Richard Swerdlow: Active Shooter Drill

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

Richard Swerdlow says millions of school children now have something in common with members of Congress that neither the students nor the lawmakers welcome.

The images from the nation's Capitol were shocking. Terrified legislators taking cover under desks, tearfully holding hands, led to safety in single-file.

And to me, an elementary school teacher, it looked familiar.

Because schools across the country practice “active shooter drills” students as young as kindergarten taught what to do if armed assailants invade their classroom. Ninety percent of American schools conduct some form of active shooter drill, where students learn survival basics during an assault on their school run, hide, fight same directions that applied to members of congress as the Capitol was under siege.

Active shooter drills in schools are controversial, some saying they are traumatizing for students. It's a sad statement they exist at all. But after school shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, it's hard to say schools are wrong to teach students what to do in this worst-case scenario.


Watching the chaos inside the Capitol, I couldn't miss the irony of lawmakers ducking like schoolchildren during a drill, how nobody in our country from the least powerful, kindergarten students to the most powerful, members of Congress is safe from violence. Politicians are often accused of acting like schoolchildren. And during the capitol invasion, in a terrible way, it was true.

Active shooter drills in schools are disturbing, but hopeful programs are happening, too. Schools have introduced conflict resolution programs, young students trained in peer mediation, ending schoolyard squabbles before they escalate. Schools report great success with conflict resolution, with fewer disagreements and fights among classmates.

Maybe it's time for a national conflict resolution program, like those we teach kids, to reach everyone with the message that violence is not an answer. All of us those with different views, schoolchildren, elected officials we need to use our words.

I hope the day comes when active shooter drills are no longer necessary. Because nobody should hide under their desk in fear. No student, and no member of Congress.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.