The principal came into the class, just before lunch, and whispered into the teacher’s ear:
“We’re on lockdown. I’m not exactly sure what it’s for, but I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.”
The teacher—she happens to be my daughter—knew what she had to do. She turned out all the lights. She drew the shades so the room would be nearly dark, as if no one were there. She told the children, 5th and 6th graders, to crawl beneath the desks, make themselves as small as possible, and stay there. As a reading specialist, she is supposed to teach them reading, but there would be no more of that. Something was amiss and the grammar school in Newark, CA was on lockdown.
Now my daughter has been on lockdown before. She used to teach in a grammar school in South Central Los Angeles, and there were helicopters chasing criminals in the neighborhood all the time, so the school would go on lockdown regularly. But before today, she never worried much about it. It was clear in L.A. that the danger was outside and the targets were criminals, not children.
After Newtown, that casual attitude towards lockdown is out of the question. No one knows anymore whether a lockdown means an external threat, or a direct threat to the school, to the innocent children in the school. That’s why the kids are told to hide and be silent. That’s why the windows are closed, the shades are drawn, the lights are extinguished, and the children shrink to zero: To create the impression, if some killer like Adam Lanza should break in searching for easy targets, that the classrooms are empty. (Whether this makes sense or not is another question). And the kids know exactly what to do; though my daughter had not been there the day they had their drill for this, the kids remembered it perfectly and did what they had been taught. That’s what teaching involves now: teaching kids to nullify themselves in case a killer comes to school. Of course, two of the boys were fooling around, until, that is, my daughter told them in no uncertain terms that this was serious. They then stopped fooling and vanished like the others.
What is the effect of such instruction on school children? It appears that it scares the bejesus out of them. One of the little girls asked my daughter if the hunted person were armed. She said he probably was. Imagine. Little kids having to disappear, imagining what might happen if automatic weapons suddenly start blazing, with them as the target. Some of them no doubt remembering nightmare images they’ve seen of Newtown.
Today, the lockdown in my daughter’s school lasted more than an hour. Kids cowering beneath their desks and tables for over an hour in a darkened room, with no idea how long the danger would last. Five of them had to go to the bathroom, and had to use the waste paper basket; they’re not allowed to leave the room. All were famished by the time they got to lunch, because those in the lunchroom at the time of lockdown likewise had to stop eating and hide beneath their tables.
Imagine being a teacher in such a situation. No information on what the hell is happening, or how dangerous it is, or how long the terror is going to last, and unable to reassure the terrified kids in her charge that it will soon be over. This is America in the 21st century, after Newtown. Schools that used to be safe places; even boring places; places that kids couldn’t wait to get out of so they could go play; are now places that can become fortresses at a moment’s notice. Fortresses of isolation filled with fear that someone armed to the teeth with the weapons that are perfectly legal and even common in America might burst in and start shooting you and your classmates for no reason.
Making this possible is what the crazies in the NRA consider freedom. Most Americans that I know most decidedly do not. I would guess that most kids in lockdowned schools don’t either. How long is it going to take for the cowardly creeps in Congress to catch up?