Children In Danger

In the 1950s, when I was a child in elementary school, we were taught to hide under our desks and shield our eyes in the event of an atomic bomb attack. The nuns in my school didn’t seem alarmed. Simply another thing we practiced at school, like fire drills, multiplication tables, and penmanship. It was called “duck and cover.”

Adults talked about the A-bomb.

We lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, a likely target of our enemy, the Russians, who lived far away.

My mother mused that we might evacuate to get away from a bomb. My father worked in downtown Washington, and we were in the suburbs, so if we decided to evacuate during the day, we should plan to meet up at some church about an hour’s drive west, near Frederick, MD. My father was more interested in reading the afternoon paper. A day off from school! That was my thought.

This atomic bomb thing, should it ever happen, would be a big explosion in the distance, and a main danger was that the bright light would hurt our eyes. Duck and cover was the thing to do.

No one, adults or children, had ever seen an atomic bomb explosion. We hadn’t heard of such a thing actually happening, certainly not at any school nearby. Or anyplace else in our state. Or anyplace, really. Adults recalled that airplanes had dropped two atomic bombs, but that was far away, long before we children were born.

The 1950s are more than a half-century in the past. The distant and naive past. Today’s schoolchildren and parents live with the fears of 2018. The more things change, the more they remain the same?

No.

In elementary school, today’s dangers are different. 

Children now drill on how to survive an “active shooter.” A shooter inside their school. It’s not a distant, abstract danger. It has really happened in schools. Already happened! 

It’s happened over and over. It’s happened in schools in your own state. Everyone knows about it. No one denies it. The danger is in your neighborhood, possibly next door. Maybe in your very own house!

In my childhood, we saw guns in cowboy movies. For today’s children, guns are everywhere. Sometimes it seems as if nearly everyone is armed, at least here in Florida.

As the new school year begins, the state is belatedly (reluctantly?) spending some money in reaction to public opinion. It is, after all, an election year. Nothing to control guns, mind you. But they’re putting up fences around some schools. Rushing to hire and train more school security personnel. Dress them in more military-like uniforms. Putting on a show to placate fearful parents. In some cases, making schools look like prisons with correctional officers.

Meanwhile, inside the schools principals and teachers conduct active-shooter drills. Children are taught something new: “Run, Hide, Fight.” Sounds like basic training in the army. But it’s not the army. It’s elementary school and high school. It’s worth repeating: “Run, Hide, Fight.”

Wait.

Children are now expected to fight a man shooting a gun in the classroom, the hallway, the cafeteria?

Oh, well. Only as a last resort. First, you should run or hide. Hope and pray (is prayer OK?) that the police arrive. Hope and pray that police arrive, like, RIGHT NOW.

And yes, you might have to fight a gunman with your bare hands, as a last resort. That’s what the schools are teaching. Is it possible that I’ve misunderstood? If that is incorrect, please, somebody correct me.

No, the danger children face at school is not the same.

Yes, the danger at school, and other places too, is WORSE. The danger is not abstract. It’s real. It’s immediate. It’s everywhere.

Are children traumatized by this fear? Or do they ignore it? What about parents? What about teachers? How do teachers cope with fear? Some suggest teachers should carry guns.

Full Stop. Those thoughts — danger in school, children and parents in fear, teachers, guns. More than enough for one day. A good place to stop writing. The only place to go from here is: Can a society live like this, and survive?

— John

Note: This post was prompted by a news story, “Parents block shooter video: Pinellas elementary school kids won’t have to see it as part of active shooting drills,” in The Tampa Bay Times, Aug. 21, 2018, page 1B.

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Montgomery County Issues Fake Algebra Scores And Altered Report Cards

A story in Sunday’s Washington Post alleges that Montgomery County school officials added 15 percentage points to high school Algebra 1 math scores. Why? Because the vast majority of students failed the final exam, that’s why.

School officials provided a variety of excuses for the abysmal test results, and then simply tacked on an extra 15 percentage points to raise the failure rate from 82 percent to only 68 percent, according to the Post story  by Donna St. George. Based on the new, improved, fake scores, 623 additional students in MoCo high schools suddenly passed the test.

To celebrate, the schools printed new, improved report cards, which were mailed out three days late. (I’m not making this up. You can read the story in hard copy in the Metro section, page C3, June 29, 2014.)

Hurray for Montgomery County! Another great accomplishment for our heralded public school system.

The Post story provides additional information, but leaves unanswered a host of important educational questions. Do county test scores  have any integrity? Any validity? Is there any possible way of knowing if test scores reflect student learning or teacher performance? Who shredded the original report cards? Is there any cure for my early onset cynicism?

Taking this dystopian fantasy a step further, are test scores tabulated on the same computers used to count votes in county elections? Or the same computers used to project the traffic impact of high-density development?

Maybe the Post story is in error? Maybe I’ve terribly misrepresented the story? Can anyone provide a believable explanation?

Alternatively, can anyone provide an entertaining fictional explanation? The comment space below is available free to creative minds. No word count limit. The prize for the best entry is a week of substitute teaching in a ninth-grade algebra class.

— John Hayden