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school shooting

Readers — Here to help you start your day with a little scream (beats coffee!) comes this story from KMOV in St. Louis, MO.  Apparently, last week, the mom of a special needs son got a “frantic” call from his teacher. She rushed to the school, got buzzed in and ran to his classroom, committing a cardinal sin: She didn’t sign in.

Informed of her transgression by a school administrator, the mom asked to have the sign-in book brought to her but was informed: Too late, the police were already on their way.

And so they were. She was taken to the police station. The charge? Trespassing. Meantime, the school went on lockdown for 12 minutes — as if the administrators didn’t well KNOW that this was a mom and not a shooter. Why are we so addicted to overreacting — or, worse, pretending something terrible and threatening has happened when it obviously has not? – L 

Readers — To keep children “safe” from all those strangers who slither in on Election Day, some schools no longer want to serve as polling places. This prompted me to write the song “Strangers in the Schools” to  Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” I asked you to send in video versions for a contest. The winner is Deviant Ollam! He’ll get a signed copy of Free-Range Kids. (And, since he sometimes comes to NYC, he gets breakfast with me, too!) Spread this video, and thank you to all who submitted! – L.

STRANGERS IN THE SCHOOLS by Lenore Skenazy ( to the tune of “Strangers in the Night”)

Strangers in the schools, I look askance as

Strangers fill the schools, let’s take no chances

What if they have come with a grenade or two?


Something in their eyes, it’s so forboding

Look at how they smile, they say they’re “voting”

Something in my heart, tells me they’re perverts too!


Strangers in the schools!

Yes,  they’re my neighbors, but they’re strangers in the schools!

And at that moment when they walk into the gym, hope for life grows dim

Bludgeon all the kids they may, to celebrate Election Day.


So — If you want your kids avoiding dangers

Never let your kids encounter strangers

Strangers like the ghouls who go and vote in schools.

Hi Readers — I didn’t see the “Shooting Star” episode of Glee last night that featured a lockdown after shots rang out at the uber-musical school. (And I can’t find it on the web without going to some very scary sites that seem ready to infect my computer with high-tech herpes.) But some of you have alerted me to the plot, which is why it’s today’s topic. So, spoiler alert: Turns out there’s no mad gunman, but for a while the audience doesn’t realize this, and neither, of course, do the characters.

The script was written before the Sandy Hook tragedy, so it’s not like the Glee writers have gone Law & Order on us. And I really do not worry that as goes  Glee, so goes America. (Except for the good part, that as goes Glee, so has gone a huge upswing in glee clubs and musicals.) So is there anything significant about having a scary lockdown on the show? Teacher Kenny Felder (who wrote this fantastic Child Safety blog post a few years back) sums up the caveat:

The writers of “Glee” have to come up with a new plot every week, following the same basic formula but yet different from any other plot they’ve done. They have to make it more exciting, at every minute of every episode, than all the other options you can click to. And who wouldn’t rather watch a high school  lockdown — along with cheerleaders in short skirts, famous and near-famous guest stars, and that amazing soundtrack — than read about the latest crisis at the Federal Reserve? Given all that, I certainly can’t fault them for milking this one for all it’s worth. I might do the same in their place.

On the other hand, the real stakes here are emotional. The problem isn’t just that people think, “I saw a lot of school shootings on TV, so they are probably pretty common.” It’s that every time they send their kids to school they imagine a gunman, and Glee feeds into that, the same way the news does.

Now, the typical cynical thing to say about Hollywood is that they don’t care about principles and just want to make a buck. But in many ways I think the makers of Glee are very principled. They have certainly gone out of their way to showcase gay characters, handicapped characters, and so on. So imagine an episode that really shows the difference between a school that is run like a prison, and a school that isn’t in the grips of the kind of panic we’re seeing in a lot of schools these days. Imagine showing viewers the value of allowing high school students more freedom, and ignoring that “What if” voice that increasingly shouts in our heads. Imagine episodes in which some students go off campus, unsupervised, to work in the community, or take biology field trips into the woods, all while singing and dancing of course. And instead of terrible consequences happening, they all learn and grow in a heartwarming way.

A show like that could make more difference than all the statistics in the world.

Agreed! Probably even more difference than a blog that talks about how pop culture’s obsession with kids in danger ends up influencing our parenting, our politics and our school policing. Speaking of which, here’s a great NY Times piece on how having more cops in the schools for “safety” ends up funneling more kids into the prison pipeline.

Nope, I’m not blaming Glee for that. – L.


Readers — I don’t want this blog to become just a compendium of nutty zero tolerance stories, but it’s Saturday night and I couldn’t resist just one more before we return to more pressing matters. The Associated Press reports that a Pennsylvania doctor’s receptionist mis-heard a student’s singing voicemail as, “Shooting some people outside of the school,” instead of, “Shooting shoot some b-ball outside of the school” – the Fresh Prince rap – and immediately alerted the authorities. The student’s school went into lockdown.  The student himself was also arrested.

Ho-hum. Just another day in the Paranoid States of America. – L

Will Smith, who never sang about shooting people at school. And, my guess is, never will.

Readers — Sometimes it is hard to keep swimming upstream, but here we go. Cary Grove, a high school in suburban Chicago, is set to run a lockdown drill tomorrow, this one with someone shooting two blanks in the hall, “in an effort to provide our teachers and students some familiarity with the sound of gunfire,” according to a letter from the principal.

Sure, I understand the impulse. And I know that many people will say, as does a woman in this CBS news report, “Better safe than sorry.” But I’m with another woman quoted, who pointed out that look, the school has fire drills, too, but no one runs down the hall with a flamethrower.

There seems to me something beyond preparation in creating a drill this morbid and dramatic. There seems to me a frisson of excitement and almost the desire to be “counted.” I know that sounds weird, but the truth is, the vast, vast, vast majority of students and schools will never encounter a gunman. But if you have a drill like this, it’s almost like saying, “Well that may be true, but don’t count us out.” It feels like one part precaution, one part hysteria and one part, “We’re part of the big story of the day.”

I don’t mean to ascribe any evil motives. It feels very human. But going overboard is human, too. — L.

Readers — You know what goes together better than peanut butter and jelly? (Or peanut butter and chocolate, for that matter?) Fear and money. Which explains why I think these new bulletproof whiteboards may sweep the nation. If I were a venture capitalist, I’d be looking around for any other common school item I could retool as a weapon or defense mechanism. Bullet proof glass for windows (I know that’s already happening). Silent alarms for the teacher’s desk (ditto). Maybe a stapler that shoots darts, or chalk that’s actually a container of pepper spray, or smoke bombs disguised as an shiny apple that sits on the desk.

If marketers can convince us that babies need kneepads to crawl safely, and toddlers need helmets to toddle safely, it should be a cinch to convince parents, teachers and politicians that schools need an arsenal of anti-gunman gadgets for kids to study safely. Invest now. – L.

Hey Readers — A Canadian policeman wants to create what sounds like a horrible Sandy Hook memorial complete with life-size statues of the murder victims, and ship it off to Newtown. As he told The Star Phoenix, “This could be us saying we care.” 

I don’t question his sincerity or intentions. I do question how  this could possibly help anyone anywhere with anything. (Except if he hires an otherwise unemployed sculptor.) In fact, I find the dedication of time and money to a gesture like this actually disturbing. It reminds me of the days after 9/11, when communities around the world sent tons of donations to the schools closest to Ground Zero — more than those schools could handle. At the same time, New York City schools far from Ground Zero, in, say, The Bronx, were still limping along, forgotten as always, because their problems were chronic, not dramatic.

The reader who sent me the article put it best, so here goes. – L.


Dear Free-Range Kids: This article from my local newspaper makes me feel a little bit sick to my stomach.  Obviously Sandy Hook was a terrible tragedy and I don’t mean to downplay how awful it was, but I don’t understand why people in my community are putting so much effort and money into making sure they contribute to remembering the victims.  Our city and province is full of incredibly underprivileged children dealing with terrible circumstances every day – why not put that money and effort into programs that help to remove the daily horrors from these kids’ lives, instead of dwelling on Sandy Hook?  Are we so ignorant about the problems in or own city that the most meaningful thing we can put our money towards is memorializing this incident? The fact that this man is a police officer is especially concerning because he would see first hand all the horrible things that happen to local kids on a daily basis.  My mind is boggled, quite frankly.  - Saskatchewan Gal

Some memorials make sense!

Some memorials make sense!