From Air Raids to Active Shooters

I can remember my parents talking to me about how, when they were young, they would participate in air raid drills in school (otherwise known as “Duck and Cover”). My mother would tell me how scared she was, huddling underneath her desk with her hands over her head. My father pointed out how he felt this precaution was futile due to how powerful a bomb (especially an atomic bomb) would be. Both, at different ends of the United States, imagined the horror of a real air raid.

This made me think of the security culture during my parents’ schooling. The United States had finished World War II and were contemplating the implications of the Cold War. There was a threat of violence, but no violence had been initiated. Fear of a possible betrayal from within the United States informed the decisions of parents, teachers, and students alike.

I can’t possibly understand what that fear was like, but I understand a different kind of fear. The fear of an active shooter. Now, in schools, we have active shooter drills (called “Code Red”) to protect ourselves from these kinds of attacks.

I can still see the fear in my students eyes as we, for what it feels like the 100th time, conduct a “Code Red” drill. A square in the ceiling flashes red and a voice announces “Locks, Lights, Out of Sight”. We follow the directions given for this kind of drill and the room is so quiet I can hear a student brush against a poster. You know your students are scared when they don’t even pull out their phones.

I look across the now empty desks and my heart skips a beat. Will there be empty desks in my future? Every second until I am assured that the “Code Red” was just a drill my heart beats faster and faster. I feel as if my students can hear it. I look up to see them looking to me. I try to smile at them. My desire is to protect them from this, to tell them that people are generally trustworthy and that, if someone threatens, it is just empty words, but I cannot, in all honesty, say those things to my students. I must tell them to report any threat, to be on the watch for suspicious persons.

In this way, school today is similar to when my parents were in school, looking for enemies among us. During the Cold War, the United States was on edge to find any possible Communist. Now, we are diligently observing all that happens to see if we can identify a shooter before the situation becomes lethal.

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