Home > Uncategorized > Duck and Cover Versus Lockdown Drills

Duck and Cover Versus Lockdown Drills

As a public school students in the 1950s and even into the early 1960s I recall experiencing “duck and cover” drills where we got under our desks and remaining stationary and quiet while a siren wailed somewhere in the distance. As an elementary student in a small PA town and in Tulsa OK this struck me as silly: if a nuclear attack was going to be launched why would they strike West Chester PA or Tulsa? Wouldn’t the Russians want to hit NYC, or DC, or Chicago or some air force base?

Today’s children are exposed to a different kind of drill: the lockdown. As described by Frieda Berrigan in a TomDispatch post that was republished in The Nation, the lockdown drill is more real and more scary than the duck and cover drill of yesteryear. For one thing, while a school shooting is a statistically remote possibility it is far more plausible than a nuclear attack because of the randomness and unpredictability. Few— if any— nations have the capability of launching a nuclear attack on a city or school, but in our culture anyone can get their hands on a gun and menace a school or community venue… a fact that is reinforced in the nightly news that covers small and large scale shootings that impact innocent citizens in malls, Planned Parenthood centers, and office parties.

But Berrigan asks why we should subject any children— especially three-year old children— to drills designed to keep them safe from predators. And if we must prepare our children for the worst, how do we explain this to them?

Assuming there are more Adam Lanzas out there (and there obviously are), that more gun shops will sell ever more implements of rapid-fire death and destruction, and that more gun lobbyists and promoters will continue to cling to this “God-given, constitutionally enshrined right,” my son does need to endure more lockdown drills.

The consensus of school security experts is certainly that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (only 80 miles from our house), would have been much worse if the students and teachers hadn’t been practicing for exactly the nightmare scenario that struck on December 14, 2012.

But how can I explain any of this to my little boy when it makes no sense to me? When it makes no sense, period?

She has no answer for this question… but my own thoughts are that we should not subject children to lockdown drills because in doing so we are reinforcing the idea that they are in constant danger and they should be distrustful of anyone who is unfamiliar. This notion of distrust is amplified even more when we have children dress in uniforms and place them in “safe” environments that are shielded from the public by armed guards and monitored by cameras that videotape everything that is happening in their controlled environment.

But I know my perspective on this is different from that of most parents and members of the public. The first time I sensed this was when I was putting together one of my last budgets for the 2011-12 school year. We were still reeling from the hit our community took in the 2008 recession and needing to cut our budget in order to meet a self-imposed cap on spending. One of the items on the table was new locks for the exterior doors in an elementary school. The locks were operable but they could not be unlocked from the outside. This meant that when the students were outside for recess the teachers either needed to keep the doors unlocked or have the students file into the distant front entry way. It also meant that the front entrance either needed to be manned or kept unlocked. My recollection is that the replacement of one-way locks with two way locks would cost over $50,000– or roughly the “cost” of one FTE teacher. I thought the notion of spending that sum of money for locks that operated well was unwarranted given the low probability of a school shooting and that we had other more pressing facility and personnel needs. I was astonished to find that even the most fiscally conservative and actuarily knowledgeable members of the board supported the expenditure… and even more surprised that the Principal of the school, one of the most progressive and humane administrators I’ve worked with, was also in support based on the concern he’d heard from parents about “safety”.

As I get further removed from the day-to-day operations of schools I also have a sense that I am not connected with the fear that grips parents… a disconnection that is probably reinforced by the fact that I have not owned a television for over a decade and am therefore not subjected to the relentless drumbeat of violence on the news. A sense of safety cannot be taught… it can only come from a belief that people are basically sane, healthy, and want to do the right thing. That is not a message we are hearing often enough and, given our lockdowns, cameras, door locks, and security guards,  our children today are being taught the opposite.

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