While thousands of people are getting ready to go out to The March For Our Lives on the 24 of
March 2018. We’re reconsidering the main causes, long-lasting, and approaches we must take to solve the gun violence epidemic in the U.S. We will be having a new installment every day for the rest of this week.
I was teaching inside my classroom in high school when the Columbine shooting happened.
A student rushed into my classroom in between periods, he turned the TV on while the other students shuffled in. The scene was displayed on TV and students stopped in their tracks to watch.
We watched the aerial camera footage together, teens running out of their school, all covered with their classmates’ blood. News reporters struggling to cover this massacre with details, not knowing if the carnage has really ended, not sure of the body count.
My 15 and 16-year-old students’ eyes were filled with shock and horror as I looked at them. Even the class’s goofy clown stared to the screen in quiet. I considered whether it is appropriate to let them watch all of this, but it would have been them instead of those bloodied students, the only difference between this high school and that on the screen is just geography, I knew it, and so did they.
Although it seems ordinary now, I have never experienced that feeling in my career being a teacher, and it was a bit similar to a feeling I felt when I was a kid.
I still remember the feeling of sitting huddled in a ball under my disk when I was little, imagining the classroom exploding around me.
I was only about 6 or 7 when my class was doing a nuclear-blast preparation drill. It was the early 1980s, the hallmark of the Cold War era in which I was born. I remember how I was looking at the thing legs that held the desk, wondering if they could save me from a bomb blast.
The big concern back then was worried about nuclear annihilation, not being gunned down at school. The threat started to go away in my middle elementary years, for such duck-and-cover drills disappeared. A nuclear threat is always a terrifying thought to think of, but deep down, I just knew that it is not probable somehow.
Although the imagining of a nuclear blast alone terrified me as a young child, that didn’t stop me from imagining, sometimes, I look back at those days and wonder how Americans lived through that for such a long time.
Now, American kids in high schools, have been doing active-shooter lockdown for their entire childhoods.
A year after the Columbine incident, my husband I started a family, and left teaching and decided to homeschool my kids. And though lockdowns weren’t present in my decision, the fact that the active-shooter drills weren’t a part in the homeschooling was a big advantage for me.
Overall, active-shooter drills are meant to prepare kids for something which they know happened several times, unlike nuclear preparation drills. They’ve heard stories on the news, and some of them have been through a real shooting themselves.
I try to imagine it in sometimes, my nine-year-old boy stuffed in a closet with 20 classmates, forced to stay silent, waiting for the shooter’s attempt to their locked classroom. I can see his face filled with terror, the fear in his eyes, I can really feel his heartbeat racing.
It hurts me just thinking about it.
An elementary teacher (who preferred to stay anonymous, because the internet is ridiculous and she has received multiple death threats) described on a post online a recent active-shooter drill in her own classroom. The post was shared almost 200.000 times and for a good reason. It’s a description in a simple way of the unfathomable reality.
“Today, we practiced our active shooter lockdown in school. One of my first graders was scared and I had to hold him. Today is his birthday. He kept whispering ‘When will it be over?’ into my ear. I kept responding ‘Soon’ as I rocked him and tried to keep his birthday crown from stabbing me.
I had a mix of 1-5 graders in my classroom due to the hundreds of tests that need to be taken. My fifth-grader who was under the table patted the back of the 2nd grader who was huddled next to him. A 3rd-grade girl cried silently and clutched the hand of her friend. The rest of the kids sat quietly (casket quiet) and stared aimlessly in the dark.
As the ‘intruder’ tried to break into our classroom two times, several of them were jumping, but they remained silent. The 1st grader in my lap began to pant and his heart was beating out of his chest, but he didn’t make a peep.”
These drills can be even more terrifying than you think.
A police officer in a high school in Anchorage, Alaska, used the sound of a real firearm to simulate a real situation of an active-shooter drill. The idea was that children would learn how actual gunfire sounds like, although it was blank shots from a real gun, it’s just so the kids will act quickly when they hear it again.
Sam Spinella, the school principal, told CNN affiliate KTVA. “we don’t want to scare our students, we just want to make sure they are ready if anything real went down, so we want this as close as possible to reality”
I am dumbfounded. Those two sentences make zero sense together. We are not talking here about a police academy training, but we’re talking about an ordinary day in high school. The reality they are trying to make them ready for is really scary, how could it not be? It is close to reality after all.
A recently posted article in The Atlantic examined the psychological effects an active-shooter drill may leave on kids. Surprisingly, the research that has been done on the subject was not enough. All we have on our hands is some reports of young adults who grew up with them.
One interviewee was describing a memory from when he was 12, one of his classmates was coughing while they were having a lockdown drill. Their teacher told all of them, that if it was a real shooter situation, they would all be dead by now.
Yeah, probably not the best of ways to handle that.
But how will you be successful at preparing children for these incidents of a gunman who is ready to gun down their classmates, best friend, and even their teacher?
We don’t want to scare our kids as we prepare them for the worst-case scenario, we always want them safe. However, is it the right thing to do so they get a bit of understanding of how scary and serious these drills can be? And if they are not intimidated by these active-shooter drills, how can we justify the fact of our kids being desensitized?
Ugh. This isn’t normal, and it should never feel normal.
And yet, this is normal. In fact, some people tend to feel comforted by these preparations.
I talked to a handful of teens and young adults who grew up with lockdown drills. One of them described a series of bomb threats at her high school, which she found to be scary at first, but eventually, she became a “boy who cried wolf” situation. Another described intruder-drills as being just preparations for something unexpected, similar to an earthquake, or a tornado drill.
Joe Burke of Bethlehem, a high schooler from Pennsylvania, described his first lockdown drill which he remembers in the fifth grade. He huddled under computer desks near the wall along with his classmates, hugging their knees to their chests, with the door locked and lights off:
“When we were under the desks, I had a bit of doubt in the idea. To my fifth-grade self, it didn’t seem like it was the best option to be hiding from someone, who is trying to come in and try and hurt us. It’s only going to take him a few seconds of searching to find 25-plus kids and a teacher all sitting and huddling under those tables. … At the time, I automatically left the thinking to adults, for they knew more than we did. I figured that we were actually much safer by hiding than I used to think.”
Burke declared that this new ALICE training (a training program which had been implemented in schools across the country.)that was occurring in his high school has really made him feel much better and considered it to be “a massive step in the right direction.”
Christine Burke, Joe’s mother, said that she has made it necessary to talk about active shooter situations in detail with her kids about:
“After the incident of Parkland, I sat with my 15-year-old boy and showed him the full footage of the shooting inside the school. We discussed how the smoke from an AR-15 would disorient his way out, that the gun would be really loud, and those screaming classmates would make it hard to hear safety instructions. We talked about how he can use his phone (not in filming the scene, nor taking pictures) but he should use it as a mean of communication only if he could. And we talked about how the ALICE training would be in a real-life situation. The conversation I had with my son chilled me to my bones that day because I realized the reality of the world we’re living in now. Not only do I have to talk to my son about his algebra grades, but also about how loud an AR-15 sound can be when fired in a classroom.”
Like many parents, Christine finds herself looking into surreal waters. School shootings became
an inevitability in our daily lives to the extent that we started preparing and training our kids for
Generally speaking, preparedness is good and a smart thing to do.
However, how can we really accept that this is the reality for our children in America? Parents all over the country constantly say to themselves, “We shouldn’t have to go through this. Our kids shouldn’t have to go through this.” And yet, they do.
Is this the real price we have to pay for freedom?
We’re supposed to be an amazing, fantastic, developed country, aren’t we? We keep saying with pride to ourselves that we are a “shining city on a hill” a leader among nations, an example of freedom to all nations.
There is no official war occurring on the American soil. We are not experiencing armed conflict or revolution or insurrection. And yet, we live as if we are.
Other countries look at our shooting and to our reaction towards them and think we are absolutely out of our ever-loving minds. And I think the same, as an ex-teacher and a homeschooling parent, I am really frustrated at the fact that we are letting our children live through this as if it was something normal.
I’m a big fan of the American Constitution, and I don’t look pass minor changes that occur to it, but I think it is finally the time we reconsider the Second Amendment, for it didn’t actually protect our freedom in the way it was designed to be. I’m not calling ourselves free people while our children are huddling under desks and hiding in closets, listening to fire shots wondering if they are the next victims of a mass-murdering shooter during math class.
This is really not normal. And it should never feel normal.
Children who have repeatedly and systematically prepared for massacres in their classrooms are taking to the streets, to the podium, to the media, and soon taking to the polls in a way which we haven’t seen in decades.
It’s easy to see why. These teens have spent their entire childhoods watching adults in charge respond to the mass murder of children by simply preparing them for more of it. And they’re done.
I’m really proud of the way these young kids are organizing, shouting #NeverAgain and forcing the government for effective gun legislation. Their efforts have actually convinced the governor of Florida to break with the National Rifle Association and sign a sweeping gun control bill. (Though not perfect, it is really a big step for the “Gunshine State.”) Companies started to feel the pressure and momentum have broken ties with the NRA as well.
I can’t help but note how these young kids’ successes highlight previous generations’ failure on this matter. The real-time for taking action was long before Parkland, Sandy Hook, or even Columbine. But I can see that is a change coming closer by the day.
These young activists always give me hope that our future generations will look back at our condition the same way I look at the Cold War era and wonder why we have lived like this for so long.