You probably don’t remember “Duck and Cover” drills in school. Those were held because of the possibility of nuclear attack and they were pretty serious, too.
After my first experience with one, early in elementary school, I went home. During supper that night, I told my parents about it. We would curl up under our desks and protect our heads.
My Dad was an engineer and had been in the U.S. Navy Seabees in World War II and Korea. He held a high-level clearance and was was well-acquainted with the thermonuclear testing program that began with the IVY MIKE test on Eniwetok Atoll.
Never one to mince words, Dad said the drills were silly. We lived in a suburb of Detroit, about 11 miles from the city. A direct hit on Detroit with one of the multi-megaton bombs that were in the nuclear arsenals of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union would reduce our school to rubble, at best. There would be almost no survivors and those that survived being crushed by the collapsing building would soon die from radiation poisoning.
School shootings are sadly not as rare as nuclear strikes, but they are rare. Thus far in 2019, there have been two reported incidents where students were killed or injured in a randomly targeted shooting: the one at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch and the recent shooting at Saugus High School. A total of three students were killed; 11 were wounded. Two shooters were overpowered and arrested; one shooter committed suicide.
There are more than 98,000 K-12 public schools in the U.S. More than 50 million students are enrolled in these schools.
Looking at the incidents and comparing them to other risks faced by children and youth shows something very few will believe but is borne out by the facts: School is the safest place for children. It’s even safer than their homes. A child has a much greater risk of being murdered by their own parents than dying at the hands of a school shooter.
But even if the risk is tiny, stacking one’s bets is always a good idea.
There weren’t any gun laws that would have stopped the Columbine killers; there aren’t any gun laws on the table now that would have stopped Adam Lanza or Nikolas Cruz or even slowed them down. The Parkland shooting was the most preventable incident of any school shooting in the past 50 years but gun laws weren’t a factor.
Preparedness is good. If you can make a remote possibility even more remote, that’s good. If we tried explaining it that way instead of running around like Chicken Little, agonizing over the fact that life is not sanitized for our protection and instilling panic in our children, it would mean that perhaps, we, too, should treat drills seriously while keeping them in context.
Never forget that the worst school killing in American history was not Sandy Hook or Parkland. It was at the schoolhouse in Bath, Michigan in 1927. A man with more than a few missing marbles and a huge chip on his shoulder wired explosives into the roofs of both wings of the schoolhouse, timed to go off at the beginning of the school day. One of the bombs failed to detonate; the other blew the schoolhouse wing apart. 38 children died, more than the combined totals of Sandy Hook and Parkland. Some families lost all of their children.
When you have these drills, think about reminding your students of the one strategy that has produced results including the verified prevention of at least one school shooting incident. See something; say something.
Prevention trumps gun control laws, armed teachers, school resource officers, and hardened schools that resemble prisons.
See something; say something. And take the drills seriously because you’re doing it for yourself.