I got an interesting phone call the other day from my daughter’s elementary school.
The counselor warned me that my little one’s class would conduct a lockdown drill – the first the kids had ever experienced.
With everything in the news about school shootings and the gun debate, the superintendent and principals thought they should prepare for the worst, even though they doubted anything like that would actually happen here.
The counselor just wanted me to be aware what was happening and to prepare my daughter for it so she wouldn’t be scared.
I thanked her for the call, and went in the other room to speak to my 9-year-old sweetie.
She was hunkered on the floor drawing pictures of her toys.
Mario and Luigi were chasing a purple Yoshi. Captain America was playing soccer with Wonder Woman. That kind of thing.
I opened my mouth — and my throat closed up.
I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it.
What would I say? —-Hey, Honeybunches. You’re going to have a lockdown drill at school tomorrow. Your class is going to prepare in case a gunman breaks in and tries to murder you.
She was staring at me now, Mario’s hat half colored in.
So I put on my teacher’s cap and explained everything that would happen, but not why.
She was completely unfazed.
“That’s all? Can I go back to coloring now?” she asked.
I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but I wondered how she’d react. This was a girl who in kindergarten had cried at the violence of a fire alarm.
So the next day came and went – no mention from her about what had happened at school.
She wasn’t traumatized. She was her usual self – frustrated at her homework, bargaining for a snack, writing an autobiography of her soccer career that would start next fall when she signs up.
I waited a week and then asked her about what had happened.
In the most matter of fact voice, she told me how her third grade class had stood away from the door, clustered in one corner of the room holding books.
“Why books?” I asked, thinking that maybe the drill had gone on too long so they had something to read.
She said they were to throw at a bad guy if he sneaked into the room.
I imagined a gunman in my daughter’s classroom trying to spray the children with bullets only to be met by a hail of tossed books – Dr. Seuss vs. Smith & Wesson.
Then I envisioned her teacher pulling out a revolver and returning fire through the swarm of terrified elementary school bodies darting back and forth.
The shock must have shown on my face.
“Don’t worry, Daddy,” she said. “No one broke in.”
As usual, children do better with this stuff than adults.
But the reason why is exceedingly troubling.
They are still forming their concept of normality.
When I went to school, we never had lockdown drills. We had monthly fire drills and the occasional severe weather drill. But we never prepared for crazed murderers and terrorists. That just wasn’t in our routine or even our conception of what a school should do.
Yet it is now routine for my daughter. It is typical for most children these days.
As a teacher in a neighboring district, I had to preside over my own first lockdown drill with my 7th graders a few weeks earlier.
We clustered in a corner on the floor – the door locked, the lights off.
My class of rambunctious teens who rarely seem able to do anything without a constant stream of words was nearly silent.
The worst part was how I felt trying to downplay what we were doing.
Nothing to see here, kids. Just an ordinary day pretending to hide in a corner so a killer would pass us by.
And now after the drill, I keep my classroom door locked at all times.
It’s a huge inconvenience having to stop what you’re doing and physically open the door anytime someone wants to come in. But it’s what we have to do to bolster our sense of security.
It’s our new normal.
And I don’t like it.
It just seems to me like another way my generation has failed our children.
We’ve always known our gun laws are insane. We knew there should be sensible regulations on who can buy a gun and where and why. We knew there was no good reason to allow civilians to own automatic weapons.
But we did nothing.
Okay, a few of us spoke up now and again. It did no good. Our lawmakers just waited out our outrage and kept pocketing the money from the NRA and the gun lobby.
And now we’ve accepted that school shootings are just another part of getting an education.
It’s just something else to prepare for – like a grease fire in the cafeteria or a flooded gymnasium.
I’m sorry, but this is not normal.
I refuse to let this be just another possible disaster we feel compelled to add to our list of Might Happens.
Thankfully, protestors are still out there demanding action from our politicians. Thankfully, demonstrations and town halls are still in the works like the April 20th National School Walkout.
But our leaders still think they can wait us out. And these lockdown drills feel too much like an admission that they’re right.
What sense of urgency do we have if we’ve already incorporated shootings into the calendar?
I’ll accept that these drills are necessary. But I won’t accept them as permanent.
These are temporary measures at best.
However, that’s something that must be made explicit. Lockdown drills cannot become a tradition, common, conventional.
It shouldn’t be – “Time for the occasional lockdown drill.”
It should be – “Look what our cowardly politicians are forcing us to do because they haven’t enough spine to stand up to the NRA!”
We mustn’t lose our sense of outrage over this cultural shift. Because if we do, the necessary political change will not come.
We need sensible gun regulations – not another B.S. duck and cover exercise to engender a false sense of security and pop our civic resolve.