My son was in preschool when twenty little kids were killed at Sandyhook Elementary. On that day less than two weeks before Christmas, I sobbed over my keyboard as the news came in. I thought of the gifts I had hidden in the house for my own four-year-old and how those parents probably did too. Presents hidden for children who were never coming home again. I fought the urge to rush to my son’s preschool, bring him home, and never let him leave the safety of my arms. When it came time to pick him up I was clearly not the only parent who had been crying. There was a heaviness in the air that couldn’t be denied. Innocence had been crushed that day. We all wanted to cling to our babies.
Now my son is a third grader and lockdown drill appears on his assignment calendar right next to spring picture day as plain as library and gym. His school uses the A.L.I.C.E. system. An acronym that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
Each time I see lockdown drill on the calendar my stomach turns. Teachers instruct students in an age appropriate manner. The kids are told it is highly unlikely they will ever actually need to use the drill, just like we’d explain away a tornado or fire drill. The staff I’m sure does an amazing job of instructing the kids and I’m guessing their stomachs react a lot like mine when they see it on the calendar. I’ve read the script they use. They define an intruder as someone who doesn’t belong in the school as if it were as simple as someone making a wrong turn. It is all so nonchalant.
These drills don’t seem to bother my son. They are a normal part of the school day. I’m both grateful that it doesn’t upset him and concerned that it is normal. It shouldn’t be normal.
Perhaps each generation grows up fearing something. I grew up knowing there was a possibility of nuclear attacks. We had drills for that too. As if putting our head down or hiding under our desk was going to be enough to save us. While that threat was big and scary, at least it felt far away.
The kids are taught to “trust their tummy” if they see someone at school that doesn’t seem to belong. My tummy wonders if teaching kids to be leery of school visitors is wise. My head knows it is far more likely that an intruder would know someone in the school. My head knows that all of the security will likely not deter someone in the state of mind that allows shooting innocent kids to enter their mind.
Just a few weeks ago there was yet another shooting in an elementary school. An eight-year-old is dead because he was right where he was supposed to be and sadly that happened to be in the wrong place and the wrong time.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t have the solutions.
What I do know is that schools should be wonderlands. They should be safe havens full of possibility where learning and laughing go hand in hand. Kids shouldn’t be afraid of bombs, or bullies, or intruders. I’m not sure I want my kid to learn how to barricade the classroom door or evacuate to a neighboring business. My tummy fears those aren’t worthwhile lessons.
These events are too common and yet they are rare. By preparing our children for the prospect of such an evil event I can’t help but wonder what else we are teaching them. Fear? Distrust?
I hate that children are being trained for a potentially horrific situation that likely will never happen, but by training for it, we’ve planted the seed that the potential exists. That worries me a bit. You could argue of course that being prepared could save lives and that the intruder drill is no different than the fire and tornado drills. But it is different. It is different because an intruder is a person. We are all rightfully afraid of fire and tornados to some extent. Are we raising children to be afraid of people?
The world news hints that the fear of bombs dropping may return. That is terrifying to think about, but I can keep it in the distance. It goes without saying I want my son and all kids to be safe, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing we could keep Alice out of wonderland.