The New Normal

I was just locking the studio, holding my travel mug and keys in one hand and my dance bag and box drum in the other, when the fifth grader teacher to whom I’d just said goodbye was back with her thirty charges in tow.

“I need to talk to you, Miss Kat,” she called across the street.

I figured someone had left their sweater.  I’ve been teaching in North Philly for three weeks now as part of my tap company’s first residency program and someone always leaves their sweater.  But this was clearly an emergency of the non-sweater variety.

Tap Class

“Boys, stay right where you are,” she continued, “Girls, line up on the other side.” Once they were safely across the street and on the sidewalk, she made a beeline for the front door, stopping just inches in front of me.  “The school’s in lockdown,” she whispered.  “We can’t go back.  I need to get the kids to a safe place.”

Lockdown?

Like a school shooting sort of lockdown?

Like the kind of thing you see on the evening news?

But my responsible-grown-up skills kicked into high gear and I dropped my dance bag.  “Okay.  We’ll just bring them back upstairs.”

For the next forty minutes we sat.  The kids got antsy and wanted to know why they were back in the dance studio when they’d already had their tap class for the day.  They also wanted to know why the other fifth grade class had gotten to dance to Gangnam Style while they didn’t.  They wanted to go to the bathroom.  They wanted to get up and run around.  But mostly they wanted to know why they couldn’t go back to their school.

“Do you trust me?” their teacher asked.

They nodded.

“Then you need to trust that this where we need to be right now.”

Once I managed to log onto the studio’s Wi-Fi network, things got a little more exciting.  I pulled up a few clips from the film Tap and the kids took turns cramming around my tiny laptop screen while they ooohed and ahhhed over Jimmy Slyde and Gregory Hines.

“Look! They’re doing cramp rolls—you know how to do those!” I told the kids.  “And flaps.  We just learned them today, remember?”

I didn’t want to think about the other fifth grade students—the ones who had returned to their school an hour earlier and were therefore stuck inside the lockdown.  I didn’t want to think about what would have happened if I hadn’t intercepted the students on my way out, if I’d lost my key again and hadn’t been able to let them back into the studio.

Thankfully, it was over in less than an hour.

The teacher got a call on her cell phone, told the kids they could head back downstairs and thanked me for letting everyone wait inside.

“Of course,” I said.

“Just another day in the School District of Philadelphia!” she replied.

I forced a laugh but only because I didn’t know what else to do.

Now’s the part where I could wax poetic about how the arts really do save lives, how places like the coop offer local students a safe space in which to express themselves and to hide out from the occasional school shooter, but that’s not enough.

I don’t know what is enough to be honest.

What I do know is that this sort of thing shouldn’t be “just another day” in any School District.  It shouldn’t be business as usual.  It shouldn’t be normal.

A friend of mine from Brussels once told me about how people react to violent crimes in Belgium.  A few years ago, a man was stabbed on the metro for his iPod.  People were so outraged by the violence that they took to the streets in protest.  Over an iPod stabbing.

That sort of things happens every day here—that sort of thing and worse.  And yet we don’t even bat an eye.

Why is that?

23 Responses to “The New Normal”

  1. heila2013

    Hi Kat, that sounds like an awful lot of violence in your place. Hard to understand that noone takes action. Take care. Heila

    Reply
  2. Susan macBride

    This is not the new normal. You responded to a crisis as you should have. We must not think of this as normal or will become normal. Good that younwere there and helped. You are doing good work. Susan

    Susan R. MacBride 704 Hendren St. Philadelphia, Pa. 19128

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      I see your point– still, I wonder if those kids ever got any kind of explanation or counseling over what happened? I was glad that they seemed relatively unfazed by everything but also kind of shocked, like maybe they’re used to it by now?

      Reply
  3. Eileen

    A lockdown could simply be someone unauthorized was let into the building or entered the building without permission. It is scarey but they now have a skeleton staff!

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yes, afterward it sounded like that was all that had happened but it was still freaky. Especially because you’re right on about their staffing levels.

      Reply
  4. Jennie Saia

    I’m glad you were able to help. I think so often, the violence feels very distant to those who have abundant resources to help. Its on the news, yes – but the news moves on very quickly. I don’t have any better or more activism-inspiring answers than that, unfortunately.

    Reply
  5. Becky

    The sad thing is that Americans have all become so de-sensitized to the idea of violence everywhere, including schools. I remember the day after the Columbine shootings, everyone was in outrage, our teachers sat us down and we had discussions about bullying and the like. It was a really big deal. Schools were no longer the safe haven that they should be. Now we accept school shootings as a common occurrence. It’s even happening in elementary schools!! So sad.

    And it isn’t even just that. Earlier today I saw a post on Facebook about a girl who has been missing for over a week. Instantly my brain says “she’s probably dead”. My first reaction should be sending up a prayer or something. Instead the pessimist in me has battled the optimist and won. The world is not the same place it used to be.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yeah, its tough to remain optimistic all of the time. I’m not sure what point I was trying to make with this post (honestly, the whole thing just left me feeling confused) but I think you hit the nail on the head in regards to our being de-sensitized. I don’t want to become de-sensitized but I feel like so many of these kids already are.

      Reply
  6. Alynia

    No, it’s not the new normal – at least around here it is not, but you already knew that from your Belgian friend. I’m glad you were able to help.

    Reply
  7. lwk2431

    “Why is that?”

    One part of the key is that politicians have decided to hold kids hostage for gun control. Congress passed a Gun Free School Zone Act in Congress just to make sure all the crazies know that they can kill kids in schools and most likely there won’t be anybody to shoot back at them for a while (until the police get there and then the crazy commit suicide, or surrenders to the police if they can’t shoot themselves in the end).

    So now crazies will kill kids in schools until everybody gets sick enough to pass repressive gun control because so many refuse to protect kids in schools with good people with guns. Some people hate guns more than they love children.

    We protect our money banks with people with guns. We protect politicians with people with guns. We protect the President with people with guns (a lot of them).

    But kids apparently aren’t important enough to protect. Apparently not as valuable as our money in the banks protected by people with guns.

    That is part of the “why.”

    My wife teaches very young and vulnerable kids in a public school in Texas who aren’t capable of hiding in a closet and keeping still and quiet if there was an active shooter. If her district allows sometime she will apply for a concealed carry permit in Texas. The Harrold school district has been doing this (teachers with permits carrying concealed handguns in school with the principal’s explicit approval on a per person basis) for several years no with no problem whatsoever.

    lwk

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Wow. I’m not even sure how to interpret your comment. There is a huge difference between arming trained security personnel and arming teachers and as far as I’m concerned, more guns are not the answer. It’s a not a question of people who “hate guns” more than they “love children;” it’s a question of looking at other countries (other so-called civilized, modern, “First World” countries) and seeing how their societies manage to protect their children without simply arming everyone. Frankly, I was so panicked when the lockdown happened on Wednesday that I shudder to think what might have happened if I had been carrying a concealed weapon. Thank you for your comment but I am in complete disagreement with you.

      Reply
      • lwk2431

        “There is a huge difference between arming trained security personnel and arming teachers and as far as I’m concerned, more guns are not the answer.”

        Both Israel and Thailand found that arming teachers worked very well in the face of violent threats to children in their schools:

        Quoting:

        Arming teachers worked for Israel and Thailand

        December 16, 2012

        srael and Thailand are countries where the threat of a school shooting is the highest. Sunni Jihadists have targeted young children for murder in these nations.

        Unlike Obama, Micheal Moore, and others who demand that potential victims be further disarmed, Israel and Thailand responding by giving potential victims more guns.

        School teachers in Israel and Thailand now carry concealed handguns on the job. In areas where the threat is the greatest, teachers have been given free guns.

        These programs have been a phenomenal success and saved scores, if not hundreds of lives. In May of 2002 alone, Sunni Jihadists were repelled at two Israeli schools before any innocent people were killed. An Israeli teacher shot a killed a suicide bomber before he could detonate his bomb. A second Jihadist at another school fled when confronted with armed teachers.

        Israel once had a policy of victim disarmament. Israeli citizens were told they couldn’t have guns. They were told the government would protect them. Then came numerous horrible massacres in the 1970’s.

        In March of 78′ there was the Herzliyah School Bus Massacre. 37 children were killed and 76 were wounded by Jihadists. In 1974, school children were attacked during a field trip to a tobacco farm. 25 people were killed and 66 wounded by Jihadists.

        Israeli citizens then rejected the idea that big government would protect them and demanded guns. Today Israel citizens enjoy Texan style gun rights. Israeli citizens can lawfully use lethal force to protect both person and property with no “duty to flee.” The country is much safer as a result.

        http://www.examiner.com/article/arming-teachers-worked-for-israel-and-thailand

        Reply
      • lwk2431

        “it’s a question of looking at other countries (other so-called civilized, modern, “First World” countries)”

        Like Israel, right (see previous reply re arming teachers in Israel)?

        Here is another good post from a former Marine, solider, and police officer you might find interesting.

        Everything that’s wrong with the argument against protecting schools with guns

        http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/09/03/everything-thats-wrong-with-the-argument-against-protecting-schools-with-guns/

        lwk

        Reply
      • lwk2431

        ” I was so panicked when the lockdown happened on Wednesday that I shudder to think what might have happened if I had been carrying a concealed weapon. Thank you for your comment but I am in complete disagreement with you.”

        If you had a handgun, and had some training in using it – not up to police standards, but enough to know how to hit a man sized target at under 7 yards – imagine that your are in a room and there is only one door coming in to it. You can stand to one side out of sight of an active shooter. Don’t you think – if you had some training – that you could have your kids packed in a corner of the room, and cover that one door? Not asking you to go house to house in close quarter combat like my son in the Marine Corps, but just to cover that door and shoot anyone coming through it intending to harm those kids? Don’t you think you would feel just a little better about that scenario than waiting like the teachers in Newtown for someone to come in and kill you and your children?

        I understand you disagree. I am only asking that if you continue to disagree you do so with more knowledge.

        regards,

        lwk

        Reply
        • Kat Richter

          “I understand you disagree. I am only asking that if you continue to disagree you do so with more knowledge.”

          I would ask the same of you; personal blogs and the Examiner are hardly credible news sources. I’m also guessing you have never lived abroad. Lastly, students in this country are not being targeted by Sunni Jihadists; are you really suggesting that we should be emulating Israel and Thailand?

          Reply
          • lwk2431

            “I’m also guessing you have never lived abroad.”

            Actually I have spent a fair amount of time abroad in Germany, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, the Phillipines, Kenya, Singapore and Hong Kong.

            “Lastly, students in this country are not being targeted by Sunni Jihadists; ..”

            Well, not yet, but we had Jihadists blow up people at the Boston Marathon not long ago and bring down the World Trade Center in NYC. So schools could happen.

            But regardless of that, we _do_ from time to time have schools targeted by seriously mentally ill people like Adam Lanza in Newtown and others.

            One reason they target them is because they are looking for places where they will have unarmed victims and they can make a statement to the world something like “See what you made me do!” and then commit suicide (usually, although some lose their nerve and surrender to police).

            “are you really suggesting that we should be emulating Israel and Thailand?”

            Having been in Israel and walked around Jerusalem with all sorts of young kids in the IDF walking around me with M16s (real assault rifles) I think that emulating their practice of protecting kids makes a lot of sense.

            You have to understand the Israeli mentality a little. Most that I have met are uber liberal and really hated the idea of armed teachers, but they finally figured out they hated having dead kids even more.

            Go to this page on my blog and scroll way down to the bottom. The very last picture is of a car crash – scroll up to picture above it. That is a picture of a teacher in Israel on an outing with her kids and an American surplus M1 Carbine to protect them with.

            http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/who-needs-an-assault-rifle/

            regards,

            lwk

            Reply
          • lwk2431

            “personal blogs and the Examiner are hardly credible news sources.”

            Terrorists Target Israeli Students

            Friday, January 25, 2008

            CBNNews.com – JERUSALEM, Israel – One Israeli was killed and six others injured Thursday evening in two separate terrorist attacks in the Jerusalem area.

            Two Palestinian terrorists disguised in Israel Defense Forces (IDF) uniforms entered the study hall at Makor Haim High School in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion southeast of Jerusalem.

            Armed with guns and knives, the terrorists managed to stab several students before armed school counselors arrived and shot them dead.

            “The terrorists came inside and began stabbing the students,” a defense official said.

            “This could have ended much worse,” said another in Central Command.

            Kibbutz residents were told to stay inside while security forces began searching the area for other infiltrators.

            The injured students were evacuated to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.

            http://www.cbn.com/CBNnews/310078.aspx

            You can find a lot on this (Israeli teachers with guns), even some who deny it happened or that Israeli teachers ever carry guns, etc. But I have been there, have friends there, and know damn well that some do.

            regards,

            lwk

            Reply
  8. Jerseyite Lurker

    How bad an incident was there at the school? Was there a real threat, or were they just taking precautions to make sure there wasn’t one?

    Reply
  9. strawberryquicksand

    Goodness me! What was the lockdown for? That must have been scary!

    Reply
  10. rastafari369

    I too was waiting to know what the lockdown was for. Did they ever say or discuss it with those kids? I just feel that “known fear” is better than “unknown fear”.

    Reply

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