School Security?

School Security? 150 150 IEEE Pulse

“Schools rethink security training” was the headline on page 1 of the 30 December 2019 issue of The Baltimore Sun daily newspaper. The accompanying article went on to explain that Maryland school students felt unsafe at school. Students on average rated their physical safety at 3.5 and emotional safety at 5.4, each on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best score. Many students gave their physical safety scores at 1 out of 10. And this is despite active shooter drills that are meant to teach them what to do if there is a violent confrontation, and in which they have all had to participate.

Most U.S. students know about the school shootings at Parkland, FL, Newtown, CT, and elsewhere. Some students are enrolled in Maryland schools where shooting incidents or threats of killings have already occurred. The rest are concerned, even worried, that their lives may one day be ended while in school. It can happen anywhere, as it turns out.

An actual incident in Baltimore, MD, was recently related on a local radio program. It seems that a small boy was waiting for his father to pick him up at the end of the school day; he became heartbroken when he found out that his dad was killed on his way to the school.

The Baltimore Sun reported about the trauma that inner-city children of elementary school age experience when they witness murder, robberies, fights, and other acts of violence in their own neighborhoods [1]. Some have seen family, friends, or neighbors shot and killed on their streets or even closer to their homes. The sounds of gunshots and emergency vehicle sirens severely disturb their sleeping. They suffer from vitamin D deficiency because their parents or guardians compel them to stay inside where it is safer. Many are insecure; many suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These kids misbehave, act irritable, cry suddenly, and otherwise act unpredictably [2]. And who is expected to deal with all this, provide a safe school environment, and comfort them when needed? It’s their teachers, that’s who.

Teachers are expected to promote a satisfactory education to each of these children. Yet, if all the school children in Maryland are traumatized by events that they either experience themselves or, by proxy, from news reports of incidents that have happened to others like themselves that make them aware of the frailty of their lives, health, and well-­being, then how can we expect them to be able to focus on school lessons? Feeling insecure trumps self-actualization according to Maslow [3]. It is unlikely that these children will ever be seen in our college classes, either because they have too many distractions to learn enough in school to succeed, or because they have been harmed by violence, maybe even killed.

We cannot expect these children to be bundled in bubble-wrap to protect them enough so that they can develop as normal, healthy children should. Instead, we do what we think necessary and have them go through exercises that we hope will allow them to survive in the unfortunately dangerous environment that is all too common. We teach them to hide, to lock doors, and to escape violent episodes that could possibly happen in their schools. And this training starts young, with an altered nursery rhyme taught to children in their very first year of school [5]:

“Lockdown, Lockdown,

Lock the door

Shut the lights off,

Say no more.

Go behind the desk and hide

Wait until it’s safe inside

Lockdown, Lockdown

It’s all done

Now it’s time to have

Some fun!”

Sad, isn’t it?

I wonder if all these nursery rhymes and exercises do not contribute to the feeling of insecurity within our children. After all, the unintended lesson of these drills is that there is a threat and that disaster could happen at any time.

During my time in elementary school many years ago, we were required to practice hiding underneath our desks and protecting our heads with our arms to avoid being harmed by atomic blasts that we were sure would be coming at any time. The U.S. had atomic and hydrogen bombs and so did the Soviet Union. They had already been used tragically in war, and the enmity between these two adversaries made it seem likely that they could be used again. These drills only served to instill fear that the world for us could come to an end at any time. I wonder whether the exercises that current school children experience might be affecting them in the same way that the duck-and-cover drills did to us. The drills may be making the children feel less, not more, safe.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was common to use studies of the effects of overcrowding on ­laboratory rats and to extrapolate those research results to expected human behavior in an overpopulated human ­society. Overcrowded rats exhibited perverse traits of ultraaggression, antisocial behavior, and truculence [4]. Although it is a stretch to apply these results directly to human societies, we can see some of the same things happening in our society. With the expected advent of future megacities where many millions of people will live, can we expect even more of the same?

The hope is that children can overcome the apparent threats of violence in their schools and in their homes and neighborhoods. Some may be able to accomplish this feat; others may not. It is just a shame that they have to be in this position.

One of the tragedies of war is the effects it has on the children caught in such a dangerous time and environment. We in the western world have been largely immune to these effects, but, now, the same things are beginning to touch our children as well. I can only hope that things will soon become better for children all over the world.


  1. A. K. McDaniels, “City’s violence can take hidden toll,” Baltimore Sun, Dec. 14, 2014, pp. 1, 20–22.
  2. D. J. Cooper, “Black children may be acting out because of trauma, not ADHD,” Baltimore Sun, May 4, 2018, p. A13.
  3. A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality. New York, NY, USA: Harper, 1954.
  4. A. Booth, Urban Crowding and Its Consequences. New York, NY, USA: Praeger, 1976.
  5. A. Chiu, “Nursery rhyme readies kindergartners for lockdown,” Baltimore Sun, Jun. 10, 2018, p. A14.