“We Practiced for this in Elementary School”

Duck and Cover

What drills did you have in elementary school? In Ohio, we practiced fire drills, and that’s it. Older generations might remember air raid drills and bomb shelters. Kids in Seattle today prepare for earthquakes, and kids in Japan might prepare for both earthquakes and tsunamis. The one thing we all have in common is the idea that probably none of us ever expected to have to use that knowledge, no matter how many times we practiced for whatever disaster might befall us!

Yesterday, I read an article about the terrible shooting incident at an Oregon community college where one of the survivors said just that: they had practiced lockdown drills in elementary school, but no one expected that they’d ever be in an actual crisis situation.

So many young lives taken! Is it just me, or are these shootings getting more difficult to bear each time? I was working at my elementary school the day of the Newtown massacre of the kindergarteners, and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing when the long line of kindergarteners came through the library later that day to check out a book. Each precious face brought a fresh wave of grief.

Yet, what has changed since that terrible day? Incidents are more frequent, they hit closer to home. My niece, just a week ago, had to evacuate her college campus because of a bomb threat, and that didn’t even make the news. I was so thankful that her campus was spared any serious harm, and yet not even a week later, another campus was struck by true tragedy.

If we, as a society, couldn’t stomach the changes necessary to make these incidents more difficult for individuals to carry out after seeing the precious baby faces of kindergartners, what will it take? Are we moved by the promising young lives cut short on campus after campus? Because changes must be made.

Our society hasn’t always been like this. Changes have been made that has made it easier and more desirable for certain individuals to grab attention in this way, so changes must be made to turn the tide back in the opposite direction, right?

Looking back on my childhood with its simple fire drills, I have to wonder at what has changed. Lots of things! Bigger guns are easier to get (most of the time it seems like the guns in these incidents have been purchased legally and even given as gifts to the murderer). We used to have a common understanding of right and wrong as evidenced by the Ten Commandments posted on the wall at school (with “Thou shalt not murder” as a constant reminder). Most of us learned that we could all be caring neighbors, even to our enemies from stories like the “Good Samaritan.”

I could go on–there’s rampant internet addiction, self-imposed isolation due to video game addiction, endless talk of tolerance and diversity, but a “diversity” where the only views actually tolerated are the most liberal ones. True diversity can only exist when we respectfully allow others to hold truly different views. A rigid sense of “us vs. them” is growing and on display even among our “leaders” in Washington. Tension and stalemate and the utter inability to work together is the status quo.

If anything gives me hope, it’s that things can and do change. The Cold War ended (even if a chill is back in the air). The Berlin wall came down. We no longer hold air raid drills or dig bomb shelters. I don’t know what all the answers are, or what changes must be made. I’m not advocating for hanging up placards of the Ten Commandments in every school again. But, doesn’t every culture have its version of the Golden Rule? Can’t we hang up the Ten Commandments AND other cultural statements of right and wrong? Can’t we tell stories like the Good Samaritan and learn from them, even though they–gasp–come from the Bible? Why do we have to ignore everything that we have learned to be good and right just because it is religious? It’s as if we’re telling the next generation, “Sorry, kid. You’re on your own to figure it out. I got nuthin.”

Aren’t we better than that? Aren’t the young people in our lives and in our schools worth it? Or do we really got nuthin’?

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,’ answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.; The second one is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

About Sonja Anderson

I write novels and picture books for children, and occasionally an article or short story for adults, too. I grew up in Ohio, and I have lived in Chicago, Connecticut, Boston, Tokyo, and Seattle. The beautiful Pacific Northwest inspires me every day.
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