loudspeaker announcement from the principal, after which teachers lock and/or barricade their classroom doors, close any blinds, and instruct their students to huddle in a corner and remain absolutely silent for 10, 15, or even 30 minutes. Sometimes staff members bang threateningly on classroom doors or fire blanks in the hall to add realism. One school had students lay down "dead" with fake blood.

"I cried the first time my son came home and told me about these," says a friend of mine. "They told him, 'If you're in the bathroom or hall when the classroom doors are locked, find somewhere else to hide because the teachers won't let you in.' He was 9."

I'm as fully freaked out by school shootings as anyone else — as we all ought to be. Like you, I read the accounts of Newtown with my hands over my mouth, tears rolling down my face, my mind working futilely to make sense of it.

But is this really where we are as a society? Simulating senseless violence for our kids? If it sickened us that Sandy Hook's children had to cower and quake in broom closets, then why doesn't it sicken us to send our kids in there again ... "just in case"?

These aren't the measured, calmly-exit-the-building procedures of a fire drill. They're the terrified, let's-pretend-we've-got-this-under-control flailings of a duck-and-cover atom-bomb drill. ("Like that would have helped!" recalls a friend who lived through those. "All it did was make us all believe nuclear war was imminent and inevitable.")

Where's the line between prudent and paranoid? Between equipped and unhinged? If we put our kids through these preposterous paces, will it guarantee no one else can ever harm them? I'm angry that we've let anomalies persuade us to live in fear — and to drape our kids in it.

My friend who works in law enforcement says I'm in denial that these dangers exist. There were, in fact, nine school shootings in the U.S. in 2012, and there have been eight already this year. "I want my kids to feel as if they have a say in their own safety," he says, "to be courageous, to be able to act."

I see his point. I spent time learning CPR, though I've never had to use it and hope I never will. Our kids learn about safe sex in school and the dangers of drugs. Is this just more modern teen know-how?

I spoke to an 8-year-old girl who said lockdown drills aren't scary. They make her feel safer "because if somebody actually did it, and we hadn't practiced, we probably wouldn't know what to do."

There's so much I don't know about the world after Sandy Hook — so much I obviously didn't know about the world before Sandy Hook. I'm unsure of how to fix any of it. All I can do is start with what I do know and work backward from there. And what I'm certain of, even in a world where deranged people shoot holes in our certainty every day, is that this small piece of the solution — this teaching our children to put down their pencils and hide from imagined psychopaths in the bunkers that used to be their learning environments — is wrong.

It's wrong.

Keywords: school  shooting  firearms  broom closets  paranoia 


Starshine: You hit the nail on the head. Thank you. Our society is "mad." Our children should not be drilled in how to hide from psychopaths. Our children should be equipped for normal life, not this abnormal life. Somehow we need to let our children venture into the world, experience the everyday dangers of life, and be given the tools to think and to develop their growing minds and bodies: not to be driven into believing that they live in a psychopathically deranged world, as experienced in the media that takes up so much of their time.
Alan Hopkinson

Sun, Feb 17, 2013

I was nine and in the fourth grade during the atomic bomb/cold war "duck and drop" years (1950). It was unrealistic enough to think that a flimsy wooden desk would protect you in the event of a nuclear distaster as it is to think this kind of preparation will prevent a person intent on killing from doing terrible harm in a school. The nuns where I went to school told us that the communists were coming and that they were going to take us out in the school yard, line us up and ask us if we believed in god. Of course, good Catholics wouldn't answer "no" and we would be shot. (Right then was when I began to part company with the Catholic Church). I secretly planned to answer "no", but I don't know which traumatized me more, disobeying the nuns (of course they'd all be dead and couldn't wield their rulers) and the wrath of god or the thought of being shot. I had nightmares for years and instead of being prepared for a highly unlikely occurrence, I was traumatized and school became a place I didn't want to be. Yes, our children need to be prepared for emergencies but creating an atmosphere of fear is not conducive to a good educational climate nor will it be effective.

Mon, Feb 18, 2013

Guns, guns, guns, guns. The country is awash in them and they're readily available to the lunatics who want to start killing people, even children. So insane. I'm in favor of repealing the damned second amendment. Australia got rid of citizens' guns after a demented fool pulled off a massacre with an assault rifle. We've got to do something to stop the senseless slaughter here in America.
Tom Leger

Mon, Feb 18, 2013

S, Thanks for addressing this issue. Whenever I hear well meaning people speak of counter measures (like these drills) I always think of what are the counter-counter measures... e.g. just attack at starting time, or lunch hour, or take out the bus. All are tactics that are even harder to defend and easier for the perpetrator to get away from. And need I mention the vulnerabilities of young crowds at football games, concerts, midnight movie premiers, parades, etc.? Since most would agree there is the serious downside you write about, and if you agree there is little real value in protecting against such a small part of the vulnerability spectrum, why subject our youth to these drills.

Mon, Feb 18, 2013

Well said, as always. I agree it is senseless to spend time preparing for a repeat of this particular and unlikely tragedy... but this is what people do. It's how we cope with the fact that it happened at all. We tell ourselves that now it can't happen to US, because we are prepared and they (the poor previous victims) weren't. This isn't done or said out of cruelty or even consciousness; it's just human nature. And it's heartbreaking that we even have to have this discussion. :(
jenna mccarthy

Mon, Feb 18, 2013

I cowered in corners in fear of tornados and nuclear holocausts when I was in elementary school

Fri, Feb 22, 2013

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