Focis: School safety

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

How do we walk the fine line between preparing our children for the real world and scaring them so much that the real world terrifies them? Every public school in Indiana is required to conduct emergency preparedness drills each semester, including at least one “man-made occurrence drill.” An active-shooter drill, in other words.

Colin P. Elliott, an assistant professor of history at Indiana University, is shocked that the Indiana Department of Public Education would “feed the hysteria” over mass shootings in this country.

School shootings are so rare, especially elementary-school shootings (about two per decade across nearly 100,000 schools) that whenever one occurs, it gets “discussed and dissected in national media for weeks,” he wrote. “Hence, it feels like mass school shootings are routine, but they aren’t. Requiring elementary-age children to cower under their desks once a year in fear of an imagined killer is projecting wildly hysterical fantasies onto the reality that the vast majority of children will never, ever be confronted with an active-shooter situation in their school.”

Furthermore, he says, our fears and warnings about nearly everything in life are causing our children “to hunker down both literally and relationally.” They are taught to fear public spaces like parks and playgrounds, to distrust anybody they don’t know, to give in to “a creeping isolation, even hopelessness.”

He says we should resolve in 2016 to “stop being afraid” and to teach our children to “engage with the community, not fear it.”

Well, OK, up to a point.

Certainly we can smother our children with worry and fear, make them so paranoid they can’t possibly enjoy life. Perhaps in recent years we have moved too far in that direction.

But let’s be very, very careful about how and how much we scale back that overprotectiveness.

Yes, school shootings are rare, but they do happen. When they do, most people are frozen into passivity in the crucial first few seconds by the sheer unbelievability of the situation. Being aware that it can happen and that there are steps to take can work against that passivity. And there are strangers who do wish our children harm. Teaching children what behavior of unknown people is worthy of suspicion is not the same as teaching them to fear all unknown people.

It’s a wonderful world that is at times scary. Teaching our children both things is difficult but necessary.