And there we were again, listening to another horrific account of a school disaster, only this time it wasn’t a gun, it was two kitchen knives. And no one died. A quick thinking student pulled the fire alarm; another applied pressure to a wound; still another offered help to a wounded student and stayed with her until a teacher came and sent the helper outside to safety. Kids took action, but I’m saddened that they had to.
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When I was in high school, the nation was still involved in Vietnam, but I was a freshman and didn’t know any of the graduating seniors who were sent there. The biggest threats were the bomb calls that sent us all outside in the sunshine while the bomb squad searched the school. We practiced stop, drop and roll, duck and cover, and monthly fire drills, but none of us took them seriously.
Now our students and teachers practice lockdowns and they do take them seriously. After mall shootings in Oregon, the Olympics, on military bases and college campuses, at restaurants and in office buildings, it’s beginning to feel like we all might want to practice safety drills before going out to a public place.
Should we be looking over our shoulder all the time? Should every bit of strange behavior from co-workers, strangers, family members or students cause our eyes to narrow and our fight or flight response to kick into high gear?
I find myself thinking about exits now. Do I know how to get out of Raley’s or Arden Fair Mall if something bad happens? Should I run or lay low? What would I do if someone is shot and the medics can’t get to us? My CPR class was so long ago, I’m not sure if I remember what you’re supposed to do. What would I do if my grandchildren are with me?
It’s not the way I want to live; it’s not the way I want to think. It’s the way people in Syria live, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan, in parts of Africa and now in the Ukraine. They live on red alert; they become used to being watchful; they are exposed to violence and death every day. What do they teach their children about this? What should we teach our children?
We don’t live in a war-torn country, so why do I feel as if we do? Should we adopt a war mentality and take appropriate steps to train our children and ourselves to survive attacks — not from IEDs but from assault rifles in shopping malls? Maybe we should continue living our lives without any special concessions to war and work toward making it less likely that people will feel the need to strike out at the innocent? Or should we prepare for the worst and look for ways to make it better? I don’t know — it bothers me that my granddaughters might have to be taught even more caution about the world than stranger danger; that they might begin to look at the world and the people in it, not as unique and wonderful, but as dangerous and frightening, possible threats to their existence.
If the world was dangerous and full of threat; if the people in that world were out-of-control strangers bent on killing you, why would you want to live there? I feel fortunate that I grew up without such fears, but it makes it all the worse to recognize the change. Our children and grandchildren live in a different reality and have since Columbine. Gun control, bullying, harassment, terrorists and lockdowns are a part of that reality. They aren’t new concepts in the world, but they occupy a lot more space than they used to.
I’ve heard it said that the only positive aspect to the stabbings in Pennsylvania is that if the weapons used had been two guns instead of two knives, more people would have gotten hurt and some of them might have died. While this might be true, it is also the saddest thing I think I’ve ever heard. What will we teach our children?
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.