As children, my parents learned to take cover under their school desks to prepare for The Bomb. A generation later, my classmates and I regularly rushed to the basement of my Kansas elementary school to practice responding to violent tornadoes. Today, kids are learning a new habit through lockdown drills that make huddling quietly in darkened classrooms seem like a routine practice.
Following a few recent episodes of school violence, lockdowns are in the news lately.
We’ve noted how well-rehearsed students seemed in the aftermath of several incidents of school violence this year. In the Arapahoe High School shooting, for example, students filed out of the school in orderly lines, hands raised above their heads, after police cleared hallways and told teachers to open their locked classroom doors.
You’ve got to wonder how much small children understand about these drills and whether the routine will have any lasting impact on how they think about the world. In a recent story about lockdown drills, the New York Times spotlighted 5-year-old Jackson Green, a North Carolina elementary school student who doesn’t seem to understand the heavy reasons his school has locked down twice this year (once for a perceived threat and once for a drill).
'It speaks to the psychological conditions of these children, that they're alert, they're on the lookout, that this danger is always present for them,' Jackson's mother, Sarah Green, said in an interview. 'It's constantly on their minds.' Though Jackson is still too young to understand the broader threats behind the drills, he has absorbed their lessons so well that he has started playing lockdown at home, Ms. Green said. 'Attention everyone, this is a lockdown!' he announces in the playroom. 'Turn off the lights!' 'For Jackson, it's just normal,' Ms. Green said in an email. 'Quite frankly, it is horrifying that my son imposes lockdowns on his little brother in the same way that he pretends to announce the lunch menu.'"
If you’re a school leader or teacher, how do you talk to your younger students about lockdown drills so that they understand the importance without feeling afraid?
Missouri TV Reporter Sparks School Lockdown
While compiling an “investigative” report on the timely topic of lockdowns, a Missouri television reporter accidentally caused one, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in a social media timeline of the incident. The KSDK-TV reporter apparently visited the front office, provided a cellphone number, and asked to speak to someone about school security. While a school staff member left to find a school resource officer, the unidentified reporter left. When he could not be reached by phone, the school locked down.
The station posted this statement on its Facebook page:
NewsChannel 5 recognizes the importance of safety in our schools. As part of a continuing investigation this afternoon, we visited five local schools. One of our employees assigned to this investigative report visited Kirkwood High School. He entered and made his way to the school office, asking a teacher for directions after a few minutes. There he asked if he might discuss the school's security. He identified himself by name and gave the office his phone number. When the security official could not be reached, our employee left the premises without escort. Approximately an hour later, after our visit, the High School was put on lockdown. This lockdown certainly was not the intent of our visit. We will report this story tonight on NewsChannel 5 at 10:00 p.m. NewsChannel 5 will continue to be vigilant when it comes to the safety of our schools and your children within."
Judging from their Twitter posts, Kirkwood High School students weren’t too rattled by the incident.
Kirkwood on lockdown and we continue chemistry in the dark in the corner on the ground like nothing is going on. Lol pic.twitter.com/s7iAdVMrBP
— ✝Joann Oakes✝ (@neonbubbles4) January 16, 2014
Lockdown at Kirkwood and Ms. Hall just keeps teaching.
— Evan Yahng (@ForeverYahng) January 16, 2014
— Sabrina Edwards (@dramabean) January 17, 2014
— 〉〉 sara 〈〈 (@Lady_Guilf) January 16, 2014
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.