For those of us who live in or work in schools, news of yet another school shooting in the United States evokes the same horror, outrage, and pain we all felt in 1999 as we confronted the tragedy at Columbine. Invariably, news of this kind makes us return to and study our emergency plans, the ones that have steadily evolved as the frequency of mass shootings has provided, ironically and sadly, the bloody evidence we needed for new best practices, now known literally and euphemistically as "Run, Hide, Fight."
What tends to get lost in both our grief and emergency planning is the cruel dramatic irony of the situation our culture has placed us in.
Schools are sanctuaries, sacred spaces of hope, creativity, and regeneration in our democracy. Each school in America does its imperfect best to create a culture for students that serves as a refreshing and inspiring portrait of what our national community and democracy might look like. We practice civility, kindness, compassion, citizenship, reverence for diversity, and respect for human rights. By word and example, we say that education, public, private, charter, opens up doors of opportunity to endless possibilities for achievement, service, and leadership. We appreciate, every day, the faith, trust, and expectation parents express as they say goodbye each day to their children as they walk, board buses, join carpools, and arrive to the doors of our schools.
But our country now declares that in the midst of this educational sanctuary, we must transform the school, the campus, the immediate community into a rigid locked camp. We must, our country says, prepare to respond to weapons of destruction and terror. We must, our country says, train our children to survive, run, hide, fight for their very lives. We must, our country says, ask principals and teachers to lay down their lives for their beloved children.
But is any of this any way to cultivate a new generation of peace, hope, and trust?
You hear today the voices of outrage from students in Florida who witnessed firsthand the madness of the culture we have accepted as part of 21st century American life. They demand a way forward that would transform "Run, Hide, Fight" to a new American approach that would honor the safety, serenity, and peace we who work in schools promise our students every day. It is time for everyone in America to hear these voices.