Growing Up Locked Down – What are the psychological effects of school drills?

When I was a kid, I wondered about what it would have been like to grow up in the 1950s and endure “Duck and Cover” drills in school. How did it feel to know you were practicing what to do in the event of a nuclear attack? How did it feel to know the adults in your world thought there was a strong enough chance of a nuclear war that all school children were required to be prepared?

When I was a kid, we had fire drills in school but that was it. Except for the loud siren noise, I enjoyed the fire drills. They were a nice break in the day where we were able to go outside and chat with our friends until the all clear was sounded. We all knew that fire could be dangerous but that if we exited the building quickly and orderly, we would be okay. Our safety was in our hands.

Today I visited my children’s school and it just happened to be a Lock Down drill day. Especially after Newtown, these happen on a regular basis. The purpose of a Lock Down drill is to make the classroom look as empty as possible. Lights and monitors are turned off, doors are locked, and the students and teachers hide as still and as silent as possible — under desks and tables, away from windows and doors. After Newtown, we all know the importance of Lock Down drills. There is a very good chance that lives were saved at Newton because the teachers and students worked together to quietly hide.

I am not questioning the value of Lock Down drills. I am wondering if anyone is taking a good, hard look at what possible damage the drills are doing to our kids. Sitting in the dark, silent room this morning I wondered what the kids, especially the more sensitive ones were thinking. We were all hiding because the adults in their world had decided that the chance of a mad gunman entering their school and trying to kill them was a real possibility. Unlike in a fire drill, in a Lock Down drill the power is not with the students. They know in the event of a real massacre, they will essentially be sitting ducks, hoping he passes them by and goes to the next classroom. They have no control over the situation and they know it.

I worry that we are teaching kids that their world, even at school, is not a safe place. That no matter what they do in their lives, they must always be ready to hide in the dark from the boogie man. Statistically any given school has a very small chance of being shot up but kids generally don’t figure the odds. Note, I don’t think arming the teachers or janitors and having a Rambo-like battle over their heads is a better option. I just think we need to start acknowledging that even Lock Down drills and the message they send, may be causing long-term harm to some of our students. We should study the effects of these types of drills and how teachers and administrators can best help students transition back to the regular school day after the drill. If you’ve been just been forced to contemplate your own fragile mortality, focusing on that next algebra problem may seem a bit pointless.


2 thoughts on “Growing Up Locked Down – What are the psychological effects of school drills?”

  1. As a student during the 50’s, I took part in a multitude of the “duck and cover” drills and I can honestly say That I have no more lasting effects than the kids who went through the fire drills. We. just giggled and tried to see who could fit the furthest under the desk. Maybe we just didn’t understand the nuclear danger because of the lack of availability of news or we were just naive. Sometimes, things are just overanalyzed? Thankfully I did not have to survive a nuclear attack. I am so afraid of the “stranger danger” kind of world that my grandchildren are exposed to, but have no ready solutions. I guess just love and support! Thanks for your blog, Aileen!!

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