A school superintendent in northeastern Pennsylvania recently shared one of his district’s strategies for keeping students safe. Speaking to Pennsylvania lawmakers in Harrisburg last week, Superintendent David Helsel explained every classroom in his district “has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket of river stone. If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance into any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks, and they will be stoned.”
Reactions to the district’s approach, both locally and nationally, have been mixed. Over the weekend I saw a Second Amendment advocate and a gun control advocate on a television news program debating school safety. As you might imagine, they disagreed on many points. But they seemed to agree that giving students rocks with which to protect themselves against an armed intruder is a dumb idea.
I couldn’t disagree more. I say give our kids rocks, rocks, and more rocks, along with permission to use them if someone comes into their classroom shooting.
The point of this article is not to go into all the problems with how we do education in this country. But for the record, we do it all wrong. We put our kids in huge, locked compounds with lots of little, boxy rooms, and enslave them to a bell that has no concern for what they happen to be doing when it’s time to switch rooms. We take away all their responsibility for their behavior and learning, and are surprised when they lose interest in the business at hand. We turn schools into something resembling prisons and scratch our heads when our children come out of them ill-prepared for the adult world.
By contrast, giving kids a bucket of rocks to use against an intruder sends a couple of messages that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Rocks Can Communicate Important Truths
First, it lets them know that no matter what security measures we take in life—no matter what we do to try to be safe—there are no guarantees. Human beings are fallible, along with the machines and systems they devise in the pursuit of safety.
Sometimes people fail. Sometimes their contraptions fail. And sometimes a crazy person who doesn’t care what happens to himself decides to run down 86 innocent pedestrians on a crowded promenade. Unfortunately, we can’t stop every person who is intent on killing, and the sooner we realize and accept that fact, the quicker we can get on with real life.
Second, giving our children rocks with which to defend themselves says to them, “You are strong. You are capable. You have power, and we believe in you and your ability to act.”
Even though we claim in this country to want to teach our kids to believe in themselves, we have mostly gotten it wrong. Our approach for years now has been grounded in teaching “self-esteem.” The problem with the self-esteem approach is nothing undergirds it, and anyone, including a child, who gives it any thought at all eventually realizes that. When you base your worth entirely on how you feel about yourself, it takes very little for that sense of worth to come crashing down when you have a bad day (or series of days).
This is why I, as a Christian, look outside of myself for my sense of worth. No matter how I feel from one day to the next, my God tells me I matter to him. But barring the extrinsic sense of worth that comes from faith in a loving God, one needs more than the empty mantra of “believe in yourself” to succeed in doing so.
Humans need the sense of personal autonomy that comes from knowing we have real knowledge, ability, and power. Our public education paradigm is very good at ripping all of that away from kids, as it tells them they are incapable of making good decisions or taking responsibility for themselves unless their caretakers hold their hands every second. Giving a classroom full of students a bucket full of rocks, on the other hand, says loudly and clearly, “We want you to take responsibility for yourself.”
Turn Soft Targets Into Rock-Throwing Targets
I recently took part in active-shooter training as part of my job. One of the suggestions was to keep one or more canned good items in my desk to use against a possible intruder. The message was that someone who comes into a building wanting to kill has the goal of killing as many people as possible in as short an amount of time as possible because he knows it’s likely he’s not going to come out of it alive.
So, if there is resistance of some sort, even in the form of canned goods flying at him, the shooter may very well move on to what he hopes will be an easier target. If the next target is also throwing cans, who knows? Maybe the would-be shooter will keep on moving until he moves himself right into a nice spray of bullets.
More than 16 years ago on a beautiful September morning, passengers on United Flight 93 realized the four hijackers of their plane were likely planning on intentionally crashing it into a building, as other hijackers had already done with other planes. The United passengers fought back, and in so doing, may have saved countless other lives. Their weapon? A food cart.
Canned goods, rocks, food carts, or something else—it really doesn’t matter. The message is, if you can’t run, and you can’t hide, fight. Fight with everything you have. It’s a message we all need to learn and take to heart, including our children.