Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The execution drill

We're taking a day off from our regularly scheduled programming because of a story that upset me so much I have to write about it.

I wrestled with whether I should address this here for over 24 hours, wondering what contributing my two-cents'-worth would accomplish, and then I decided I had to speak up.  My mind keeps coming back to the story, and that's a sign that I still need to process my thoughts and (especially) my emotions on the topic.

So here I am.

The story hit the news a couple of days ago.  Apparently, in Monticello, Indiana, part of the Twin Lakes School District, the powers-that-be staged an "active shooter drill."  We do this in my own school (although we call it a "lockdown drill") -- the principal calls a lockdown, we shut and lock our doors, turn the lights off, and everyone gets into a part of the classroom that can't be seen from the window in the door.  The idea is to get used to responding to any potential threats by making it look like the room is unoccupied.

The administrators in Monticello decided to push it one step further.  They had people posing as actual shooters, armed with Airsoft pellet guns, and they forced their way into one of the rooms, lined the teachers up four at a time, made them kneel, and shot them in the back, execution-style.  People out in the hall heard screams, and the Airsoft pellets raised welts and at least in one case, drew blood.

Neither the school district nor the law enforcement officials who conducted the drill were willing to comment on what happened.

[Image is in the Public Domain]

The Indiana State Teachers' Association was understandably outraged.  "The teachers were terrified, but were told not to tell anyone what happened.  Teachers waiting outside that heard the screaming were brought into the room four at a time and the shooting process was repeated," the Association said on Twitter.  "No one in education takes these drills lightly.  The risk of harming someone far outweighs whatever added realism one is trying to convey here."

Representative Wendy McNamara, who co-authored a bill requiring schools to hold shooter drills, expressed amazement that it was handled this way.  "I would never have thought in a million years that anybody would have thought that it made sense to use in an active shooter drill where teachers are unaware that they're going to be shot with a pellet gun," she said.  "That would have never crossed my mind as something we'd need to legislate."

Me neither, Representative McNamara.

It also brings up the question of who in the hell thought this was a good idea.  The principal?  The superintendent?  Was the district pushed by the sheriff's office to include this as part of the drill?  Of course, since all they'll say is "no comment," no one at this point knows for sure except the people who made the decision.

Being a teacher, of course what this brought up in my mind is how I'd respond if this happened in my school.  My first reaction is that when the guy with the pellet gun told me to kneel on the floor, I'd have told him, "Not just no, but fuck no."  But the people acting as the shooters were police officers who were armed with more than Airsoft guns.  What would have happened if I'd refused?  Is this (in a legal sense) refusing to cooperate with law enforcement?  What if I walked out?  What if I disobeyed what I was told, and yelled to the other teachers waiting to be executed that they needed to get the hell out of there?

I'd like to think if I refused to cooperate, and the policeman had said, "Do it or you're under arrest," I'd have said, "Go ahead, you asshole.  Arrest me.  I'll see you and the school district representatives in court."  But you never know how you'll react when you're in a highly emotional situation, and especially one you were not expecting.  Because -- if this wasn't clear enough -- none of the teachers were warned ahead of time that this would happen.

I do know that afterward, the first thing I'd do is to turn in my letter of resignation.  Along with a lengthy explanation of why.  If I can't trust the people in charge of my school to do whatever has the best interest of the students' and staff's emotional health in mind, I'll find other employment.

The second thing I would do is mail a copy of the letter to every news outlet I can think of.

But this doesn't alter the fundamental problems with this situation, which include:
  • We are in a place as a nation where people have concluded that school shootings are likely enough that we need to conduct a realistic simulation of one.
  • Somehow, conducting "realistic active shooter drills" is considered to be a better way of addressing school shootings than passing reasonable, common-sense gun laws.
  • Whoever designed this drill thought that traumatizing teachers was an effective way to train them in how to respond in an emergency.
  • No one is taking responsibility for this idiotic decision.
I don't seem to be getting over the outrage I felt the first time I saw this story, two days ago.  The more I think about it, the madder I get.  I'm not a big fan of lawsuits, but I hope that the Indiana State Teachers' Association sues the absolute shit out of either Twin Lakes School District, the White County Sheriff's Department, or both, on behalf of the teachers who are probably still recovering from the emotional trauma of what they went through.

Beyond that, I can't think of anything more to say.  But maybe if enough people find out about this, it'll make it less likely that some trigger-happy administrator or policeman decides it'd be good to stage a mock shooting in the name of "realism."


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is a look at one of the most peculiar historical mysteries known: the unsolved puzzle of Kaspar Hauser.

In 1828, a sixteen-year-old boy walked into a military station in the city of Ansbach, Germany.  He was largely unable to communicate, but had a piece of paper that said he was being sent to join the cavalry -- and that if that wasn't possible, whoever was in charge should simply have him hanged.

The boy called himself Kaspar Hauser, and he was housed above the jail.  After months of coaxing and training, he became able to speak enough to tell a peculiar story.  He'd been kept captive, he said, in a small room where he was never allowed to see another human being.  He was fed by a man who sometimes talked to him through a slot in the door.  Sometimes, he said, the water he was given tasted bitter, and he would sleep soundly -- and wake up to find his hair and nails cut.

But locals began to question the story when it was found that Hauser was a pathological liar, and not to be trusted with anything.  No one was ever able to corroborate his story, and his death from a stab wound in 1833 in Ansbach was equally enigmatic -- he was found clutching a note that said he'd been killed so he couldn't identify his captor, who signed his name "M. L. O."  But from the angle of the wound, and the handwriting on the note, it seemed likely that both were the work of Hauser himself.

The mystery endures, and in the book Lost Prince: The Unsolved Mystery of Kaspar Hauser, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson looks at the various guesses that people have made to explain the boy's origins and bizarre death.  It makes for a fascinating read -- even if truthfully, we may never be certain of the actual explanation.

[If you purchase the book from Amazon using the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to supporting Skeptophilia!]

1 comment:

  1. So...what was the point of this drill? Is there something useful about lining up to be shot in that situation? Does that save any lives?
    When the shithole store I used to work at made us watch a really pathetic video on active shooter situations, they basically told us to run away, if you can't do that then hide, and if that doesn't work, fight the shooter by beating them with a chair. I took offense at the way that filmed that part, because they had this hideous scene where a female employee counters in a corner crying while her male coworkers get ready to beat up a guy with a gun using a chair. Clearly whoever wrote that thinks there are no women with pent-up rage who would LOVE an excuse to whack someone with a chair and not go to jail. Honestly, I think I'd enjoy the hell out of that...if I didn't get shot in the process. Taking on a shooter with a chair seems stupid, but what the hell. Might as well die working out some anger.