School is a War Zone, and Our Children are Caught in the Crossfire
Two and a half years ago, my daughter started kindergarten. She was so excited to finally get to go to school. I braided her hair, and she wore her pink polo shirt with navy blue skirt, white ankle socks, and grey canvas sneakers. I took the traditional first-day-of-school photo for the record, her smile barely containing her excitement and nervousness. And I walked her to school.
Due to some health issues I was dealing with that year, within two weeks my body was at a point where I was no longer able to walk her to school. Thankfully, when we purchased our house, it happened to be located diagonally across the street from the school. So I convinced her that she could walk to school herself, that I would be standing on our front stoop and could see her the whole way. My little five-year-old gathered her strength and walked to school by herself. That afternoon, when she came home, she excitedly told me she wanted to walk to school herself all the time from then on. And just like that, my little girl started to grow up.
Just a little over a week later, when she came home from school, her countenance was set. There was no cheery smile from her art project, or from an interaction with friends at the playground. When I asked her how school was, she looked up at me and said, “We had a lockdown drill today.”
I gathered her into my arms and tried my best not to cry. Because what has the world come to that five-year-olds who are full of all the excitement of going to school and learning new things and making new friends have to also learn how to hunker down underneath desks in a darkened room and hold their tongues so as to minimize their chances of getting shot?
I asked her if she knew what the lockdown drill was for. She said, “It’s for in case a bad person with a gun comes into the school and starts shooting at people. We have to be as quiet as a mouse and hide under our desks and turn off the lights and pretend we’re not there.”
As I held her, my mind drifted back to the shooting at Sandy Hook less than three years earlier. I’d written a piece after that incident, about mothers and fathers holding their dead children in their arms like Mary holding Jesus in the statue “La Pieta.” I wrote about the pain of losing a child in such a horrific way, the pain of not being able to protect them from something that should never happen. And now, because of that horrific incident, I was comforting my five-year-old daughter after a lockdown drill had scared her. What if one day it wasn’t a drill? What would we do then?
America seems to have a problem with apathy. We say “Never again!” like we mean it. But then it happens. Again. And again. And again. And the outrage grows for a short time, and then subsides. When will we take this seriously? When will our words and our actions finally align?
The shooting at Columbine happened in April of my senior year in high school. I remember thinking, “That could happen here. What would I do? What could I do?” Almost 19 years later, school shootings have become such a regular occurrence that we don’t even cover them all in the news. What has happened to us, America?
Here is what I don’t know: I don’t know that there is a single answer to this problem of mass shootings in the US. Some people shout for more gun control, that we need to have stricter regulations on how — and which — people can acquire guns. Some people call it a mental health issue, that we need to take better care of people who exhibit concerning behaviors. Others say it’s a family issue, that too many families are broken, the parents unable to spend enough time with their kids because of trying to keep their heads above water financially. I think maybe there’s some combination of factors going on here, and that there is not one single answer that will be an easy fix.
Do I think we need better regulations and background checks for gun ownership and use? Yes, absolutely. But I don’t think that alone will solve the problem. Do I think we need better mental health care in the US? Yes, absolutely. But again, I don’t think that will solve the problem, since most people with mental illness are not violently inclined and are actually more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators. Do I think families need more support in America? You betcha, but that in and of itself is an issue that will need some multi-level political renovation, starting with things like paid maternity/paternity leave, post-natal support for mothers, and a change in how we view and value work.
Here is what I do know: My children, and your children — all children — have the right to not fear for their lives when going to school. Our teachers and school administrators have a right to not fear for their lives when teaching our children. And whatever the answer(s) is/are, I know that it will take work. A lot of hard work, on the parts of a lot of people. All of us, really. We all need to work toward change.
Right now in America, school is no longer just school. School is a war zone, and our children are the innocents getting caught in the crossfire.
How many more? How many more schools, how many more children, how many more innocent people will get shot down before we say, with every fiber of our beings, “Enough is enough! Not another life! Not another child!”? How long until we finally decide to set aside our bipartisan hang-ups, until we finally stop fighting each other, and come at this issue together, united — first as human beings, and second as American citizens — concerned for the lives of our children?
When will our children’s lives finally weigh enough on our scales of justice?