Children as young as five years old learn what to do in the event of a shooter coming into their classroom, considering it as normal as a fire drill.
Generation Z has another nickname, Generation Lockdown coined in light of the frequency of school shootings beginning in the late 2000s and continuing to present times. This generation of students has grown up with active shooter drills and learning what to do in the event of a shooter on campus.
Most recently, the University of North Carolina and Highland High in Denver Colorado only miles from Columbine High School, have joined the ranks of schools that have lost students to an active shooter. These consecutive tragedies remind us that school shootings are a common occurrence in the United States. America has a problem that it refuses to admit, our country’s students are being trained to survive attempts on their lives at a young age, considering it normal by the time they graduate high school.
Run, Hide, Fight
The phrase has become common language in schools across America, and children as young as five have it ingrained in their brains. Every year faculty are forced to update their safety procedures for staff and students in the event of an active shooter. Drills are conducted religiously, sometimes with no advance warning. Teachers are prepared to sacrifice their lives on a daily basis. Classrooms and playgrounds look and sound like an active warzone.
We as students are told to “Run” if we are outside or near the exits, “Hide” if we are in a room with a lockable door, and finally “Fight” if the active shooter manages to find us or enters a classroom. These phrases are common knowledge for every American student, and we are able to recognize our fight or flight instinct early in adolescence. The initial days after a major school shooting follow a distinctive pattern. During the initial days and weeks afterwards there are school wide assemblies and drills to remind us that the unthinkable could indeed happen to us. In the following weeks, teachers assign roles in the event of a shooter on campus. Students silently wonder will I be a hero? A victim? Both? These thoughts and fears are at the back of everyone’s minds but nobody says it out loud.
The kids are not alright
Just as my parents grew up with nuclear bomb drills, my generation grew up learning how to use common classroom staples to defend ourselves against active shooters. As a kid, we had three types of drills, earthquake, fire, and active shooter. I distinctly remember in high school, my English teacher asking for a volunteer to guard the classroom door, subtly implying that it might mean self- sacrifice for the good of the class. Growing up in a post-Columbine world, I was taught that I was not safe in public spaces, especially schools, and that if I saw something to say something, to report suspicious behavior to the faculty. Without hesitation, we volunteer ourselves to barricade doors and fend off people with guns in order to save our fellow classmates, only to die a hero.
The common response to school shootings among the student body is to be nicer than usual to the outliers of the social hierarchy and to brag amongst friends about being a hero. I remember bravado-filled classmates bragging about tackling a hypothetical shooter in attempts to impress their friends, and teachers giving somber speeches about how they would not hesitate to take a bullet for every student in the room. By the time I was in high school, lockdown drills were so normalized that students rarely took them seriously. We would joke about being locked out of the room during a drill and would take selfies in a darkened classroom, deep down we would remember the news coverage of past shootings and reflect on our past experiences.
Numb by this point
At this point in my academic career there have been six hundred and twenty two school shootings, with almost three hundred deaths, and most likely by the time you finish reading this article there will be three more shootings somewhere in the country. Every day, students are hiding in dark classrooms with their backs against the wall, wondering if next time it will be real. Unfortunately, lockdown drills are a common experience shared by American students in every state. We know exactly what to do if someone with a gun comes into our classroom and we are unafraid to die. I am tired of going to candlelight vigils in memory of children killed by a teenager with a gun.
I am sick of worrying that my cousins will be the next group of children featured on the evening news, being herded out of a school building. I wish that my classmates and did not have to grow up in a world where first graders knew what to do if a man firing a gun comes into their classroom. The youth are the future, and now is the time to stand up and say “Never Again” to ensure that our children do not continue the tradition of sheltering in place out of sight in a darkened classroom