Tanisha was just 6-years-old the first time she was in a shooting.
She was home in the kitchen looking for a cookie when she heard a “pop pop pop” sound.
Her mother rushed into the room and told her to get down.
Tanisha didn’t know what was happening.
“Hush, Baby,” her mom said wrapping the child in her arms and pulling her to the floor. “Someone’s out there shooting up the neighborhood.”
That was a story one of my 8th grade students told me today.
And it was far from the only one.
For the first time, my urban school district in Western Pennsylvania had an ALICE training for the students.
The program helps prepare schools, businesses and churches in case of an active shooter. Its name is an acronym for its suggested courses of action – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
In a district like mine where three separate gunmen went on sprees within 5 miles of each other during the last few years, this sort of training is becoming more frequent.
We’ve had numerous seminars for the teachers – even active shooter drills. With the students, we’ve had lockdown drills were the kids were basically instructed to duck and cover under their desks or in corners or closets.
But this was the first time the danger was made explicit in an assembly by grade level.
Our school resource officer and middle school principal stood side-by-side before the 8th grade going over in detail how someone might come into the building with the express purpose to kill as many of them as possible.
And then they told these 12 and 13-year-olds that it was up to them to do something about it.
That hiding wasn’t good enough. They needed to try to escape or incapacitate the attacker.
It still shocks me that we’ve gotten to this point.
It’s up to the children to watch out for themselves.
I can tell you as a teacher with more than 15 years experience in the classroom, I have never seen kids so quiet as they were in that auditorium.
It makes me sick.
When I was their age I was playing with Luke Skywalker action figures and building space ships out of Legos. I wasn’t discussing with police how to avoid a bullet to the brain. I wasn’t advised to wear my backpack on my chest to help protect against being gut shot.
I wasn’t then going back to class and talking over with my teacher how we can best barricade the room against any would-be bad guys.
But that’s what we did today.
I tried to reassure my kids that they were safe, that we could secure the door and if worst came to worst I wouldn’t let anything happen to them.
But these children aren’t like I was at their age.
They were shocked by the directness of the assembly. But they were no strangers to violence.
Later in the day, so many of them came back to me to talk about their relationship to guns and how firearms impacted their lives.
“I know you can’t get an automatic rifle unless…”
“I have a friend whose brother…”
“You don’t know what it’s like to lose your best friend to a gun.”
Someone coming into the school with a gun? Heck! They experience that everyday with the police.
For many of my kids, law enforcement isn’t automatically a comforting thought. They don’t trust the uniform. Often with good reason.
And now they were being told that safety was just another one of their responsibilities – like doing their homework and picking up after themselves in the cafeteria.
I can’t shake the feeling that these kids are being cheated – that the world we’ve built isn’t worthy of them.
What point police and firefighters and lawmakers and courts and laws and even a system of justice if we can’t use them to protect our own kids?
Isn’t that our job?
Isn’t that what adults are supposed to do?
Keep the danger out there so that the little ones can grow up and inherit a better world?
Just look the kids straight in the eye and tell them that death may be coming and there’s nothing we can do about it.
It’s up to them.
If that’s the best we can do, then shame on us.
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