They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
As I went to pick up my high school freshman on Tuesday for the Orthodontist, I was met by a private security guard inside the front door, asking who I was and where I was going. When I returned my son to school after the appointment, I took the photo above. A local police car was stationed out front, and with a school bus not 100 yards away, it painted an eerie picture.
Our school district, like so many (if not all) others around the Country are busy fielding calls from nervous parents and reviewing security plans and drills in the wake of the horrific events in Connecticut. But contrary to the early media reports, the perpetrator was not a friend of the school or buzzed into the building by a system our district is considering installing in schools that don’t yet have one. A new buzzer, a few new cameras may, in some scenarios, give folks a little bit of time to react and protect folks in case of an emergency I suppose. But I can’t help feeling like this is like airline security after 9/11.
We all want to do something in order to take control back of our lives, to feel like we can do something meaningful and useful after this tragedy- to build something that will act like mystical armor and shield everyone we know and care about from harm. Heck, I’m even knitting scarves for the kids of Sandy Hook, and others are making toy “monsters” for the kids, in an effort to try to help, to do something, to show how much this event has affected us all. But I worry the money we’re spending on private security and new buzzers and the like is more the theater and window dressing of security than what we really need to prevent tragedies. I worry that in the effort to feel more secure, we’re making ourselves more vulnerable than ever before, because fear is ruling the day.
After 9/11 and after every scare since then, we just roll over and let our lives be disrupted and invaded in the name of safety. Like being unable to bring a bottle of unopened water through airport security, the screenings and hoops we ask everyone to jump through actually serve to make us more alienated and distrustful of each other. That water bottle is not a danger. No one really thinks it is a threat, yet we give it up, every time, because we just have to make sure that there’s not something else in the bottle that might be dangerous. (Either that, or the real danger is having a full bladder and trying to negotiate the crowded aisles and the minuscule airplane restrooms, but I digress.) In the name of travel and group security, we comply blindly.
I’m not willing to do this when it comes to schools.
Schools already have tight budgets, and are being charged with more and more duties to help prepare our children for life outside their doors. Adding additional levels of security places more barriers between kids and learning. It places more barriers between school and parents. I don’t want to see my kids getting airline levels of security in order to get on the bus or go to class each day. And while that certainly is not the plan here or anywhere else, you can see where the slippery slope could easily lead us down that road. I certainly don’t want schools to start looking and feeling like juvenile day time detention centers, where we lock the kids in and don’t unlock the doors until they are released at the end of the day. What message does that send to our kids, and how will it effect their learning and trust of people in general, long after they leave school?
We need to go in the opposite direction. We need to turn Schools into the center of our community. They need to be warm and welcoming places, that encourage parents and even community members to be a part of that larger family. We need to know each other better. We need to know our kid’s friends and their parents. Even for kids who go to private schools- there needs to be a time where we come together as a larger community and get to know each other. Even if we aren’t all best friends, we need to be that village that looks out for every young person in our community, and provide a sense of strength and guidance for them, inside and outside of school. We need to know our neighbors, and offer them help, and make it easy for them to ask or get help even before they really need to ask, because we simply know they need a little extra caring or support.
I need to feel as responsible for my children’s friends and peer group as I do for my own kids. I try to do this, and really talk to my kid’s friends when they’re over, asking about their lives and more. But even I have run into issues where I know a kid is in trouble, but don’t know quite how to say anything to the parent myself. Sometimes, I’ve tried to broach the subject; other times, I have called a school counselor when I thought a problem was serious enough to need some intervention beyond what I could provide. I try to have a home environment that’s a safe and nurturing place for kids to come and hang and that they know, and their parents know, that I care and am responsible for their kids like I am for my own. I’ve messed up from time to time, but I try.
I know parents are scared, and teachers are, too. We all want security blankets that will make us feel better, and feel like we can do something to make sure we’re impervious from harm. But frankly, by statistics alone, our kids are in more danger on the school bus than within the school walls. They are in more danger in our own homes. For example, when I left my 17 and 14 year old home alone on election night to help at the polls, I got a call that there was an explosion behind my house. Sparks were raining down, and my kids went to a neighbor’s home until I could get home. 9 separate fire companies were essentially on our property line, trying to put out a fire at a greenhouse across the street. Thankfully, everyone was fine, and the house did not suffer any damage, but I spent that drive home worrying about my kids and whether our home would be engulfed by flames by the time I got there. I get fear.
We just can’t let fear ruin or rule our lives. I need to be okay leaving my kids alone at home, knowing they are safe and responsible. I need to know, simultaneously that it’s unlikely that anything else will explode any time soon, but also know that a gas main could fail, or a tree could fall, or almost anything could happen. I need to be able to live life and take those chances, and be okay with the fact that I can’t control every aspect of their lives or the world around them, or even save them or myself in some extreme circumstances. We can prepare and practice, but at any given point in time, we have to just hope for the best.
I remember in kindergarten in the early 70’s, having to go down to the air raid shelter in the basement of our school. I’m not sure how safe we would have been should a bomb have dropped, just like I’m not sure how safe all our kids will be if there is another event like Sandy Hook. But we do what we can. We practice preparedness. We don’t take unnecessary risks. But I think we also have to consider the price we’re paying, financially and psychologically, in our attempts to feel better in the moment. We have to know how much is just theater, and still be okay with the measures we choose to take. But let’s also not pay the ultimate price by raising our kids in a culture of fear of the other, of fear of their own shadow. Let’s become better at accepting risk and laughing, just a bit, in the face of fear. To do less is to live a smaller life, and to sacrifice everything that we’re working so hard to protect.