Vintage Christmas card, no date

The Editor’s Desk: A child shall lead them

Children are increasingly having to shoulder a heavy burden, thanks to the world we’ve created

It’s always a fun time when the “Letters to Santa” from local elementary school kids begin dropping into my inbox, so they can be published in the Journal. It’s an annual tradition that goes back for as long as I can remember, and I wonder how many local families have yellowed clippings from the paper somewhere in the house, with their children’s letters carefully preserved for posterity.

My own son is 24, so the Santa letters are my way of keeping up with what’s hip and cool in the world of kids’ toys. I also get to see who got a cat or a dog (and who wants one), what activities are popular, what the children want for the people around them, and what’s on their minds.

This year, what’s on the minds of quite a few is the Earth (and the somewhat sorry state it’s in), as well as events such as the recent fires and floods, and of course the ongoing pandemic. It’s a rather stark reminder that children are all-too-aware of what’s going on around them. When I was six or seven, in the late 1960s, my friends and I talked in whispers about the dreaded “iron lung”. We had probably heard our parents talking about it, or perhaps heard a fleeting mention on a nightly newscast; scant information, but enough for us to know that it was something to be frightened of.

Fast forward 50 years, to a time when news is available 24/7 at the click of a button, and it’s easy to see how much more frighteningly aware children are of the world they live in, and the burden that’s placing on them. It goes without saying that children shouldn’t have to ask Santa for them to be able to go home again after flooding, or for their aunt’s house not to be washed away.

And it goes without saying that children should not have to determine whether or not the person at the door of their classroom is a law enforcement official, there to help them, or an active shooter with a firearm, yet that is what a class of young teens at Oxford High School in Michigan faced last week, when a 15-year-old armed student began shooting at people, killing four and wounding several more.

A chilling video, which has been verified, shows students huddled in their classroom as they try to figure out what’s going on. A voice outside the door is heard to say “Sheriff’s office. It’s safe to come out.” One of the students, clearly suspicious, replies “We’re not willing to take that risk right now.”

The voice answers “Come to the door and look at my badge, bro.” This causes immediate consternation among the students, with one saying “He said ‘bro.’ Red flag.”

The students stand in silence for a moment, clearly fearing it’s the shooter trying to lure them to the door. Then, having made their decision, they immediately head for a window, and the video shows them climbing out in remarkably controlled fashion and running across a snow-covered courtyard to another door, where a genuine law enforcement official urges them inside and tells them “Slow down. You’re fine.”

Chilling? It’s terrifying. What stands out, however, is how calm the students were, and how clearheaded they were in assessing the situation, weighing the evidence, and acting accordingly to protect themselves, all in less than a minute. There is no screaming, or panic; they knew what to do, and they did it.

How did they know? Drills, most probably. In my school days, we had fire drills. Now — especially in America — it is sadly common for children to be taught what to do in an active shooter situation. We have, in one way and another, created the world in which all these children live, and we’ve done a pretty poor job of it, based on the evidence. Here’s hoping our children do a much better job than we’ve managed to, and aren’t too disappointed in us as they do so.

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