The Atheist Academic: Save Yourself
For me, the most haunting part was the 911 call from Columbine. For five minutes, a terrified adult in charge of students simpered on the phone, alternately screaming at students to hide underneath tables in the library. For five minutes, students held back their instinct and stayed put. And then, you could hear the shooters’ voices. And after that, gunshots.
The main idea of our A.L.I.C.E. training was to think differently about how to react if a shooter comes into our school. Traditionally, we’ve been told to push the kids into a corner, lock the door and hide. After the events of last December at Sandy Hook, school pedagogy now asks us to get the hell out if we can. And if we can’t? Kick the shooter’s ass.
The first part of the training was comprised of a presentation from one of our awesome district resource officers. Basically, the presentation attempted to sell us on the idea of cutting and running, if at all possible, when we’re informed that a shooter is in the building. I don’t think that anyone really needed to be sold on the idea, though. That’s instinct — fight or flight. Except flight is better if you’re a wimp like me. You could tell that this was a serious topic, because even though I was surrounded by many of my work buddies, I didn’t make one joke.
During the second part of the training, the teachers convened upstairs in some of the classrooms. We got to wear these awesome protective masks that were slightly too small for our heads. At least my head. Maybe I have a big head? I looked around to see who was in my room. Some of my English teacher friends, a few woman teachers, and a couple of really Alpha teachers from Social Studies and Physical Education. In the first scenario, we were told to sit in the corner and let the shooter come in and shoot us. I randomly sat behind a guy with wide shoulders, so when the shooter came in, I was completely protected from the foam bullets. This taught me to hide behind the big person in these kind of situations.
In scenario #2, we were given tennis balls and told to fight back — and try to get out of the room. I perched on a desk next to a gym teacher. When the shooter came in, I stood up and threw my tennis ball with superhuman strength. It flew about three feet to the right of the shooter’s head. I felt this urgency well up inside me, and I tried to pummel my way through the throng of teachers in front of me to get to the door. The problem was, they were trying to frantically rush to the door as well, so they were just as invested. As I pushed ineffectively against the crowd, the two Super Alpha teachers grabbed the shooter, twisted his arms in an uncomfortable-looking position, and grabbed his gun from him. The scenario was over. We stopped pushing and shoving. And I learned that I need to include more Super Alpha teachers in my classroom.
Finally, scenario #3. We were told to hold the door handle with a rope-thing, and pile desks up in front of the door. That way, the shooter couldn’t get in, and if he could, he would have to deal with desks. Super Alpha teacher grabbed a slightly-less Alpha teacher and stood to the left of the door. Super Alpha teacher held not-Super Alpha teacher in a backwards bear hug, and they both held onto the rope that held the door closed. The shooter tried to get in the door, and the teachers pulled back. The shooter never got in the door, so our pristine pile of desks were left intact. (The best part? Super Alpha teacher told not-Super Alpha teacher that he was there so that he could get shot, and SA teacher could still hold his dead body up and block more bullets and keep the door closed… which was GRUESOME but BRILLIANT).
After all of this, we went back to the auditorium and discussed how we felt. We turned to each other, excitedly comparing how our experiences in our rooms had been. In all of them, our instinct had taken over. In all of them, even though we KNEW it wasn’t real, we fought for our lives. Our bodies overrode our instincts, and we did what we had to do. And then, I realized something…
In scenario #1 (which is what we were trained to do before), the teacher and students sit in the corner (or under library tables) and they wait. And sometimes, hiding works for them. But sometimes it doesn’t, and people die.
In scenarios #2 and #3, people don’t sit and wait for help. They get off their asses and they FIGHT BACK. They throw things. They run away. They save themselves and those around them. And that second way? IT WORKS.
This is religion, in a nutshell. In scenario #1 — religion — people sit around and do nothing, and pray abstractedly for someone to save them. And, sometimes, they get saved, and sometimes they die, and it’s all up to chance.
In scenario #2 — atheism — people do something for something for themselves. They don’t wait to be saved. They get out there and SAVE THEMSELVES. The outcome is not up to blind chance. The outcome is up to the people to act on their own.
Schools all over the country are starting to train people through A.L.I.C.E. training. Maybe… just maybe… people will be able to start standing up for themselves. Maybe they’ll see that it works. And perhaps this will lead people to the realization that there is strength in people, and not in God.
At the very least, I’m hopeful that this new training can save lives — since, obviously, God won’t.
We walked out of the auditorium after the training, tired. I laughed and joked with a few teachers, but it was subdued. School shootings are a reality, and they’re awfully sobering. I feel more safe, though, knowing that we have a plan should someone come into the school trying to harm students. I hope it never happens, but I’m not praying to God that it won’t — I have to be prepared, just in case.