January 28, 2020 (I Hate Active Shooter Drills)

The school my kids attend now includes active shooter drills, along with fire drills and earthquake drills.

The children practice exiting the school when the fire bell rings at least once a month, standing around in the cold without jackets in a line until the “all clear” bell sounds. The teachers now have walkie-talkies and call in to confirm that they have all of their kids (what did they do when we were kids?)

For the earthquake drill, everyone gets under their desks and holds onto the legs, waiting until the all clear announcement goes out. This again is done once a month.

But for active shooter drills (done only twice a year), the children have to do more than make themselves safe. The teachers close and lock the classroom doors, or close the curtains, turn off the lights, and they hide. The children are asked to be as quiet as possible for the length of time it takes to get through the drill. I know in the kinders class, the teachers hand out suckers to keep the kids occupied and quiet.

Schools across the country handle these drills in different ways. From handing out medical supplies and showing the kids how to use them. Or bringing in actors carrying fake guns to run from. Or jiggling classroom doors when kids are hiding.

(The NY Times covered this more in depth)

But how to explain the need for these drills to the kids?

The fire and the earthquake….those make sense.

But hiding from the bad guys who want to hurt people?

Don’t teachers have enough on their plates right now?

The kids might not say much during the drill. But you know that their little brains are working through it, running through the potential reasons for it.

This time spent pretending to hide from the bad guys can’t be good for them.

Afterwards, my kids roll with it, and seldom ask questions about the need to hide from the bad guys during the drill. They seem to just accept it as a natural part of their school experience.

Frankly, they act as though it so natural that they should hide from bad guys at school, because it is natural to them now that bad guys should want to come to their school to hurt them.

Seriously.

We have normalized the concept, the idea, the practice, that bad guys come to schools to hurt kids.

When I was a little kid….elementary school was a place of safety and security. This was where you went to be safe during the day, until your parents were there to take you home.

And YES, of course school wasn’t perfect. There were kids there who caused problems, who bullied. It wasn’t any sort of utopia.

But the problems in the school were the kids, NOT adults with guns hell-bent on killing them.

It was one thing when it was kids bringing guns to school. But it is another thing entirely when it is a man (almost always a man) who brings in a weapon to fire upon children.

Here’s one thing you should know that is relevant to this post: When I was a teenager, a mass shooting occurred at my school.

And so, yes, school was a place of safety….until one morning when it wasn’t.

I won’t go into details, it was many years ago, back when school shootings were a world news event, back when they were new and so rare and terrible that the President of the United States came to visit in the aftermath.

I remember feeling confused, numb, and overwhelmed. I felt like the world had rocked, or shifted in a way, and nothing would ever be the same again.

I know, like a growing number of us know, that it can happen to anyone. That it could happen here, wherever that here is.

But knowing that, having been though it, I still hate that my kids are doing active shooter drills. I hate that a little of the naivete that they should wrap around themselves has already been stripped away at such a young age.

I know how I felt when I realized that there were really and truly awful people out there in the world. I was almost grown when it happened. Just a few months later, I was off to college.

My children are barely in elementary school. Can we even possibly imagine how exposing them to this truth (that bad guys are out there who want to hurt them) at such a young age?

Are we protecting them, but helping them prepare for such an awful event? Or are we just making ourselves (parents, teachers, administrators) feel better about an issue over which we have little control? (Mental health, violence, firearms).

Think about all the ‘safety’ equipment on a plane, meant to be used if the plane crashes. Think about the flight attendants showing you how to use the oxygen mask, and pointing out the flotation devices. Everyone on the plane knows that if the plane crashes, none of us are going to be putting on a personal flotation device. It is mostly just there to make people feel better.

Or am I just sensitive about it issue because it happened to me, to my friends, to my school, to my community?

Am I just yearning for an opportunity to do a rewind? To go back to an idyllic time, when ignorance was bliss?

I don’t have good perspective on this issue, even after so many years.

I try hard not to let my feelings and anxieties about the bad things that can happen at schools affect me.

I mean, after all we went through, I still send my kids to school. Even knowing and having been through such a terrible and traumatic event, I still send my kids to public school.

But I question whether active shooter drills are doing more harm to our children (emotional, anxiety, insecurity, normalizing violence) than good (preparing for the event).

What do you think? Are these drills necessary? Or am I just a parent who is struggling to deal with her feelings after all these years later?

Read my digital journal for more about my life, my kids, and personal parenting struggles, located here: https://momadviceline.com/category/personal-parenting-journal-emilys-life/

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