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Parenting in an era of school lockdown drills

November 11, 2014

Parenting in an era of school lockdown drills

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

I remember my first school lockdown.

I was a student teacher at a high school in the Chicago public school system — one neighborhood away from Hyde Park, home of the University of Chicago and a future U.S. senator who would later become president.

My supervising teacher, Ms. Weiss, saw me as a promising teacher and the naïve suburban kid I was. On my first day, she oriented me to the stark reality of teaching in an urban school, something for which neither my upbringing nor teacher training had prepared me.

First, she instructed me, always keep the classroom door closed and locked, except between the bells of the passing period. This will keep violence in the hallway from entering the classroom.

Second, always keep the windows and blinds closed, no matter the temperature. This will deter gang members from shooting into the classroom from the adjacent courtyard.

Third, when — not if — the principal calls for a lockdown, keep the students in a corner of the room.

All three actions were standard protocol in a school familiar with violence — even though it was one of the premier academic high schools in the city.

That was the fall of 1988.

Now, in an era of high-profile school shootings — Columbine, Sandyhook and all the others — we suburban and small-town parents have joined our urban peers in sending our children to schools where lockdown drills are as common as fire drills.

I am both enraged and deeply saddened that our children, including my 8 and 5 year-olds, Zoe and Adam, live in a world where school such drills have become the new normal. And because my wife, Lori, was a parent-volunteer in Adam’s kindergarten classroom the day before the recent lockdown drill at his school, I appreciate what she witnessed — school staff demonstrating great skill and sensitivity as they paced children through practice for the lockdown drill.

I accept these drills as a prudent prevention strategy, but I also hope for something greater — that they become poignant reminders that public dialogue and action focused on the root causes of violence must become a daily practice in all communities.

Such dialogue needs to address the fact that all forms of violence — urban gang activity, mass shootings, domestic violence, sexual violence and more — are almost exclusively perpetrated by boys and men. This is not because boys and men are inherently violent — they certainly are not — but rather because boys and men are socialized — by men and women — in ways that subtly and overtly promote male – perpetrated violence.

Boys and men are taught to defend themselves and their women, even when the best defense is offense.

Boys and men are rewarded for beating up another boy or man that is perceived as threatening, even when the threat is simply being different in race, religion or sexual orientation.

Boys and men are rewarded for scoring with women, regardless of consent.

Boys and men who witness violence by other boys and men are encouraged to mind their own business, or face reprisal. After all, boys will be boys.

While socializing males this way does not mean all of them will be violent, it is irrefutable that these messages are universally directed at boys and men, not girls and women. As such, they undermine the possibility of men reaching their full potential as supportive partners, nurturing fathers and compassionate leaders.

So, as a father of a boy and a girl, I see lockdown drills as both necessary and insufficient responses to the perceived threat that someone — most likely a boy or man — will enter a school with a gun and kill people. And this propels me — as both father and activist — to join others in the work that is essential to the wellbeing of all families and communities — helping boys become compassionate, non-violent men in a world where lockdown drills are unnecessary.

John Engel is a father, husband, organizational consultant and the coordinator of the Healthy Men and Boys Network of Western Massachusetts. He can be reached through his web site,

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2014 11:48 pm

    John, thank you for tackling this difficult subject. Any suggestions/ thoughts on how we begin to change inherited behavior. I guess awareness is the beginning. Natasha

    • November 14, 2014 1:25 am

      Thanks for your post and question, Tasha. Indeed, we have all inherited the legacy of the patriarchy, in ways both unique and universal to time and place. I myself have more questions than answers. One source for further contemplation and learning about both harmful and positive male socialization is Voice Male Magazine, found at Interestingly the current issue (click the current issue tab at the top of the home page) includes coverage of really amazing work on promoting positive masculinity, in countries throughout the world – including your very own South Africa.

      Sending you and the family love and warmth.


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