My emotions about this tragic pall cast upon our country have ranged from extraordinary sadness, anger, rage and hopelessness. It has stirred in me some very visceral feelings about the role of guns and treatment of mental illness in our society, not to mention the context of religion/afterlife/god that other people have expressed in its aftermath, much of which I do not agree with. I want to write about them all, but if I chose to write about those things today, I’d likely lose some friends. That’s not what I want to do. At least not today. Instead I will take issue with a piece I read over the weekend.
Dear Professor Fox:
Living in Greater Boston, I frequent Boston.com to access news (certainly not to the exclusion of other often more informative/balanced news sites, but it is a site I visit at least daily nonetheless). Over the weekend, in the wake of the profoundly heart wrenching tragedy in Newtown, I came across this piece that you wrote, which was posted on Boston.com.
One thing that struck me about your piece was where you write:
The immediate response to deadly shootings in schools and other buildings is typically a call for enhanced physical security. In the short-term, access control and close surveillance may calm the fears of students and their parents. However, in the long run, transforming our schools into fortresses is counter-productive. Children need not be constantly reminded of their vulnerability. Besides, as we have seen in many instances, including with the newly-installed security system at Sandy Hook, access control measures fail to deter someone who is absolutely dead-set on mayhem. (emphasis in bold mine)
You then close the article by vaguely stating that aside from all that (and other things you mention in the article), it’s still better to do something rather than nothing.
With all due respect to you, Professor Fox, (and you are not alone in writing such sentiments…I’ve seen them elsewhere and even hinted at in various statements made by government officials across the nation—so my rejection is to this notion across the board and not directly solely at you), I think you’ve failed to acknowledge some very important truths.
First, let’s consider your opinion that children need not be constantly reminded of their vulnerability. How can they, much less we, as parents, not think this way in today’s often insecure world from the moment they are born? Indeed, mere seconds after my daughter was born five years ago, the hospital staff put a security anklet on her tiny little ankle. This is standard practice in almost any hospital. We all know the reason: to protect our little babies, still yet wrinkled and red, from being taken. Stolen. Like jewelry or televisions. Sure, they are not aware of the reason why this miniature plastic ring is at the end of their leg, but we, her parents, are. This is what informs our first few moments as parents. This is the kind of mind-altering reality check that confronts us the second we take on our new role.
And it never really subsides either. Car seats, helmets, knee pads, bath thermometers, safety gates, table bumpers, electrical outlet covers, and all. A constant barrage of things meant to keep our kids safe and alive.
In light of all these things, do you really think that children are not already aware of their vulnerability? The truth is, they ARE vulnerable. Five, six and seven year olds ARE vulnerable. Sure, as they get older we want to foster independence and self-confidence and common sense so that they can eventually go this world alone, but at these ages, they are vulnerable and look to us as adults to protect them as they navigate their way toward adulthood.
So, when you say that kids do not need to be reminded of their “vulnerability” by way of fortress-like measures or obvious, physical security devices (I’m assuming you mean things like metal detectors, surveillance, security personnel, and the like, though it is a bit unclear), I think you are missing the mark. Young children want to feel safe. They need adults to feel safe. They need us to be in control in order to provide that safety. The measures through which that may be accomplished may not be ideal, or cheap, or even practical, but the bottom line is that when I send my child to school, to be entrusted in the care of other adults, I want them to be fully equipped to provide that kind of safety.
The same kind of safety that I provide in my own home. With door locks and other security measures. Means by which to keep out those that I do not want in. Yes, a private residence is certainly not the same as a public school building, but its contents are: vulnerable young children. We are not talking about a city hall or the registry of motor vehicles. We are talking about a building where I am essentially required by law (homeschooling alternatives aside) to send my child once she turns five or six, as the case may be. If I have to do that, then those institutions must deliver on their end of the bargain.
When I read your thoughts on this particular point, I could not help immediately think of three situations where extreme security measures have become routine. First, the measures which we must all endure to board a plane. Is it a hassle? Certainly. And a costly and somewhat less-than-perfect one too. Nobody truly *has* to fly, yet our children do have to go to school. I can assure you that I think my child deserves at least the same amount of safety sitting in school as does the businessman flying to San Francisco. Second, the fact that virtually almost all colleges give entry cards for their students to access their dorms. These are individuals near or in adulthood, and yet they have more control about who goes in or out of a building than children a fraction of their age who are sitting idle in a classroom trying to figure out whether yellow and blue make green and hoping their mom or dad packed their favorite lunch. And you know what? Even if someone gets in the dorm that shouldn’t be there, those able-bodied college kids can use any number of means to seek law enforcement assistance. Elementary school kids, on the other hand, rely on the adults in charge to filter and prevent errant individuals. Third, my husband, who works for a large company, has to “badge in” before he is able to enter his work building. And there is also a security guard (in each of the multiple buildings on campus) sitting right there notwithstanding that the door will not open if my husband or any other employee forgets his badge. Given the work that his company does, I imagine that these measures are done more to protect proprietary information and tangible assets than the employees inside. Yet nobody batted an eyelash to install these measures. What’s even better is that the second that an employee is no longer part of the company (read: someone who is not supposed to be there anymore), that badge is deactivated. Why not something like this for students and/or their parents who want to freely access schools?
Our lives are nothing but security measures anymore. PIN numbers. Surveillance cameras in a grocery store. Security tag detectors at the department store. Home alarm systems. Car alarms. Passwords for iPhones and email. We take more effort to protect our stuff than our kids. Efforts that our kids are already aware of and accept as a way of life from the moment they are born. Surely you cannot be serious when you suggest that by adding more physical measures around schools that kids are somehow going to be more aware of their vulnerability? And you know what I say to that notion anyway? So what. My prospective six year old wants to feel safe at school. I don’t think certain kinds of measures are conducive to fostering the thoughts of vulnerability with which you seem so preoccupied. Instead, by not taking such steps, are we not sending the message to our kids that all of those other things are more important and worth protecting?
I refuse to accept that premise, and quite frankly I am getting very tired of hearing this cop out as more and more school violence takes place. Especially when my daughter is just nine months shy of sitting in the same kind of classroom that all of those beloved, and now dead, children were sitting. No, we need to deliver on our promise of protecting our kids because it is that kind of trust upon which their love is based.
Copyright (c) 2012 Kristen M. Ploetz