Remember school fire drills? The bleating of the alarm, the orderly line up, the thrill of unscheduled playtime in the schoolyard? Drama was shivering next to the jungle gym because the teachers made us evacuate the building without stopping to grab our coats.
Then came Columbine. Schools still had fire drills, but now we learned about something called a 'lockdown,' a term previously used only in prisons as a form of riot control.
Lockdowns may now become as quaint as the "duck and cover" strategy during the Cold War. A growing number of school officials now believe that hiding in a darkened classroom from an armed gunman provides about as much protection as squatting under a desk in the fetal position to escape nuclear radiation.
My town appears to be next in line to join more than 300 schools across the United States in implementing a new strategy to prepare for an armed attack. I live in suburban Boston, thousands of geographic and political miles from the gun-toting Lone Star state where this program originates. ALiCE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Escape) is the brainchild of a husband and wife team out of Burleson, Texas. In what may be an ominous sign of de-emphasis on information, they've chosen to use the lower-case "i" in their acronym.
Greg Crane is a former police officer who served in Kosovo; his wife Lisa is an educator whose former positions include school principal, special educator and "play therapist." For $395, individuals can participate in the couple's training program, which claims to reduce deaths at the hands of rampaging killers by changing would-be victims from "sitting ducks" to "hard targets," a military term referring to a site fortified against attack.
But how do we teach our kids to become "hard targets"? Although the state of Colorado recently granted college students the right to carry concealed weapons on campus, we have to assume this right won't be extended to our public school students. So instead of whipping out their Colt-45s, our kids will have to rely on more primitive weapons. Be creative, the ALiCE website counsels. Textbooks, staplers, fire extinguishers, heck, even your teacher's favorite mug -- used properly as a projectile -- might make the difference between life and death.
Does this freak you out a little bit? Do you feel like it might not be a great idea to counsel your kid to charge an armed killer? Well, according to the ALiCE team, you haven't yet faced the need for constant vigilance against armed assault. "It is our hope," they explain, "that as the American child grows-up [sic] through the K-12 education system where pro-active strategies are taught, these children will become adults who know how to respond to violence for the rest of their lives."
If you think asking your kid's English teacher to prepare them for a lifetime of violence is scary, take a look at the video produced by middle-schoolers in Columbia, Missouri, where the cinema club set out to explain the strategy in kid-friendly terms. Their spokesperson is none other than Alice, of Alice In Wonderland fame. Alice appears as a black and white apparition patiently teaching the kids what to do if an "active shooter" shows up at their school.
Alice explains the letters in her acronym, but cautions that L for "lockdown" isn't "the old-fashioned lockdown"; a process that she derisively calls "the sitting duck lockdown." This new lockdown requires "perpetual motion" she says. It's not until later in the video that we see just what she means.
Throughout the 17-minute production, Alice is interrupted by the White Rabbit, portrayed by a hand puppet with duct-taped ears. When Alice points out that he is in fact a snow leopard, the White Rabbit mutters under his breath about budget cuts in the public schools -- a queasy moment of levity in this creepy "educational" video.
The climax of the production is the simulation of a school massacre. A male student, dressed in a long black coat reminiscent of the Trench Coat Mafia from Columbine, is shown camouflaged by a ski mask, loading what appears to be a plastic replica of a semi-automatic rifle. He rises over the grassy knoll outside the school and enters the unlocked doors, strolling down the empty halls undisturbed as he searches for his victims.
Students in one class barricade the door, while others in the library hide under the desk and are summarily executed. But there's no time for tears, because after pointing out the danger of being sitting ducks, Alice rewinds the film, reincarnating the students to give them a second chance.
This time, after hearing shots and screams, they mobilize to attack the attacker. We watch in slow motion as the assailant enters the library and is pelted by what appears to be a shelf-full of blue textbooks. The assault weapon flies conveniently out of his hands, and he is tackled by an angry mob.
Sure, escape is the first and best answer, Alice says, but if escape is impossible, you have to attack. "When you're rushing an intruder," she reminds us, "you have to have one person for each leg, one for each arm, and one for the head." Assuming you've done the math and the attacker is down, "THEN," she says, "everybody piles on top of him!"
And this is when the White Rabbit appears again, posing the question inquiring minds want to know:
"What about the gun?"
But perhaps given the vulnerable economic state of budget-strapped public schools and the robust state of gun ownership rights in this country, the more pertinent question is this:
What about common sense?