At San Marino High School, it’s hard to imagine a life in the “heaven-sent suburbia” that’s not riddled with checklists and tired expectations for college and academic achievement. So when the school announced its first active shooter drill, imagining students huddling under classroom counters while still thoroughly annotating the pages of The Stranger wasn’t far-fetched (and actually a reality).
What students were oblivious to as they pulled out their phones to Snapchat the spectacle or sauntered to the parking lot after hearing the flash bang was the bleak reality of it all. Maybe it hit them during the survey students were required to take afterwards, when they were asked “How often do you think SMHS should hold this type of drill?” — a reminder that preparing for an active shooter is becoming as relevant as preparing for an earthquake in California.
For most students, however, it was just another outlet to jostle around while wasting away oh-so-precious! class time.
Of course, the administration still gave us that gratuitous pat on the back afterwards, that human version of a dog’s “Good boy!” in the “debrief” that followed. Students met each question that their peers posed with applause, curiosity becoming a feat in itself during these trying times, before the staff tried to subdue the excitement in the room.
By that point, somehow, someway, the discussion started to encroach on the territory of productivity, and the topic shifted to how the drill could be adjusted to stimulate more realistic conditions. But could the drill really have gone any better?
It’s a horrific question to pose. The probability of staring down the barrel of a gun has become ingrained in the minds of America to the point of obsession, focusing on the fine details of a simulation, and that fact is what makes the question initially startling. But after it runs a couple of laps through your mind, you start to realize the source of the question’s eerie aura. America is ready to make school shootings and their preparation a science, which isn’t far from their current status as a statistic (although they shouldn’t be that either).
And it’s not just any science; it’s one that all children and adolescents will have to know. So you don’t get to cram for it like your next biology test. Luck on a test isn’t the same as luck when you run, hide, and fight. Instead, practice makes perfect; the next generation will be ready to hear the shot that echoes death and familiarize themselves with panic and fear like a second family before they go out into the real world.
We talk all the time about the desensitization that was wrought by World War One and how that has evolved to the excessive and nonchalant mentions of murders worldwide on news sites today, but the same goes for the events that have ensued since the Columbine shooting.
Training future generations for a new paradigm of violence, one that they have to live in constant fear of even when they’re just learning how to multiply or write an essay, is another way of becoming numb to the horrors of the world so that a greater pain is the only sensation that can be felt. So why do we do it? Because this is America, land of the N.R.A. and and the birthplace of mass school shootings.