Two Narratives — Heros and Helplessness

I read this post, The Joy of Dadhood, on Nate’s blog several years ago. I remembered it, not just because it was funny, but because of the narrative that Nate is telling into his children’s lives.

So an otherwise quiet morning was interrupted by my wife’s report the Eli had discovered a monster under the bed in the guest bedroom.

Now I don’t know how y’all deal with your pest issues but we take our monster problems very seriously. Drwho took the boys off to seclusion while I suited up… boots… bastard sword… firearms… black cowboy hat. (please… everyone knows you need a black cowboy hat to fight monsters)

So… I head up stairs… slam the door… and being shoutin and hollering nonsense… it was a great battle indeed. Once the beast was slain…. I devoured it… then came downstairs, grabbed the spotbot, and proclaimed that no one was allowed to go back up until I gave the word.

So… while now its entirely likely that my kids really believe in monsters… they also know that if one ever comes around… daddy will kill it and eat it… and clean up its remains with spotbot.

The narrative is one of safety and security — one of dad’s protection. Yet, as they are aware of his preparation and battle, he also demonstrates to his kids, that they too will be able to actively slay the monsters in their futures and make the world safe again.  As young children, it is dad who protects them, but someday, they will be the protectors of their own world. They will have a hero to emulate.

On my road trip to IUSB a few weeks ago, I listened to a discussion hosted by Audie Cornish on National Public Radio(NPR). The panel talked about lockdowns in schools that experience them regularly. It was during an explaination of the drill by first grade teacher Julia Gelormino, that Nate’s story came to mind — not because it was similar, but because it contains an important element missing in the narrative communicated to the children during these lockdown drills.

Ms. Gelormino explained that the game she calls hide-and-seek begins with an announcement on the school’s PA system that “Dr. Lock is in the building.” The game goes like this.  All of her students line up in an orderly fashion and proceed to crowd into a small bathroom. On her cue, they crouch down  and remain still and silent until the game is over. Since the specific event that Ms. Gelormino described was just a drill rather than the real thing, when one of them failed to be silent, she told the young children:

So right now, I don’t want to scare you but Lily(ph), if somebody was trying to harm us and you were making that much sound, guess where they’re going to go first? Here. So right now, you aren’t helping us to be safe.

Gelormino then led the class in a discussion about how the hide-and-seek game will keep them safe, when

… (crying) one of my kids asked what would happen if they shot through the door.

How do you answer that? “Just be quiet?”

My thoughts went to the feelings of helplessness that both the child and the teacher must be have been experiencing at that moment. And I wondered how much the narrative of the hide-and-seek game is affecting these children now and as they grow into adults. Does it make them feel not just personally helpless but also unprotected by the very adults whose job it is to keep them safe? Will their own life story be one of a helplessness-and-hiding worldview rather than one of actively facing down life’s monsters? Would it be a better to bring in elements of Nate’s narrative that show an adult actively doing something to make them safe? Would it be better to introduce a hero to the narrative?

I am not trying to be flippant in comparing these two stories. The school shootings that have occurred are real and terrifying. Yet, given that the probability of a child actually experiencing such a crisis is miniscule, the narrative affect should balance that slight chance against the lasting effects of the story being read into the young children’s lives.

As the powers-that-be work to implement the presidential action #12 of the 23 actions he released to the media in January to “Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations”, I hope that they keep in mind the life long effects of these plans and practice drills on the children. I hope that they consider that the children’s physical health isn’t, in the vast majority of cases, the thing on the line. The greatest impact will be on the childrens’ emotional well beings and worldviews.

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4 Responses to Two Narratives — Heros and Helplessness

  1. dukeshoward says:

    I didn’t have a problem with the comparison. Parents and governments may not have the same interest in protecting children. Parents/teachers role models have a loving relationship with children and instinctively want to them from all harm. Governments have an interest in assuring that all citizens can leave in peace to basically protect the four freedoms. When parents and governments are unable to protect those they are charged to protect that becomes a problem for society. When parents and governments over protect in the name of society, that presents a different problem for society.

  2. RIVER TALK says:

    Public schools have a zero tolerance policy. But that only applies if a student gets caught. Drugs, gangs, fights, weapons are ongoing safety issues for students. They need to know what to do in these situations, that are more likely to occur. Spending all day at school, they should feel safe, and part of that comes from knowing what to do. I would treat a lock down drill the same as a fire drill or tornado drill. It’s a precaution, just in case,

  3. Invictus says:

    Both narratives have their shortcomings, but to me the second seems more realistic. At least it forces both the teacher and the child to confront the hypothetical question “what would happen if they shot through the door,” which would put the teacher on the first step to figure out a solution and hopefully the school comes up with a reasonable plan to protect the children. The first narrative which most of us experienced at some point in our childhood is more dangerous in my opinion. It make children grow up believing that life is a rose garden..the hero figure, very often their parents and teachers, are undefeated and will be always there to protect them! Soon later, and at the first difficulty they face, the hero’s mask fell off and they come to realize that it was mere a lie ( a white lie we call it in our culture, which is funny because lie is a lie). If the child is lucky, they’ll adjust themselves to the true face of life and keep going, but the questions then are all children emotionally strong enough to deal with this shock? and why do we assume that they intrinsically have this strength in the first place when we introduce the hero figure?

    • Nate says:

      5 and 7 year olds need to believe that Good wins invictus. they need to know they are protected and they need to know they will one day be expected to do the protecting. The fact of the matter is.. people who DO take responsibility for their own safety… people who know weapons and train with them seriously… damned near ARE undefeated. A woman once told me about how I should be careful in the bad parts of town… because “there… folks shoot back.”

      My response to that was the same as it will always be. “No one shoots back. Ever.”

      She didn’t get it.

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