HALLOWELL — What do these quotes have in common?

“Don’t run; there isn’t time. Fall flat on your face. Get down fast.”

“My body was there, under a table, fearing for my life.”

The recurring theme: fear, death and schools.

The first quote is from a circa-1950 pamphlet, and the second quote is from a Parkland school shooting survivor. The “duck and cover” drills of the 1950s and the lockdown drills of the 21st century are eerily similar. Both are connected by a fear of meeting death at school.

As a nation, we have created a culture of fear that needs to change. America needs to do better.


Rather than have emotionally scarring drills to “protect” our children, we need to change the reasons we fear for their safety in the first place. We need to find real solutions for this pervasive problem and institute real change.

We learned nothing from the ineffective “duck and cover” tactics of the 1950s. These include covering one’s head and crouching against or underneath items such as a desk or a wall. Hiding under a desk won’t save you from nuclear fallout or an attack any more than it will save you from a bullet.

During the height of the Cold War, when “duck and cover” drills became commonplace among school-aged children, 60 percent reported having nightmares about nuclear war. In the book “Cold War Crucible,” Masuda Hajimu quotes a Los Angeles school board member who said, after her son’s school started “duck and cover” drills, “Now they are learning to fear (the) sky over their head. Now they are learning to cry in the night.” This embodies the intense fear our students developed from these drills. Is this right?

School-age children lived in fear and panicked anxiety because of their own schools, because of the drills they were put through to “protect” them. The drills came with a friendly cartoon turtle and positive, catchy music for appeal. Children’s innocence was being robbed with each piece of propaganda that students saw warning them of these dangers.

So why does 2019 feel like 1950? Active-shooter drills, like the “duck and cover” drills, are futile efforts driven by a culture of fear.

The Washington Post has calculated that over 228,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine. That’s only 20 short years. Just as the fear of a nuclear weapon drove “duck and cover,” statistics like these and frequent mass shootings drive lockdown drills in America’s schools.


Ninety-five percent of schools in 2015-2016 ran drills. As Parkland demonstrated, drills do not help. Parkland had active-shooter drills in the past and had one planned shortly before the shooting took place. Seventeen lives were still taken that day.

Just as young people during the Cold War feared nuclear annihilation, 57 percent of teenagers today worry about school shootings. Unannounced code red drills have created situations where students have had asthma attacks and vomited. These moments and drills are emotionally traumatizing to students. There is no evidence that these drills make students safer.

This is not OK.

Both active-shooter drills and “duck and cover” techniques sent the message that violence on this scale is normal and to be expected. No student, not in 1951 and not in 2019, should have to live with such daily fears. It is damaging to our students.

This culture of fear cannot be defeated when students live in agony over what will happen to them at the place where they are supposed to be the safest. As a nation, we need to end this.

Rather than preparing students for the worst-case scenario with a shelter-in-place policy, there needs to be a conversation with our students and ourselves in order to face reality.

We need to create a less violent environment for our children. There needs to be better-controlled gun violence, and policies implemented to stop this from happening. Instead of making children sick, we need to empower them and ourselves to create safer schools and a better world.

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