Schools Have Rules: Preparing For The Worst Edition (Update)

I recall the drills in grade school where we were shuffled into the hallway and instructed to crouch down and put our head between our knees.  If an atomic bomb went off, we were ready. Of course, there was a joke about the drill, but nobody told us grade-schoolers about it.

Today, schools are engaging in active shooter drills. Trying to impute the best of faith to those who came up with the idea, it’s because this is perceived as the most likely tragedy that a school can face.  It may not be likely, but it does happen. So why not be prepared?

IF you missed last week’s “mad gunman terrorizes American schoolchildren” news story, this time out of North Carolina, don’t feel bad; these days they’re common enough that it’s not reasonable to expect any one person can keep up with them all.

Still, last week’s story was notable for two reasons: One, nobody actually got shot; and two, the gunman was on the school’s payroll. Seriously: Administrators at Eastern Wayne Middle School later sent parents a letter explaining that they sent a masked gunman to various sixth-grade classrooms as an “enrichment lesson on exhibiting good citizenship and observing your surroundings.”

The explanation letter, reducing a basic concept of disaster preparedness to the idiocy of “exhibiting good citizenship” (a good citizen does not get shot?) can be forgiven.  To the extent school administrators were ever capable of using comprehensible language to explain something clearly and accurately, they are now paid by the jargon phrase used and can’t be expected to forget the entirety of their education and experience.  Just ignore it.

But this is the flip side of the “duck and cover” disaster drills of my youth. No one ever set off a small atomic bomb to prompt us to action. Not even a smoke bomb for kicks. It’s hardly crazy to prepare schools to handle a shooter, but it would seem to involve knowing what to do should the situation arise. It’s just a matter of repetitive preparation so that the response is instinctive.  No thought necessary, lock doors, hide in the closet, await police. Rinse and repeat.

Sending in a masked gunman teaches nothing. It does, however, scare the living crap out of kids. While it serves as a dramatic reminder to parents of the fine job their schools are doing to protect their babies, it also has the potential to wreak havoc with the psyches of children. Instill fear of death and then what?  No, not every child is so fragile, but some are. Yet this isn’t a drill to toughen up the teacups, but to protect students from an active shooter. Inflicting post-traumatic stress syndrome is not a virtue.

This isn’t the first time the police-educational complex came up with what seemed like a really cool idea to scare kids into submission. Students were gathered in the auditorium and told that a popular student was killed in a drunk driving accident.  It was a lie, but that didn’t change the emotional distress they put the students through.

The drunk driving scheme was roundly condemned, and the message seemed clear at the time:

The lesson about the police and the officials of a public school, all employees of our government, forcing children to be unwilling participants in this scheme, is different.  Both are endowed with substantial power, particularly over children, under the belief that they will exercise this power with sound discretion and in the best interest of the children.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that one of the gravest threats to the welfare of children are the cops and school officials themselves, whether by usurping the right of a parent to determine how far to go in providing guidance to their child, and manipulating young minds to adhere to their vision of morality upon pain of death.

So now they’re changing some of the nuts and bolts, while doing the same harm, proving that the lesson wasn’t learned the last time.

In contrast, last March, a student at Cypress Lake High School in Florida was suspended for disarming a student with a gun:

A Florida high school student wrestled a loaded gun away from another teen on the bus ride home this week and was slapped with a suspension in return.

The 16-year-old Cypress Lake High student in Fort Myers, Fla. told WFTX-TV there was “no doubt” he saved a life after grappling for the loaded .22 caliber revolver being aimed point-blank at another student on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that the lesson schools want to teach students is to hide and protect themselves from a potential shooter. Whether heroics make one more or less likely to save lives or lose them is a matter of perspective, and schools choose not to applaud a heroic act, not because it wasn’t “the right thing” but because it might put others at greater risk if they try to do the same.

So here was a teachable moment, and the school could have used it to teach why this one act of bravery is not the preferred reaction, why it might be the more dangerous course even though it worked out well this time.  Instead, they taught the lesson that bravery gets punished, that protecting a fellow student is an offense.

The mantra “do it for the children” is often, and properly, ridiculed for its abusive use and appeal to emotion, a logical fallacy.  Yet, it can be, in the right circumstances, the correct answer as well.  When something can benefit the children at essentially no cost to anyone, why not do it for the children?

Shuffle them into the hallways back closet and have them duck and cover, if that’s what you think will save them from a shooter.  No harm, no foul. But stop screwing with their heads, instilling fear of every shadow.  And while the principal may not feel inclined to give a medal to a student who saves the life of another by an act of bravery and selflessness, for fear that it sends the wrong message, don’t punish a kid for doing right either.

And whatever you do, stop putting the police in charge of massaging the minds of impressionable youth.  The damage they do, with the blessing of school administrators, is far more likely to cause grave harm than the chances of an active shooter showing up in your school. Keep the cops out of school.  Do it for the children.

Update:  As if wasn’t bad enough, Techdirt’s Tim Cushing let me know about this story from Brazil, Indiana:

According to the report, the officer and his K-9 partner, Max, as well as another K-9 team were requested by Clay County Superior Court Judge J. Blaine Akers to carry out a simulated raid of a party with actors in place to help “educate the Clay County fifth-graders on drug awareness.”

[Brazil Police Chief Clint] McQueen said a very small amount of illegal drugs were hidden on one of the juveniles to show how the dogs can find even the smallest trace of an illegal substance. He added all this was done “under exclusive control and supervision of members of the court and law enforcement.”

“As I got closer to the actors, Max began searching the juveniles,” according to the officer’s report. “The first male juvenile began moving his legs around as Max searched him. When the male began moving his legs, (this is what) I believe prompted Max’s action to bite the male juvenile on the left calf.”

The demonstration was clearly a rousing success. Too bad an 11-year-old was bitten by the dog.

“It was an unfortunate accident,” said Brazil Police Chief Clint McQueen. “Wish it hadn’t happened like that but it did.

I bet the kid wishes it didn’t happen too. But sometimes a child has to take one for the team, right, Chief?



6 comments on “Schools Have Rules: Preparing For The Worst Edition (Update)

  1. DannyJ119

    It seems that “do it for the children” is eroding to “do it to the children”, much like every other slippery slope the government chooses to engage.

  2. Robert David Graham

    It’s part of indoctrinating “learned helplessness” into the students, that it’s only state/community that can protect you, and that you alone are powerless.

    Your post glosses over one key point: we don’t know how students should respond. Should they run out of their classrooms, out of the school, to safety? Or should they lock their doors and cower in the classroom? Nobody knows, but everyone agrees that students should be taught to do one or the other. Because, of course, we can’t leave up to the students to decide for themselves when it becomes necessary.

    Statistically, school shootings don’t happen. Almost anything is a bigger risk to students. Indeed, students are already safer while in school than any place else, including their home. Children are more at risk of their parents killing them than they are a crazed madman. Thus, the correct way to handle school shootings is to ignore them, completely, but of course, we can’t because, you know, think of the children (snark).

    1. SHG Post author

      The post doesn’t gloss over the tangential piece of how students should respond. First, it wasn’t the subject of the post. Second, the articles offer neither the scheme being promoted by the schools nor, more importantly, the basis for the schemes. Is it empirical? Is it anecdotal? Is it whatever the police chief tells the school board? We don’t know. While the impulse to speculate is strong, I resist.

      I would, however, suggest that the least beneficial way to address any of this is by employing political ideology, such as the libertarian ideal that the children should be left to do whatever they please. The brains of children are not fully developed, and because of this, they tend toward impetuous behavior and poor decisions. This is why we don’t treat children like adults in the criminal justice system, and that’s a good thing.

      As for the risk of a school shooting, you are absolutely right that it’s negligible. But every time one happens, it makes people crazy, demanding that it never happen again. It’s hard to stop people from being people, and to stop schools from responding no matter how foolishly.

  3. Pingback: Locked and Loaded at Newman Elementary | Simple Justice

  4. Bruce Coulson

    I don’t think it is ‘learned helplessness’ so much as instilling ‘obey the rules at all costs, even if following the rules puts you (or someone else) at risk, or even injured/killed’. Disobedience of authority is a cardinal sin, that outweighs all the cant about ‘for the children’. Better a few children suffer than allowing the idea that rules set by authority may not always be correct to spread.

  5. Jesse

    Being that school is ostensibly a place where children are supposed to learn, why don’t we ask what they learned from this display? Not to trust their own eyes when they see what’s happening before them? Authority figures are prone to put on theatrical displays of simulated violence? Cynicism about the general antics of the adults that are supposed to be teaching them the ways of the world?

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