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LETTER: Don’t traumatize our kids

Published 1:33pm Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dear Editor,

I am not 5 years old, nor have I been for the last 15 years, but sometimes I do remember being that age. I see a vision of a chubby-cheeked girl running out of her kindergarten classroom, clutching to her bosom every worldly possession she had, which at the time was a Barbie backpack and some cut and paste coloring projects. That girl thought she was going to die that day, but as it turned out, she was just going through a fire drill. Somehow my 5-year old mind couldn’t seem to grasp the concept that nothing burns down during a drill. So there I stood in the parking lot, grasping my school work with tears sliding down my face, half from fear and half from embarrassment of misunderstanding.

I’ve grown up since then, been in other fire drills, and can proudly say none of those subsequent drills have invoked the sobbing of my youth, but then again, I now have a certain understanding of not only how fire works, but also, a stronger definition of the line between fantasy and reality. If you haven’t been able to guess by now, I am heading toward a discussion of the “gunman drill” that is planned to take place at F.E. Burleson Elementary school in February. Just as the purpose of a fire drill is preparedness and safety, I hold no doubts that the purpose of this school shooting drill is to ultimately protect children. It has never occurred to me that the implementation of this activity is the result of intended ill-will or a desire to traumatize kids. However, even the most noble of intentions can warrant damaging effects.

I am an advocate of school safety as both a student and as someone considering becoming an educator myself, but I would be remiss to not voice my opinion of this drill as an extreme action. I am unaware of what plans the administration of the Hartselle School System has in place to inform the children about the drill, but as earlier exemplified by the crying chubby-cheeked girl, making a five-year-old understand the boundaries between fake and real danger can be a task not easily accomplished. I agree with the need to test, adjust, and augment school preparedness in accordance with the world we live in, and I am not here to proclaim any naive idealism in a situation in which there is no room for it. I am only calling for a simple thought.

Before this drill happens, I suggest taking a look into every possibility and every other alternative. I suggest trying to look into the mind of a five- year-old. I am as aware as any that children are resilient and can recover from trauma in ways that adults sometimes cannot; however, I feel as though caution should be taken when exposing a child to any sort of stimulus that might damage or frighten them.

When educating children is it not most effective to speak in a way that they understand? And in the event of a school shooting or attack, would they understand an elaborate safety plan, or would they better grasp the concept of a “safe spot” in their classroom to hide in the case of emergency? Most of these children, although possibly more desensitized to violence than past generations, may still be operating under the impression that adults are those who they can trust, not those who would wish to harm them, and to diffuse or destroy that kind of idealism so early would be unfortunate.

Some may argue that drills do not reinforce the reality of an emergency situation; however, I am not sure that a simple theoretical understanding of the procedure is a bad thing in this case. Associating school with danger is a terrible reality, but it is not something to be encouraged. Beginning Kindergarten with the thought that you could be killed at any moment is not beneficial.

Why are we training our children in such an extreme manner to avoid danger? Isn’t it more logical to heap the protective mantel on the adults, teachers, and administration as opposed to striking fear in the hearts of the students?

As a college student, I have done many a research paper and project, but none have proved more intriguing than the work I did last year on the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999. I will choose not to bore you with the details of the research, but something interesting occurred to me while applying that research to this issue. Many watched, waited, and are still wondering about the motivation behind the Columbine shooters’, whose names I purposefully omit, terrible act. While by no means am I an expert on the issue, nor will I ever hope to understand the kind of darkness these boys must have been experiencing, one explanation is visible at surface level. The two boys at Columbine thought that weaponry brought them the ultimate power over the students and faculty at their school, and they were correct. Weapons of any form carry with them an immense power that can be used in a myriad of ways.

By bringing in a fake gunman to an elementary school, these kids are getting an active point of reference for how to obtain control in the world. You may think this is a tad far stretched, but stay with me for just a moment. These children are seeing, running, and being told to hide from a man with a weapon. Though they may not be able to process the exact psychology at the present, they will forever associate the object of a weapon with making people afraid and controlling their actions. Not like these children don’t get enough of these sort of images in the media, do they really need a live human example? There are hurting people in this world who feel powerless, and the sad likelihood is that at least one child in F.E. Burleson school will feel that way at some point in his or her life. Do we as a society really want to be teaching them to take back power in such a destructive way? It is definitely something to ponder.

No matter where you stand on gun control or any of the issues surrounding the tragedies that have been repeated at schools all around this country, I urge you to consider new methods on how to solve the problem. Consider the side-effects that this drill may have and weigh them out to the fullest extent. I urge those making this decision to listen. Please listen to the parents of these children, and listen to the children themselves. Parents, please do not remain silent. It is time that something be done about protecting our schools, but are confused, crying kids in a parking lot really the answer

Jenifer Abercrombie


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