December 14, 1999
Dear eSchool News:
I write in response to your article, "School Districts Tighten Security as Students Return to Class."
Just a few hours after I read with horror about school districts and their irrational overreaction to the Columbine High School tragedy a gunman walked into a church nearby the Allen, Texas school district mentioned in the article and killed eight people. I expect that churches across the nation will now install metal detectors, dress their parishioners in polyester uniforms, distribute photo I.D. badges and require see-through purses. Two sets of bibles will be given to every parishioner one for at home and one for at church so lockers won't be necessary. This way everyone will be safer.
Am I alone in being disturbed by the escalating arms race being waged between school districts trying to prove they are the toughest on terrorism? I for one wish I had stock in companies manufacturing transparent book bags. While school leaders master the grand gesture of erecting facades of school security we may be doing more harm than good.
Does anyone know the damage being caused by treating every student as a potential mass murderer? What sort of trust will be possible between teachers and students when kids are denied any semblance of privacy, independent thought or ownership of their school?
Why aren't the taxpayers of Allen, Texas furious about $500,000 being spent on ridiculous security measures? Why is a high-tech district spending so much on textbooks? Are teachers in that district paid as much as they deserve? Do they have all of the computers they need? How are the music and art programs funded? Do kids get to go on field trips?
What are the costs associated with creating such a false sense of security?
Allen isn't the only district suffering from Columbine fever. A quiet suburban New Jersey district now has a buzzer/intercom system at each elementary school door. At least one school secretary wants to know if she's liable for buzzing in someone who may not actually belong. Of course the buzzer wasn't purchased at Radio Shack for $50. Schools spend thousands on such nonsense. Columbine High School has decided that required student I.D. badges and peppy motivational sayings above the front doors will prevent further pain and suffering. One should remember that the Columbine murderers BELONGED at the school.
During the Columbine tragedy the Mayor of Salt Lake City actually suggested that school uniforms would have prevented the terrible carnage. Apparently polyester is now bullet-proof.
While these Potemkin Villages are being built little has been done to address the alienation, boredom, mental illness and low-quality social experiences at the core of too much student desperation. We are not just building higher walls around our school compounds, but building higher walls between children and adults. No buzzer or new backpack will undue the damage of one-size-fits-all curricula and a system treating its precious customers as interchangeable felons.
Gary S. Stager