Prepare Kids for the Worst

By Corinna Schroll

In her article Schools should heed calls to do lockdown drills without traumatizing kids instead of abolishing them (The Conversation, 12.02.2020), Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Jaclyn Schildkraut writes about the importance of lockdown drills at schools in the US.

She mentions a report that suggests lockdown drills should not be a surprise, involve realistic details, or include kids. Some people even call for the abolishing of lockdown drills.

While Schildkraut agrees with the report that these drills shouldn’t be traumatizing to children, she argues children should still be included in lockdown drills to practice for a real school shooting. Given the deaths of four students in a November 30, 2021 shooting by a fifteen-year-old, such drills are essential. They save lives.

She makes the distinction between lockdown exercises as opposed to lockdown drills. In exercises, there may be someone pretending to be an active shooter with a toy weapon as well as a few students covered in fake blood who pretend to be wounded. These exercises seem over the top and needlessly terrifying for everyone partaking in them. The lockdown drills are a practice to prepare the children without traumatizing them. Kids don’t need to be exposed to the blood and screams of their fellow students, even as an act. Schildkraut writes that “nobody sets schools on fire during fire drills to make them seem realistic. Instead, everyone practices how to respond so that it’s easier to do the right thing in frightening situations.”

I do agree with Schildkraut: There is no need to reenact a scenario that is already traumatizing in such a realistic manner that someone may actually be injured. Teachers as well as students have been injured by fake rubber ammunition during these lockdown exercises before.

I work part-time in a primary school and have been responsible for a group of children during a fire drill before. Some kids stayed calm, but others became very anxious and struggled to keep a clear mind. While these drills prepare children for a real fire, the procedures do not need to be more anxiety-inducing by making them more realistic. I don’t want to imagine what a school shooting “reenactment” with false firearms and some students pretending to be dying might do to the psyche of children.

But abolishing the lockdown drills entirely would leave children unprepared for a real school shooting. This could potentially lead to more deaths if the children do not know how to act in this situation of crisis – they might even end up running into the shooter when they’re trying to get themselves to safety. Teachers may lose control over the situation when the students have never practiced the safety measures of a lockdown.

There once was a false lockdown when I went to secondary school, which was caused by a nearby construction worker accidentally cutting a cable. Our teacher kept calm, and so did we as we followed her instructions. But later I heard that especially the younger students had all gone into a panic and started crying instead of listening to their teachers’ instructions. School shootings may not be as frequent in Germany as they are in the US, but this false lockdown is an example of why lockdown drills themselves are so important.

As Schildkraut puts it herself, “Building confidence enhances the ability to do what’s needed during an emergency, our research indicates.” If you are prepared for an emergency, responding correctly is much easier than when you are caught off guard. This benefit outweighs the possible downsides.

Another important point Schildkraut mentions is “that only preparing teachers for lockdowns is short-sighted”. Teachers might be killed by a shooter, and in that situation, their students must be able to make decisions on their own. Preparing both teachers and students empowers both groups, enabling all to survive.

Schildkraut closes with the idea that “(…) kids should be prepared, but also that drills don’t have to be scary to be effective.” I fully endorse this conclusion, as I too believe that preparing children for the worst can only help to keep them safe. But these preparations must be age-appropriate and as little traumatizing as possible. Children deserve to have a peaceful childhood but should be prepared for the real world, especially in a country where the general population is allowed to carry firearms. If lockdown drills help children to act with a clearer mind and more confidence in a life-threatening situation, the drills are important and should not be abolished.

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