The Murder of Children

From M the Media Project Special Feature on Gun Violence in America

 M the Media Project
Mick Carlon writes on public education for M the Media Project. He is an internationally recognized author of novels for young adults.

Mick Carlon’s Jazz novels—RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN; TRAVELS WITH LOUIS and GIRL SINGER (Leapfrog Press)—are in the curriculum of 100+ schools in the United States. According to the late Nat Hentoff: “Nothing like Carlon’s books has yet been attempted in the history of Jazz. They are introducing a new generation to the glories and stories of our music.” A six-time speaker at the Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans, Carlon has spoken to audiences about Jazz in New York City,Boston, Dallas, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and all over New England. After enjoying a 38 year career as a public school teacher, Carlon lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with his wife, Lisa. The couple are very proud of their daughters Hannah and Sarah.

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When I began teaching in the 1980s, we did not conduct active shooter drills.  (However, we teachers did physically protect gay teenagers from attacks from other students, but that’s another story).  But by the fall of 1999–only months after the horrific Columbine murders–active shooter drills had become part of a teacher’s work life.

For well over a decade the drills were simple:  Lock your classroom door(s), turn out the lights, herd the children into a dim corner not visible from the windows or doors, and be absolutely silent until a police officer opened the door and said, “All clear.”

In other words, gather like the cliched sitting ducks.

A gifted substitute teacher, Jim–a man who had enjoyed much success in the business world and who enthralled students with his good humor and wisdom–was fired for telling his students one day to protect themselves with books, staplers, pens, scissors–anything.

Two years later, on the first day of school, we teachers were told that the old ways were to be forgotten.  “You were huddling in a corner like sitting ducks,” said a police officer.  Instead, we were taught the ALICE drill–to be honest, I forget what the acronym stands for.  Simply, it is to run for it if you can.  Or to arm your students with books, staplers, pens, scissors–anything–if you cannot.

Jim was fired for being ahead of his time.

As I write these words, it is only days since nineteen children and two teachers were slaughtered in Uvalde, Texas by an 18-year-old maniac with an assault rifle and a pistol.

Count slowly to twenty-one.

The unspeakably vile Ted Cruz says once again that teachers should be given guns and armed officers should be roaming our hallways.

The unspeakably stupid Dan Patrick suggests that schools should now have only one door.  (Your idea will work brilliantly during a fire, Dan).

Under our nation’s increasingly fascist Republican party, civic duty has been flushed away–all in the name of unfettered “freedom.”  You don’t need to wear a mask during a plague.  You don’t need to allow women control over their own bodies.  You don’t need to have anyone tell you not to arm yourself like a Green Beret headed into battle.  Infantile white “men” are making our nation into a deadly laughingstock.

But I digress.

What is it like to conduct an active shooter drill with a seventh-grade class?  Some students are very upset by the experience.  Some students giggle and make noises when they should not.  Most students, however, are so used to the experience that they go pliantly through the motions.

“We are in a lock-down drill,” says the school’s administrative assistant (a beloved lady) over the intercom.  “Again, this is a drill.”

I double-check that my classroom door is locked, knowing that it always is.  Turning out the lights and grabbing my aluminum baseball bat from the closet, I gather my 24 students into a dark corner.  They now know to grab anything that can be used as a weapon.  Since we are on the second floor, I do not have to worry about the windows.

After about five minutes, the Beloved Lady says, “The intruder is now in the 100 wing heading towards the band room.”

Because this fictional (thank goodness) monster is now on the opposite side of our school, I lead my students out the classroom door, down a hallway to the left, down a staircase and out into fresh air.  We’ve been told to gather at the high school’s soccer field, about a three-minute walk away.  Once there, police officers instruct the children to sit on a grassy hill and wait for the all-clear.

However, if the Beloved Lady had said, “The intruder is going up the center staircase, heading to the library on the second floor,” I would have my silent students grip their “weapons” until a police officer opens the door and gives us the all-clear.

Of course, in a real situation, our Beloved Lady, who sits near the front entrance, would be one of the first people slaughtered, so no instructions would be given.

Do these drills scar children?  It depends, I suppose.  In my first-grade class back in 1965, we would duck under our desks during nuclear drills.  I found it rather amusing, never believing for a second that the Soviets would be interested in Nashua, New Hampshire.  But the enemy–the Soviets to today’s children–are not on the other side of the world.  These enemies, these killers, are possibly right in our communities, possibly right next door, armed to the teeth.

Personally, I don’t understand this obsession with guns.  Life is so short–just a blip of a blip–so why be so obsessed with a killing device? What is lacking in that person’s life?  Can’t he or she be obsessed with taking walks…or reading…or painting…or making music…or volunteering in the community.  Really?  Wasting his or her precious moments in this world being obsessed with a fucking gun?  What is wrong with that kind of person?

The solution, of course, is simple.  Stop electing bought-and-paid-for prostitutes of the National Rifle Association.  Make background checks as stringent as can be.  Ban all assault rifles.  Only sell single shot rifles for hunters.  Here’s a simple fact:  An evolved human being does not need to own a lethal killing device.

But will our nation’s true religion–Capitalism–ever allow this?  As a European friend once said to me:  “Your country seems to value money over all else–over health, over sanity, over life.”  We also seem to value money over the lives of our precious children.

May this not always be true.

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