Have you ever wondered what goes on in those school shooter trainings your child’s teacher is required to undergo?
…as it turns out, I took extensive ethnographic field notes of the one I did.
Want to know some of what's in them?
The start of the day:
Our principal made a big show of welcoming the officers to the building, laughing & greeted them by their names like they were old friends.
We had never seen them before. And the officers never introduced themselves to the group, never told us their names
The whole thing turned out to be facilitated by an LLC run by former law enforcement who perceived a business opportunity in the private sector.
From the sterling client roster they rattled off at the beginning of the session, there’s $$$ to be made
Reinforcing this perception: we were forced to sign waivers absolving the company of any responsibility for any & all harm we might experience during the scenarios.
A fellow teacher looks uncomfortable: “I didn’t expect we’d be at any risk,” he says quietly.
He still signs
The day was dedicated to normalizing.
The officer told us, “Citizen preparation for danger is nothing new. We’ve been doing these for years: fire drills, earthquakes, tornadoes.”
She paused in a practiced way & said, “As teachers, you guys are really the first responders”
The intro talk had almost no sociological data, no research from psychology, no real information at all.
Instead, each powerpoint slide was riddled with acronyms:
4E: “Educate, Engage, Escape, Evade.”
RP: “Rally Point”
RUP: “ReUnification Point”
One slide had a toolbox with 4 golden Es in the lid & the text: “Not a single solution approach. Flexible. Use what you believe works. Tools for your toolbox”
The slides weren’t just cheesy – they were designed to cut off critical thinking. Substantive Qs were "unprofessional"
They showed us a surreal video of shootings, all set to an instrumental version of “Say Something I’m Giving Up On You.”
Gradually building synth chords:
🎶“I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you"🎶
🎶“You’re the one I love and I’m saying goodbye”🎶
Faces of victims fade out
We get divided into groups. My group goes into a classroom and is told to wait, that there will be a scenario of some kind starting soon.
A colleague whispers to me, “We’re just sitting here waiting to get shot at.”
She looks ashen, wants to start prepping the classroom now
We hear them shoot blanks in the hallway. The gun sounds like a really bad prop for a school play.
People spring into action, trying to push tables against the door.
But nobody shut the door first, & it’s left open
A brief debrief in which the officer repeatedly emphasizes there are no wrong answers, it's just completely up to us, the important thing is to do something.
As she leaves, she adds, "You did good!”
A teacher says quietly, “It didn’t feel like it.”
Then comes the “engage” scenario where an intruder gets into the room with a gun.
My colleagues throw blue tennis balls at him, dancing around the classroom like they’re doing a basketball drill.
"Keep your feet moving, keep moving around the room!" we were coached
In the debrief for that one I realized: my colleagues think they’re being taught how to survive.
They don’t know this technique is intended to slow down our deaths, to give law enforcement more time to respond
It’s between scenarios that convos happen.
“All I know is, if they come in the kitchen then we can throw knives,” says a cook.
A teacher points at a bottle of bleach in the corner of the science lab, says we could use that chemical to burn them.
(Against an assault rifle?!?)
Another scenario. The officers start having this conversation that feels fake to me. Sure enough, suddenly one pulls out a gun, points it.
Teachers throw tennis balls at him & then time is called.
“We just wanted to show you how fast someone can pull a gun on you” they explain
So, so much gets normalized.
We’re in a room, waiting for a scenario to start when we hear more gunshots.
They sound more faraway than usual.
(Note: there is now a “usual.”)
“Is that us? I think it’s the classroom downstairs.”
We don’t react
There was a CYA first aid bit at the end. No training on what to do, just you got a card with “your” victim & had to say verbally what you might do.
There was a lot of vague talk about amputating legs. How any of tht was supposed to prevent someone frm bleeding out, I don't know
The end: the principal sweeps into the room, leads an ovation. Trills off some platitudes about how it’s just SO good that now we’re “knowing what the options are”
And - despite her own lack of participation or even observation - she gushes abt how “reassuring” she found the day
So look, that’s really what the training was about IMHO: appearances.
Because that’s pretty much what we have when we refuse to enact meaningful gun control legislation.
It’s a theatre-prop gun when we’re talking about automatic rifles.
Maybe it’s different at other schools, I don’t know.
Maybe there’s a way to do it better. (There surely has to be.)
But we shouldn’t accept the easy normalization of this idea that a school shooting is somehow the same as a fire, earthquake, or tornado.
And we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the only reason schools are doing it at all is because we’re so desperate to try to make some difference, any difference.
We subject children to the lesser trauma of drills, hoping it will prevent the greater trauma of death.
These school shooter trainings seem like what you’d get if you translated thoughts and prayers into a ritual sacrifice for teachers & students to enact periodically throughout the year.
No matter how much this is normalized, it’s not normal.
And the sad resignation that so many seem to adopt as the “mature” response? Doesn’t seem fitting if we're supposed to be the adults in the room
#EndGunViolence #GunControlNow #NeverAgain #NotOneMore #March4OurLives
You can follow @gilbertlisak.