The four people I love most spend their days inside the bricks and mortar of public school buildings. As a high school teacher, I do too. I’ll never forget my 1st grade son coming home one day, lip quivering, talking about a lock-down drill.
“They can see us, Mom,” he said. “We can’t all fit behind the bookshelves and the bad guys can see us.”
After reassuring him with a confidence I did not feel and putting him to bed, I dissolved into tears.
“Why should our kids even have to think about this?” I asked my husband, Mark.
Truly, I think about the possibility of a school shooting every time he leaves for work. Every time I drop my kids at three different schools. Surround them with your angels of protection, I pray. I pray that their teachers will lock their doors upon entry, as I do, so they won’t have to fumble for keys if a madman enters the building. I pray that the maniacs will stay away and that at least one good guy on the inside is carrying a gun.
After a drill, I tell my anxious students, “We will fight and here’s how...” Then I slap on a smile and attempt to teach them the importance of learning another language while their minds spin with worst-case-scenarios.
It’s not right. None of this is the way things are supposed to be. But what can we do besides hope and pray and wait for the next public school massacre after which we will rail at our Facebook friends on the other side and pass out blame like chocolate chip cookies?
While the politicians politic, perhaps we should use the power we possess to do some good. How about this: Instead of telling kids they are safe, what if we actually took steps to make them so? Will the grownups in this country please stand up and take responsibility? In case you need a refresher, here's how:
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If you see something, say something
This is the mantra we teach to our students and it works for adults, as well. If you notice red flags on social media, in your school, workplace, or community, say something. Without exception, school shooters have leaked information of their intentions ahead of time and/or shown an unhealthy fascination with violence. Speaking up may get a disturbed person the help he needs before it's too late.
2. Create human connections with kids (See this Harvard Medical School about the health benefits of strong relationships)
a.k.a. Put away the cell phone and pull your nose out of Netflix (and require your kids to do the same). Communicate the message that your kids are more important to you than your latest binge-watch. Get to know their hobbies and listen when they talk about what's up at school. Have dinner together as a family and invite the kid down the street who's parents are not around. You might be the only adult in his life to guide, model, and protect.
The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18, NIV)
If you buy into the idea that words carry weight, just consider the rocks we've been hurling at our fellow human beings since the 2016 election. Somewhere between 1776 and now, we've lost our penchant for civil debate and chosen, instead, to categorize and insult each other. We need to listen with the goal of understanding. We need to work (and it is work) toward peace. We need to set an example of healthy conflict resolution.
And while we're at it...
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4. Dial down the violent media
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
Sure, I watched Tom and Jerry battle it out as a kid and I'm okay. But Hanna Barbera's technicolor cartoons were child's play compared to the realistic images kids are watching and interacting with today. Fifteen years of studies by the American Psychological Association have tied screen violence to desensitization, anxiety, and an increase in aggression and harmful behavior toward others.
Gamers everywhere are quick to point out that while these findings might be correlative, they have not proven to be causative. Still, I don't need a Harvard library full of research to prove what common sense already tells me: A steady diet of violence begets more violence and there are worthier things with which to fill our minds.
5. Limit kids' exposure to news reports about school shootings
You might be a news hound who gobbles up every breaking detail about an unfolding story. And while school shootings receive weeks of in-depth coverage, kids need only the facts reported once. It's great fun to relive a golden moment in your favorite football match-up. Vicariously reliving school shootings through graphic media reports? Not so much.
On a side note, a growing body of research is pointing to the influence of constant news coverage in creating copycat crimes. Another reason the American media machine is not doing us any favors.
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6. Get involved at schools
Make a phone call to the school administration to voice your concerns about on-campus security. Attend board meetings. Volunteer. Start or join a team to make our schools the safest places they can possibly be.
7. Support common-sense gun laws
I have friends on both sides of the gun-control issue. It doesn't require a degree in quantum physics to realize that most hunters are law-abiding citizens and that most citizens have no need for assault weapons that can wipe out hundreds in minutes. Also, people are required to pass background checks to obtain a job, to volunteer or work in schools, to host an exchange student, and even to adopt a shelter pet. Why not regular and recurring background checks to maintain a gun license? If working toward such laws were to save one life, wouldn't it be worth giving up a few "rights"? What if the one child saved by such laws were your son or daughter? Your grandchild?
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8. Be Jesus in the world (aka Don't freak out)
Unless you're going to do something productive to help make our schools safer, stop being part of the hype. Jesus brought peace and hope to a messed up world. Is your presence in your family, your workplace, your community doing the same? Jesus was not a Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian. He is for all of us and nothing can separate us from his love. God is in control and gives us hope beyond this world. This is the good news that people are dying to hear. This is the message we need to share above all else.
9. Plug into community organizations
Food banks, shelters, and community organizations work to support at-risk families. Their programs contribute to healthier, safer communities. Give and volunteer to assist these organizations in their efforts.
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10. Hug a school teacher/counselor/social worker/administrator/aid/employee
Guys, I gotta tell ya, working in schools is tough these days. Public schools receive a lot of blame for society's ills and little credit for their role in stabilizing a culture in crisis. We pour out our hearts to educate and care for your kids every single day. We teach students core subjects, and also how to be kind and decent human beings. When heroes of school shootings emerge, we picture ourselves taking a bullet and wonder if we’ll have the courage and wherewithal to lead our students to safety. These are not things for which college has prepared us. Stand with us, not against us. Send a card, say thank you, or buy us a Frappuccino. Your encouragement reminds us that we're not fighting this battle alone.
11. Model courageous compassion
You don’t have to like everyone or even agree with them to be kind. Teach kids to stand up to bullies and reach out to outcasts. Bystanders who speak up have the power to end a bully's targeting behavior and change the targeted kid's school experience (and life) for the better.
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12. Love when it's inconvenient
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)
The number of kids who are growing up in homes without fathers is at an all-time high. Fatherless boys are more likely to grow up in poverty, abuse drugs, commit crimes, experience early sexual activity, and contemplate suicide. If you're blessed to be a part of a two-parent family, consider fostering or mentoring at-risk kids. Better yet, follow this church's lead to be the hands and feet of Christ. Also check out Fathers in the Field, a ministry based on the calling in Isaiah 1:17 to "defend the cause of the fatherless". This is what love looks like. Easy? No. Life changing? Oh yes.
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Prayer is not a last resort. Prayer is not a cop out. Prayer is a conversation with our father in heaven who loves us and longs not only to comfort us, but to guide us into godly action. As C.S. Lewis said “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.” In a country reeling with confusion and uncertainty, turning our faces toward the one who has all the answers is the exact change we need, for in the words of Billy Graham, "When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God." Lord, let it be so.