Thinking in Public

Brief Rants & Quiet Thoughts on Education, Schools, and Learning


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Who Watches the Watchers?

A recent HuffPost article detailed the rise of “live shooter drills” at charter and public schools in the US, evidently as a result of growing concern over the events at Sandy Hook and other schools.

What’s next? Airplane pilots putting a plane full of unsuspecting passengers into a nosedive to see if they remember the preflight safety speech and can successfully navigate the oxygen masks for themselves and their children? Or maybe we should have rogue drivers put onto the roads to create dangers to emphasize to unsuspecting drivers how important it is to drive defensively? Or—what if we unleash actors pretending to be terrorists into a hospital to see if doctors do whatever they’ve trained to do to protect patients and other employees?

Those examples are admittedly ridiculous, and for good reason. We have safety drills across the country for a variety of reasons (tornadoes, school intruders, power failures in hospitals, etc.) but we don’t run them so that the drills themselves introduce real harm and possible injury to the people they are designed to keep safe! We don’t hold a tornado drill and have a teacher’s aide go outside with a baseball bat and knock a few glass windows in to “test” whether the glass reaches any students or teachers…. That would be nuts. So why are these live shooter drills OK—not just OK, even—thought to be GOOD IDEAS by some school leaders?

If I had a child and one of these drills happened at that school, I’d transfer or find a private option the very next day.

If I worked at one of these schools, I’d have resumes out and be on the job hunt within 24 hours.

We have to keep children and employees safe, and that means running drills. But events like Sandy Hook are still quite rare. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from them, change policies and practices where needed, and respond to the possibility. It just means that we shouldn’t be so strangled by the fear of a fairly remote possibility that we become the doers of harm in how we respond. We can’t allow the terrorists (foreign or domestic, politically motivated, out for vengeance for some perceived slight, or those out for an evil thrill) to make us as school leaders, community leaders, parents, and educators, into the instruments by which our teachers and children are traumatized or injured.

Grandmothers around the country say that “it’s always fun until someone gets hurt.” I wonder who is getting enjoyment out of these drills—who is getting that rush of adrenaline and power from “pretend” storming a school? And who is going to bear the responsibility when one of the unsuspecting teachers (or students, or parents in the building) happens to have (legally or otherwise) a gun with real bullets and responds to the “pretenders”? Who will be accountable for letting drills become the instruments of harm?


  1. drjimer posted this
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