Time to Educate ourselves.


Time to educate ourselves.

Today, I decided to speak about an issue outside of Africa. I know that there are many readers outside Africa on this site and I have gotten many requests on writing on issues outside of Africa. As a result, I have decided to, once a year, post an issue prevalent in those countries. I am excited about this, and I know that it is very important that we educate ourselves and force ourselves to be aware of what is happening in those countries as well as in our own African countries.

The School Shooting Problem in the US has caught the attention of many people outside the US. As a result, I decided to speak to people who experienced the daily fear of the school shootings back in their respective high schools. They had a chance to reflect on their experiences and write about them. I hope all of you take the time to read about it.

Some of the writers preferred to remain anonymous.

From Audrey,

My school sits atop a tall hill, its driveway shrouded on the way up by trees and the campus surrounded otherwise by mountains and farmland. The student body, totalling about 400 children aged four to eighteen who travel the campus in plaid ties and knee socks, is quite tightly knit and known to promote only those students who are gifted and highly driven.  

“It’s so secluded; it’s such a small community…no one would ever be in danger of a shooting here,” claim the students who think that the most susceptible schools are those in poor, crowded communities, fallen threat to a crazed murderer who scales the school’s gates and attacks the students, rifle in hand. On the other hand, recent events have proven that the situation is often exactly the opposite: one or a few students carefully plan attacks to be taken out at their own schools, usually those in relatively well-off districts.

This is exactly what category my school would fall under.

In my years at that school, I never struggled with the belief that anyone I knew or knew of would be likely to perform a school shooting, but the very fact that it was a possibility is hard to believe. Groups of friends would play light-hearted guessing games in which they proposed other students (boys, always boys) who they thought would be most likely to shoot up the school and then dispute the reasons why or why not that was a likely choice. 

My school instituted a few preventative measures: they locked all sets of doors from the outside except for a few entrances; however, the locked doors were clearly marked with bold lettering that they could not be opened, whereas the rest had no signs and could easily be determined to be unlocked, and, regardless, all of the students quickly learned which doors were accessible. Also, like previously mentioned, the perpetrators of school shootings often deeply understand the geography of the school ahead of time, so the door-locking measure soon became known to be nothing more than a nuisance for those who had left their backpacks inside the building and would have to walk all the way around to the other side. Secondly, the school released new protocols for “intruder drills”: various measures including cowering with the lights off and using the newly installed extra-strength emergency door lockers; running out the nearest exit for a predetermined number of yards away from the school; or grabbing the heaviest or sharpest items one could find nearby and preparing to fight against whoever opened the door next. Once a month, teachers would prepare students in their classrooms to hide in certain places or select a few strong boys to haul a cabinet against the door; after the lights had been turned off, the blinds had been drawn, and the administrators had simulated noises outside the classroom like shouts and pounding against each door, one couldn’t help but feel a bit shaken and worried for what could come.

Like I said, I might even count myself among those who are reluctant to believe the idea that in its current state, there would be a shooting at my school. I trusted everyone I knew in the small community, and I felt generally safe as I stepped onto the premises. However, the very fact that we had to prepare for what might be to come shows that in the United States, nowhere is truly safe, even a small school on the top of the hill populated mostly by children in knee socks.

From Anonymous,

While I’ve never experienced the horrors of a school shooting first-hand, to say that I didn’t live under some level of fear throughout my time in high school would be a lie. I grew up and attended school in a small, suburban college town in northeast America that by first glance, seems like the type of community that would never bear violence or dissent. However, my picturesque little town is the exact type of community often plagued by school shootings- and over the years, the idea of my school being the next target has seemed more probable than ever. 

I spent my last two years of high school holding my breath; instead of worrying about college applications or homecoming dances, I walked the halls of my school on my tiptoes, entering each classroom and imagining where I would go or what I would do should a shooting occur while I was in that specific room. I would jump or startle every time I heard a loud noise echoing in the hallways, always hyper aware and mentally prepared for the day when the sounds of construction workers or janitors would be replaced by gunshots. I began to see the idea of a shooting at my school as less of a distant threat but more of an inevitability. Most of all, with every gun violence debate I went through in my Government class or every new shooting I saw on the news, I prayed for graduation, when my mind would no longer be plagued by these worries five days of the week. 

Eventually, that day came, and I finished high school unscathed (at least in the physical sense). I’m in college now, in a country where gun violence is virtually nonexistent. But my anxiety about gun violence has far from subsided: I have a younger brother, and friends that still have to live with these fears every day. Just last week, there was a lockdown at my school due to threats being called into three neighboring districts. Though not everyone in America has experienced the effects of gun violence directly, it affects all of us in one way or another. Until our nation’s leaders can find a way of putting the lives of American citizens over their own self-absorbed agendas, the concept of “surviving” high school will continue to have an extremely literal connotation.

From Catherine,

Before leaving the US, I had no idea that our monthly lockdown drills were out of the ordinary. There’s no shock in that, since we’ve been doing them since we were five years old. In kindergarten we learned to hide on the alphabet rug in the corner of the room, to play the silent game. For many years drills were so commonplace that they would turn into a bit of a game. Some rooms were more exciting to hide in than others, like when we could crawl under the desks in the computer lab or tuck ourselves into cabinets in the art room instead of plain huddling in a corner; even hiding in the bathroom stalls, though it seems one of the most horrifying places to be in the event of a real shooting, was a desired place to find yourself at the sounding of the drill. But it also took on more eccentricity for the school, too. As I got older and more high-casualty shootings started occurring, my school became morbidly creative with their drills.

Each month would be a new scenario: sometimes the shooter was outside the windows, sometimes in the hallway. Once, we were evacuated to the football field where we were told to lay on our stomachs with our hands covering our heads to protect us from stray bullets if the shooting were to happen outside. Slowly, teachers were being given workshops on how to use office supplies as weapons when in the aftermath of another shooting, it seemed sitting idly might not be the best strategy.

During the drills, the police would make their rounds, rattling the doorknobs and checking to see if they could spot any children through the black paper fastened over the window in the hurry of the drill. Every year we had a new code for when the drill was over- if the ending announcement didn’t mention the weather or school news, if the assistant principal didn’t corroborate the announcement with their own presence, we had to assume the principal was making the announcement at gunpoint so as to lure us out of hiding.

I don’t want to be melodramatic— we’re not in a war zone and schools do their best to keep us safe. I live in a really safe area. My high school has two police officers at all times and just added  an extra set of doors— although the administration confessed the doors are only there to dissuade a shooter, not stop them. We feel safe so much of the time, but it is a constant threat. Every classroom you enter at the beginning of the year, you have to consider where the shooter would enter, how you would exit, if you would be able to open the window, and if your assigned seat would put you in good or bad position to get away. The class is collectively jolted when furniture falls a floor above or when we hear any other such noises. Pep rallies can be stressful if you’re not near an exit, since the whole school is so crammed into one room, and you worry someone else had had your same thought.

We all know someone affected by shootings and gun violence, like a colleague’s  son, who suffers PTSD after surviving the Colorado movie theater shooting, or one of my classmates, who danced with a victim of Parkland. And the last big school shooting this spring happened three days before their graduation, so we were keenly aware up until the very end that it’s always a possibility.

We have one or two threats each year. Most are deemed irrelevant, and the students who make the threats are arrested at their homes but return to school after a short suspension, or sometimes the next day. My school has had bullets in the sink, writings on the mirror, and social media tirades, some of which have shut down the school for a day. Or it seems as if it’s shut down, but most times it’s just the parents that won’t let their children return within a day or two of a threat. One boy planned it for when my grade was all in one area for the first day of a standardized testing week. It turned out to be an empty promise, but everyone remained uneasy for the rest of the spring. One told his friends to wear specific colors so he knew not to shoot them.

It’s not a school shooting, and maybe it had a lot to do with our awareness of such an anniversary, but they legitimately thought that a copycat pilot was targeting our suburban school. Parents in the neighborhood stood in their driveways, and I later learned they were thinking the same thing. It turned out President Obama was nearby and a plane was in restricted airspace so Air Force planes came in to chase it out. It wasn’t a school shooting, but of the students, the parents, the teachers and administrators, it proved that no one truly believed the school was safe from all harm. The targeting of schoolchildren by their peers and adults, mixed with growing sensitivity that disasters really could happen within the school gates, made us worry about a small-town 9/11 that, in hindsight, sounds ridiculous. In the months following that event, some of the drills included bomb safety and scenarios for other such outlandish threats.

Thank you to those who spoke about it. I hope everyone takes the time to read about this. It is so important that we are aware of what is happening in the world and who better to speak to us than our own peers who live through it every day.

Kamdi Okonjo