Scaring kids—about the right things

“Attention, everyone. Code red. Code red. The school is now in lockdown. The school is now in lockdown. Students, follow the directions of your teachers.”

All over the United States, schools, colleges, and universities are instituting and practicing procedures to deal with the threat of an armed marauder. They’ll likely proliferate in Canada soon, too. As school shootings now seem to occur every month or so, the danger seems to be real and imminent.

But it mostly isn’t.

A few months ago The Washington Post reported that fewer than 150 people (children and adults) have been shot to death in America’s elementary and secondary schools since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. That’s not 150 people per year, but 150 people over two decades.

Fewer than 8 people, nationwide, per year.

An American is ten times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to be killed in a school shooting. One is four thousand times more likely to be killed in a car accident—at a time when traffic fatalities are less frequent than at any time since the late 1950s.

A recent story in The Atlantic points to a previous wave of child-focused hysteria in America, the pointless “duck-and-cover” drills in the 1950s. (There’s nothing like a cheap wood-and-tubular-steel school desk to keep you safe against megatons of thermonuclear blast.)

The 1980s saw the rise of parental fear over strangers snatching kids off the street as they went to and from school, only to see the worry rise to a fever pitch over Satanic ritual abuse—which started in the United States and spread rapidly around the world.