Doctor Who: The Doctor and I Explain School Shootings to a Five-Year-Old
Late last Thursday afternoon, I picked up my daughter from elementary school and went through her homework folder like I always do. This is where the school puts important notices for parents, and there happened to be one on that day.
It read, "Dear parents. Tomorrow we will be conducting intruder drills at the school. Please inform your child how important this is."
I'm sure everyone is dutifully horrified by the concept of a person wandering into an elementary school armed with guns and evil intent. That said, the ever-increasing number of shootings that have populated the news in recent years has had me especially worried. It's extra hard to watch coverage of Sandy Hook knowing that your daughter would be entering school from the relative safety of day care in less than a year.
But preparation always increases your chance for survival, so prepare the kid we must. My wife and I sat down with her to try and draw her attention away from Peppa Pig long enough to try and save her life.
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We started pretty softly at first. We said that sometimes people came to schools wanting to hurt children, and that tomorrow the school was going to teach her and her friends what to do if that happened. I can honestly say it was not my best moment as a parent because who the hell prepares for the day they have to give a rousing speech on survival in an active shooter situation to three feet of blond curls and Hello Kitty dresses? We're still teaching her to draw her Ps the right way around, and she is apparently supposed to know how to hide from maniacs on the same learning curve.
So I tried this.
"Heart, imagine if Daleks invaded the school," I said. Her eyes got wide and I finally had her full attention. "What would the Daleks be trying to do to everyone?"
"Yes, that's right," I replied. "Now, what if The Doctor was there, and he told you and your friends you had to follow him? To run? To hide? To be silent? Would you argue with him?"
"No," she said quietly.
"Are you sure?" I asked. "What if you wanted to go see the Daleks, or thought you could fight them? Would you ignore The Doctor if he told you what to do to be safe?
She shook her head.
"Tomorrow, I need you to treat your teachers and principals as if they were The Doctor," I said. "Run if they say run, hide if they say hide and stay silent if they say stay silent. You need to do exactly what they say without arguing. Understand, Heart? Because of the Daleks... and worse."
To this plan she wholeheartedly agreed. Reports from school say the intruder drill went perfectly. She did as she was told.
Truth is, though, I chickened out. I played a game of make-believe with her in a very deadly set of circumstances. It worked, and that's great, but there's something I left unsaid.
There are terrible people in the world who want to kill children for whatever reason they have. It's been happening more and more, it seems, and aside from these drills, no one has any clear idea what to do about it. Gun control initiatives fail and are forgotten. A way of identifying and treating the mental illnesses of those who would commit such acts hasn't really been put forth that I've seen. Arming teachers probably wouldn't do anything more than increase accidental shootings, and strapped districts seem loathe to hire more security personnel. Even if they did so, it's not clear it would overall improve safety.
So much easier to pretend there are Daleks invading and that brave school teachers will have a plan to protect their charges like The Doctor would. Better that she believe that than face the sad fact that something so scary as shooters on school grounds exists, happens not infrequently, and the fight against them lies mired in a tangle of red tape.
I showed her "The Moonbase" not long ago. There's a quote from Patrick Troughton we both know by heart; "There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought."
Daleks she knows how to fight. Our country's refusal to take on this terrible thing with anything other than a drill? I'm not sure how I can explain how to fight that to her because I don't understand it myself. I guess if we're all going to pretend nothing can be done, she and I might as well pretend in The Doctor to deal with the consequences.
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