Yesterday, my children experienced a day far from normal. Thing is, they thought it was perfectly normal. Therein is the rub.
The day started routinely enough. Got up with the kids, packed lunches, made sure teeth were brushed, hair was combed, clothes matched and completed homework was in the bookbags. Told them to kiss their mother as we headed to the car for the short drive to the middle school, prayed with them as we do each day, told them I loved them as they left the car and made sure they said it back to me as they joined the mass of humanity walking toward the entrances to the school. My daughter was beautiful, swinging her violin gently as she walked, scanning the crowd for her friends. My son walked with confidence and strength, quickly finding his crew on the sidewalk near the main steps. Like I said, a pretty normal start to the morning.
I returned home after picking up their younger brother from elementary school, and joined them with my wife in living room, asking the customary, “How was your day?” My daughter said, “Weird.” My son said, “Boring.” Reception of vague, one-word answers is pretty typical in middle school parenting, so I pursued the matter further.
Turns out they spent each class yesterday learning from their teachers what to do in the event of a Code Red, which sounds to me like military or hospital language, but turns out is pretty normal middle school jargon these days. A Code Red is a planned response to an armed person who has entered the school with intent to harm the students, faculty and staff.
With calm external demeanor, my wife and I listened to them tell us about what they had learned. Inwardly, we were freaking out.
In the case of a Code Red, an announcement will go across the PA system with a three word code, something like “Personnel To Auditorium”. This is the communication from the office to the teachers and staff that an armed intruder is on the move in the building. My kids go to seven classes each day, in seven different classrooms, and teachers see seven different classes each day, so the pertinent information for a Code Red was gone over in each class, outlining response, plan of action, and exit strategy.
According to my son, the state of Pennsylvania has determined that its old strategy for dealing with an armed intruder — “Duck and Hide” — is no longer effective or feasible. In the past, students were told that if a gunman was on the loose in the building, murdering at will, the idea was to avoid conflict with them. Duck and hide, seek cover, hope and pray he passes you by. After tragically seeing time and again that this strategy does not work for saving lives of children who are being slaughtered in a place they enjoy and thought was safe, administrators and first-response personnel have devised a new plan to replace “Duck and Hide.”
The new strategy is “Fight or Flight.” As I heard it, the idea schools are communicating is: “Look, if someone comes in the school with a gun and starts killing students and/or teachers, at that point, we’re all in this together. If a student is being approached by a gunman who might kill them, we should empower that student to do whatever they decide they need to do in that situation. If they assess they’ll survive by running away, then let them run. If they deem that they’ll survive by actively doing something to the intruder, then go ahead and fight.” If a kid wants to defend their friends and attack the intruder in order to buy time for their friends to run away, that’s fine. If a teacher wants to jump on the back of a gunman or throw a book at him, that’s his or her prerogative. Fight or Flight.
Each teacher walked each of their classes through this shift in personal and corporate defense philosophy. In some of their classes, things got really practical. One of my daughter’s teachers told the class that if she were hurt or killed, they should look through her desk for her cell phone to call for help. My daughter said it made her sad to picture in her mind one of her favorite teachers lying on the ground in a pool of her own blood. In my son’s English class, they role-played a bit of the possible situation. In the practice, the teacher was the intruder. My son, with another of his friends, attacked the “gunman” pretending to beat down their teacher with a stool and a textbook while the rest of the class made for the exit as quickly as possible.
As you can imagine middle schoolers doing, they made light of the situation a bit, and told of some funny stuff that happened through the course of the experiences of the day, but still…there was no getting around the fact that we were discussing Death hunting children. The ride of the Erlkoenig renewed.
One of the most disturbing things to me was the tense of the conversation. Not the tension; it wasn’t a tense conversation. The tense of the conversation. My kids didn’t say, “If this happens…”; they said, “When this happens…”. It was chilling.
Another deeply disturbing thing to me was the person of the conversation. This was about empowering kids to make life and death decisions in the most stressful moment they will ever face. While I understand the concept of “Fight or Flight”, and prefer it over “Duck and Hide”, it’s still insane to tell six hundred 11-14 year olds that they have the ability to assess and choose the best course of action for themselves in the event a gunman is trying to kill them, giving them the responsibility and power to personally select whether to run away, to lead their friends, to take cover, to play the hero. Seasoned combat veterans can freeze under fire, and we’re empowering pre- and early-teen kids to make these types of decisions. I get it — we have to tell them something — but honestly, how crazy is this?
Frankly, I don’t want my kid to be the hero. I want them to live.
As a parent, protection from harm is the instinct. Make things safe and sheltered for our children, but really…what an illusion.
Remember the Beltway snipers? People couldn’t even pump gas without fear.
And lest you think this is just a sign of the end times or something — due to modern American saying “no” to God — did you know the worst American elementary school massacre happened in 1927 in the midst of Prohibition, before evolution in schools and at a time when the Church wielded massive cultural influence?
In the midst of all this please, please don’t forget that as an American people — since 1973 — we have boldly stood for the murder of 50 million unborn children, wailing in pain and outrage at the violent deaths of kids in elementary school while smugly protecting our collective right to convenience and reproductive health choice in a modern day massacre of the innocents.
Everything about this culture of murder — particularly murder in places that we thought were safe and predictable — is reactionary. Another killing happens, and another cry goes up for gun control. Massacre of children takes place, and there is another round of tightening protocols, creating better school defense strategies, and shoring up the entry procedures to our schools. Large-scale murder occurs, and we convene Senate hearings on violence in video games and movies. I’m not saying any of these things is good or bad; I’m simply stating that these all happen after the kids are already dead. We have had these conversations before — many, many times — and not much is changing. If you’re losing every basketball game by forty points, but celebrate the fact that your uniforms look great and your coaches give pretty good post-game affirmation speeches, something is wrong.
Going back to the idea of school shootings, the whole thing starts in that somewhere there is a person who has reached a point that he (it’s almost always a male) is seriously contemplating arming himself with guns, walking into a school and killing students and/or teachers there. How does one get to that point? What circumstances, psychology, emotion, pain, and broken relationships happen to open the door to considering the murder of small children in an elementary school? How does that become an option? What despair, darkness or chaos meet a person so deeply that the only way to release rage is to kill kids? What perspective or type of evil and work of the Enemy is at play to open a person to embrace the slaughter of children? And how culturally and spiritually deceived are we to not fundamentally have shifted something in order to stop these things before they happen?
I don’t have a lot to offer by way of answer, but I do know that reacting to the murders in the way(s) we are is not changing things. Legislation can’t fix this, nor can reactive planning. There is a person behind that trigger who cannot be written off and who needs to be heard. Why these things happen is as important as the fact that they occurred, and there is something we are collectively not hearing.
So, what did I tell my kids?
I told them God is their refuge and their fortress. They are safe in Him and He will protect them no matter what.
I told them I’m sorry that, as adults, we have crafted a culture for them that views murder and violence as a viable alternative to many situations.
I told them their school did a good job in being honest, forthright and proactive in preparing them for something that could happen and that they should trust their leaders there.
I told them that if shooting did happen at their school, they should pray and to listen to God and do what He tells them. If He tells them “Flight” or “Fight”, or some other supernatural alternative, I want them to listen to Him and follow His voice. That is where they will be most safe.
Honestly, though, I hope He tells them to run like hell.