Dear Ms. School District Superintendant
I’m writing to express my distaste for the recent board-level changes in school security policy.
I chose to raise my children in this area in large part because I wanted them to grow up in an environment free of pervasive media-drive fear. Not free of risk, of course: none of us can ever live entirely free of risk. But I wanted them to grow up in an environment uncontaminated by the sort of fear and distrust that is rampant in larger centres and other countries. I wanted my children to believe that the world is by and large a good place filled with good people. I wanted them to learn to keep risk in perspective.
[Our community] and [our K-12 public school] seemed to provide that kind of environment. The school and the community are friendly, open and trusting. Not to the point of stupidity, but they provide a balanced openness and acceptance. We have not fallen prey here to a paranoid distrust of each other or of strangers. Children in our area who are asked for directions by tourists respond helpfully rather than cowering in fear. The school has had an atmosphere of welcome acceptance. School staff have worked hard to build connections between school and community, between living and learning, between the natural world and the people living within it. Children attending school have felt part of a school community that encompasses the larger world, rather than held in an institutional community turned inwards, insulated and protected from the larger world.
The new security policy strikes at the heart of this openness. It creates an atmosphere that draws a firm line between the scary outside world and the supposed safety of school. It is also a terribly unscientific interpretation of risk. Considering that schools are supposed to be helping children learn to critically examine and interpret information, this sets a very poor example. The risk of a Canadian school student dying in a motor vehicle accident on the way to or from school is hundreds of times higher than the risk of dying in a school shooting. Why are we letting a media frenzy relating to an incident in a different country with a radically different health care system and firearms law dictate which doors we can walk through?
If the school district is truly concerned about reducing the risk of school shootings from negligible to even-more-negligible, they should consider the factors that are commonly cited by experts as motivating such gunmen. School shooters tend to be isolated loners who are fearful and disempowered, and they tend to take out their anger on institutions where they perceive their isolation and disempowerment to have begun. Surely it is no stretch to see that a school lockdown policy — which inhibits the free interaction between school and community, which symbolizes the isolation of students from the wider world and which restricts student movement and location — will tend over the long run to increase the likelihood of disturbed individuals choosing that school as a target. It is no mystery why US rates of school shootings continue to rise as schools get more and more controlling and “secure.” Such policies are dehumanizing. They put up barriers. They isolate. All factors that play into the disturbed thought patterns of future potential mass-murderers.
For goodness sake, let’s keep risk in perspective. The risk of a school shooting here in our corner of rural BC is virtually nil. The risk of choking on a piece of food at a school lunch or dropping dead of cardiac arrest on the soccer field is higher. We’re not rushing around banning team sports or grapes. Why is the school district buying into media-driven fear, and in doing so eroding healthy attitudes towards community and the wider world, the sort of healthy attitudes that are protective against violence? I hope that the recent directive was a misguided attempt to comfort families by being seen to be doing something in light of the media hype surrounding a shooting in a nation very different from ours, and that upon realizing that parents do not need or want this sort of “comfort” the administration will revise the policy.
I urge you to rescind the current directive so that the wonderful healthy openness between students, families, school staff and communities can be preserved. Barriers build fear and resentment and reduce student security both real and perceived. A policy of openness serves our students, and their security, best.
Fear and locked doors