Today, nearly two years after a gunman killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, my daughter’s elementary school in Calgary will practice a lockdown drill. The point of this kind of drill is to teach students and teachers what to do — lock classroom doors, hide, be quiet — in case a disturbed person decides to harm innocent children or their educators inside our neighbourhood school. A constable will be supporting teachers and children with this procedure.
I asked Avery why they were having lockdown practice. “It’s in case someone comes into the school who shouldn’t be there, or if a wild animal gets in, like a deer. Even though they look nice and tame they’re still wild and could hurt someone,” she said, illustrating the beautiful naiveté of a nine-year-old.
When I was a kid, we didn’t have “Lockdown Practice” at school. My biggest school worries, after securing a good seat on the bus, were not getting picked last at dodge ball and beating Kim Van Eeckhout at death circles on the 1-2-3 bars (where you spin around backwards by your knees for a full revolution without touching your hands to the bar). Oh, and I wasn’t supposed to buy lickum stickers from strangers that showed up at the playground because they might be laced with some kind of poison (a parental euphemism for LSD). It never crossed my mind that someone with a gun would walk into the school and start picking off little kids.
The closest I ever got to “lockdown” was vicariously — through the stories my mom would tell me about the regular tornado drills she and her classmates practiced during elementary school after the air siren started blaring. She grew up in Kansas where, evidently, Wizard-of-Oz-calibre tornados blew through almost weekly.
I listened to these tales with wonder and envy. Hiding under a desk seemed way more exciting than simply exiting the building like we did during the annual school fire drill.
As I entered junior high, with the spectre of the cold war looming larger than ever, I wondered why we never had Nuclear War drills (it was 1983 — remember The Day After?).
I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the U.S.S.R, but the iron curtain of the 80s seems to make a friendlier foe than the lone gunman of today. I guess we always suspected the Russians would never push the big red button — they were commies but they fought fair, right? (Surely that explains the lack of World War III lockdown practices?)
In contrast, today’s madman — or bullied, misunderstood youth — can show up anywhere, at any time, and wreak soul-wrenching devastation on the relative peace that described life before his appearance.
I’m sad that this is the reality for my daughter. I’m glad she doesn’t know the real reason they’re going through this drill, but my heart still hurts. As much as I hate the thought of her and her grade four classmates silently locking themselves in Room 13 for an hour this morning — and I loathe the reason they’re doing it — I’d rather her school is prepared in the unlikely event that something akin to the Sandy Hook tragedy should happen here at home.