It’s happened again, and this time in my state — in my best friend’s hometown. By now, everyone knows that two children and one teacher were shot at Townville Elementary School in Anderson, South Carolina. The teenage gunman also killed his father, and he called his grandparents tearfully to tell them one minute before opening fire behind the school. He was taken down by a volunteer firefighter, after which deputies took him into custody. The boy, who is not being identified because of his age, used a handgun for the shooting.
This is one major reason I don’t want my kids in a school.
Trust me, I know homeschooling isn’t an option (or desire) for everyone. I know people who work two jobs can’t do it and single parents can’t do it. You need resources, time, intelligence, and a stay-at-home parent to homeschool. So I am absurdly lucky to have the choice to eschew the formal school system.
My husband teaches public school. His intruder drills are absurdly detailed, down to putting cardboard over the window in his door so no one can see in. He’s not allowed to open the door for anyone, even for students who may claim to be injured. When the drills happened, steel doors shut throughout the school. These doors are only shut during those times, and read “Do Not Open. Active Shooter Behind This Door” or something close to it.
They do these drills with preschoolers now, too. Recently, a photo of a preschooler standing on a toilet went viral after her mother realized she was practicing what she learned in active shooter drills. “At that moment,” the mother, Stacey Wehrman Feely, writes, “all the innocense [sic] of what I thought my three-year-old possessed was gone.”
Joe Deedon, who teaches all ages of students to react to active shooters, says in a Washington Post interview that “very small ones can at least run around throwing objects if the gunman enters the room. ‘Try to overwhelm him,’ Deedon teaches. ‘Throw off his plan.’”
My babies are not going to run around throwing blocks at a maniac with an AR-15.
While it certainly wasn’t the only reason for my decision to keep them home, active shooters and active shooter drills were a big factor. Every week seems to bring a new mass shooting. I could hardly breathe through putting my kids on the bus every morning. No one can predict what school is next. No one can tell me when the next school will be closer to home. I can’t risk it. I can’t send my kids to a place that has become so fraught with an atmosphere of danger.
Moreover, my middle son simply couldn’t handle active shooter drills. My oldest would shrug them off. But my August would brood over them. He’d ask a million questions about school shootings, which I would have to answer. Then he’d have bad dreams. He’d be frightened to go to school. This kid gets anxious. It would dominate his school days, this idea that someone might come in and kill him. I can’t let that happen to him. So he stays home.
Of course, it’s not the only reason we homeschool. We don’t believe in the test-test-test model embraced by modern American schooling. I have extensive training in pedagogy. I don’t agree with the version of American history taught in schools, the hero worship of Christopher Columbus, the pat Thanksgiving narrative, the demonization of labor unions. At home, I’m free to teach what I want to teach. We have more free time to get outside. This helps my ADHD sons, who couldn’t be expected to sit still for six hours at a time. We can pursue their interests (for my 6-year-old, currently space, specifically dark matter), and they can learn at their own pace. My oldest can read Peter Pan (and we can discuss the issues with it) with some help, but he’s not as advanced in math. My middle son is almost 5 and starting to learn to add but can’t identify his letters. That’s okay. That’s where they are. And they don’t feel the pressure to be anywhere else.
So school shootings aren’t our only reason to keep them home, but they are a major one. According to scholars at the Harvard School of Public Health and Northwestern using data on mass shootings collected by Mother Jones, the rate of mass shootings have tripled since 2011, happening at an average of every 64 days.
Since 2013, “Everytown began tracking public reports that a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds — and over the next three years identified 160 qualifying incidents, including fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides, and unintentional shootings.” These incidents killed 59 and wounded 124. I don’t want my sons to be 60 and 61, or 125 and 126. Or, I suppose, they’d be numbers 128 and 129, since this research wouldn’t take Townville Elementary into account yet.
So my kids are staying home. Sure, I know homeschooling can be dangerous too. Danger is everywhere. There’s always the possibility of an accident, especially since our PE is often kayaking. But my kids are far less likely to get shot. And that remains, in this day and age, a major benefit of homeschooling.