By Jessica Huseman
I learned about the Sandy Hook tragedy while sitting at my desk in my classroom. The English class that shares my room was having a spirited discussion about their latest chapter in “1984” while one of my students sat in front of me retaking a test.
It’s difficult to describe the feelings I felt then and now carry with me about the tragedy. As a teacher, I know how absolutely horrifying it would be to lose even one student, much less 20. But, I also know how detrimental a culture of fear can be – how distracting it can be, and how unnecessary.
Sandy Hook was a tragedy. Our nation’s heart is broken at even the idea that someone could take the lives of such innocent children, and humbled by the teachers who gave their lives trying to protect them. My fear is that we will use this horrifying disaster as a reason to overreact and unnecessarily terrify the children we are trying so hard to protect.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are just under 140,000 educational institutions – including public and private schools and post secondary institutions – in the United States. There have been nine mass school shootings in the history of the U.S. — affecting only .006 percent of schools in this country. While nine mass school shootings is nine too many and “.006″ means nothing to the lives that were affected by the shootings, the reality is that the vast majority of our children will never have to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude.
And while there are certainly structural problems with both gun control and the lack of availability to mental health programs that need to be dealt with immediately by the national government, the smaller efforts on the part of individuals are what strike me as the most unnecessary and damaging.
A company that produces bulletproof backpacks is now seeing their sales go through the roof. Schools in several cities (cities not known for frequent gun violence, I’ll add) are heavily considering installing bulletproof windows. A former Marine in uniform is voluntarily standing guard outside of a school in Nashville. An 11-year-old in Utah brought a gun to school after his parents told him he needed to protect himself.
All of this may seem necessary now, but the reality is that the statistical likelihood of these measures being necessary is extremely small. The reality of terrifying America’s children by sending the message that they are constantly in danger, however, is great.
Our children need to know that the absolute undeniable reality is that – aside from a few major outliers – their schools are safe. That schools, in fact, are one of the safest places they can be. A study done in 2010 by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice indicated that the rate of serious violent crime at school was 4 per 1,000 students, compared to 8 per 1,000 students away from school. While a similar study has not been done since, crime – including gun related crime — has been falling for the last five years.
“The truth is that schools, even in spite of this horrific incident that happened, are still the safest place for children in this country,” Wendy Regoeczi, the director of Criminology Research at Cleveland State University, told a local news outlet. “Children are far less likely to be injured or killed at school than they are almost anywhere else.”
In order for our children to learn and to grow inside the building their parents drop them off at every morning, they need to be able to trust that they won’t need to use the Kevlar installed in their backpack for protection or hit the ground at a moment’s notice because they are under the mistaken impression that school shootings happen every day. Our children cannot learn if they are incapacitated by irrational fear.
It is in days after horrible disasters like Sandy Hook that we need to take a step back and look at the larger picture. We cannot allow this tragedy to override our common sense to the point where we terrify the most impressionable among us, and we cannot move on as a country unless we understand where we are moving from.