Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Safe Schools

Elli's school is locked up tight.  I don't just mean during the night, when no one has any good reason to go there, but in fact all the time.  There is an obsession with protecting the school from raging lunatics that manages to be completely annoying to everyone who legitimately wants to use the school and simply doesn't accomplish what it is in theory supposed to do.  Imagine some lunatic wants to shoot up the place; lets go over what happens.  Lunatic walks up to the front door of the school and finds out it is locked.  Then lunatic goes home, utterly defeated by the locked doors.

Well, I suppose it could go another way.  Lunatic walks up to the front door of the school and finds out it is locked.  The door is a metal frame surrounding a giant plate of glass from floor to ceiling so the lunatic smashes the glass with a fist, a weapon, or anything else to hand and walks in and does whatever they want anyway.  Or lunatic walks to the other locked door, hits the buzzer, and walks in anyway.  Or they walk to the back door of the school, which is never locked, and walks in anyway.  Or they walk to the recycling room door, which is never locked, and walks in anyway.  So what exactly is locking the doors of the school doing?  The answer, quite simply, is that it annoys the hell out of parents and other people who want to get into the school for normal reasons and aren't willing to smash glass and don't want to walk around the school.  Other than that trivial annoyance to me and those like me it accomplishes nothing.

Another amusing safety mechanism is the prevention of children from leaving or arriving to the school unaccompanied.  In a book I read yesterday, What I Eat, it talked with people living in Brazil who sent their three children aged 10, 8 and 6 to school in a boat powered by an outboard motor that they drove themselves.  Here children aged 12 are forbidden from leaving the school to go home for lunch, even if they live in the apartment building adjacent to the school.  A parent would have to come to the school to pick them up, thus 'increasing safety'.  I think the greatest loss here is the sense of adventure, self reliance and confidence that children lack the opportunity to acquire.  Certainly it is an unnecessary burden on parents time and convenience but moreso I think we lose out on teaching children to take care of themselves and be responsible.  I know that it shaped me dramatically when I left home and had to begin to take care of myself and I think we do ourselves a tremendous disservice by denying children opportunities to learn a bit about responsibility and take care of themselves in small ways.  We know from the past that children of 6 are perfectly able to get home from school and even prepare food for themselves without parents being involved at all - they do not need the stifling level of protection we enforce in schools these days.

We also teach children the wrong things about the world when we enforce safety regulations like this.  We teach them that they cannot trust the people around them and that strangers are deadly.  We don't use those words directly of course, but the message is clear:  You cannot be trusted alone by yourself, someone will randomly come along and kidnap or kill you.  The fact is that they won't.  Just like we don't live in underground shelters to prevent accidental meteor deaths we don't need to surround our schools with webs of safety regulations to prevent stranger kidnappings.

I would make a scene at the school and try to convince them of their folly but I doubt they have anything to say in the matter.  Just like my barefoot experiment that the school crushed, it is brought down on them from above by ruling authorities desperate to avoid lawsuits.  Their logic seems to go,  "Better to make everybody unhappy than suffer the chance of one person being miserable", but I just don't buy it.


  1. Its not a trivial annoyance. Cars that have locked doors get broken into less. Its not because thieves value your car window, its because its a pain, and there are easier ways of dealing with it. Having to walk around might not sound like much of a deterrent, but you honestly aren't going to deter anyone dead set to do harm, you're trying to prevent people from casually being able to cause harm.

    The "stifling" level of protection that comes from schools is not coming from schools. It's coming from parents who have sued the schools for not providing adequate level of protection. Blaming schools because they have lost lawsuits is hardly fair... society has dictated that schools take these measures and so they do. Schools, after all, are there to serve society's needs.

  2. Locking the doors at night to deter thieves certainly makes sense. Locking it during the day? My schools never had the doors locked during the day and I never heard of anyone wandering in and doing anything untoward.

  3. I think locking car doors and locking school doors are not at all comparable. Nobody has a legitimate reason to get into your car while you are away from it - it isn't inconveniencing anyone. Also, I agree with Ziggyny here in that we know that cars are regularly stolen and that locking them decreases that. We also know that people coming in to schools who are not allowed to be there and doing things they should not are exceptionally rare and that locking the front doors of the school cannot possibly be a significant deterrent.

  4. When I was in University, I once was out on a walk with 3 of my buddies. We passed an elementary school and decided to go in. We wandered up and down the halls for a few minutes looking at the artwork and such. Then decided to leave. We had no reason to be there. A locked door would have deterred us from wandering the halls.

  5. Sure, you walked into the school, took a look around, and left. What harm was done? Locks on the front door when the back door is unlocked and the front door is made of a big pane of glass keep out the normal people and do nothing to deter someone intent on real harm.

  6. How are you getting through a giant pane of glass? Breaking it and getting in takes time and quite possibly hurts you. It's also a clear indicator that you mean harm as opposed to are a peaceful visitor.

    What harm does a locked door cause? A secretary buzzes you in and it takes 20-30 extra seconds?

    While normally not locking the door isn't a problem, lawsuits aren't built on normal situations. They're built on negligence.

  7. Usually it costs me an extra minute or so because I have to walk around to the back of the school because the buzzer doesn't work. The question is though, why exactly are they locking the front doors when they are willing to buzz in anyone at all (sometimes) and let anybody who wants walk in the back door or the recycling room door anytime? The school isn't secure at all to anyone who wants to enter it, but it is inconvenient to people who want to enter by the closest possible entryway.

  8. I suspect the added "security" of locking some of the common public entrances is about as useful as the "security" of forcing people to take off their shoes at airports so that they can be examined. It's a form of peace of mind that has no substantial effect, and it's one of the symptoms of living in a society that promotes fear.

    This reminded me of this article: Why I Let My 9-Year-Old ride the subway, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

  9. Your logic blows my mind, Byung. If they actually buzz everyone in the door in 20 second then what are they possibly preventing? If there's no verification process on who they let in then why is it locked at all? How much money are they paying to the guy who buzzes people in?

    The only advantage I can possibly see to buzzing people in is you can ensure they're escorted the whole time to make sure they don't kidnap anyone. But that doesn't hold when there are unlocked doors elsewhere. People who prey on children are going to know about those unlocked doors so locking the front doors isn't going to stop kidnapping.

    If you really want to keep outsiders out you should do what they do in office buildings. Give the parents keycards so they can get through the doors trivially and force actual strangers to buzz through security and get escorted. Lock all the doors in this way.

  10. The vast majority of crimes are crimes of opportunity. Having a security guard who will just buzz anyone in an ignore what people do after is actually a significant crime prevention tactic. The biggest deterrent to crime is just the belief that someone is watching.

    That being said, a school during the daytime is not a place with opportunities for crime. Strangers walking around get noticed, there's virtually nowhere where there aren't multiple people around. But as Byung said earlier, this really all has to do with litigation scares, not very much to do with safety.

  11. It is true that normal crimes are significantly prevented by things like security guards and locks, no arguing that. It is very significant that those normal crimes are committed by people who are really trying to not be caught and are hoping no one will notice. People intent on committing violence in schools don't fit in to that category at all. I doubt we have anything resembling good data on 'crazy lunatic with weapon: What will deter him?' since it is extraordinarily rare but I am willing to bet that glass doors with a lock and a buzzer that anyone can use aren't going to have an impact. As far as petty crimes go I can't see what anyone hoping to steal stuff would do in a school - take the used books that have stickers on them with the school's name? To sell for nothing? Used computers bought in bulk - again, sell for nothing?

  12. There's a big difference if the secretary buzzes you in. The standard procedure is to go into the office and announce why you are there. Now, if you're buzzed in, the secretary knows you're there and if you don't go into the office, can call security.

    The school cannot prevent most "nutjob" shootings by any security measure, because by and large, since the "nutjobs" are usually allowed to be there anyways. So security measures are there as a preventative remedy that really stop people who aren't dead set against gaining entrance.

    The fact that preventative measures are in place will deter people who do intend to cause harm. I can well imagine that if there were no such measures in place, child abductors would frequent schools.

    On a side note, there are very valuable things to steal in schools. While a lot of used technology is old and generally worthless, there's a lot of very expensive technology in schools as well... as well as access to materials that the public shouldn't get their hands on.

  13. Bung, you are making extremely ill informed guesses as to how the system works. First, when buzzed in, the person is under no obligation whatsoever to go to the office. There is no camera and no oversight, the secretary just hits the 'let them in' button and the person who buzzed walks in and goes wherever they like.

    Second, the idea that child abductors would frequent schools is ridiculous for several reasons. First, schools were not locked when I was young, and yet there were no adults around whatsoever aside from those employed there. This is a common theme everywhere, if you think child abductors would suddenly show up at schools if the locks were off, then why did they not do so back when the locks were off in times past? Second, child abductors lurking around every corner is a ridiculous fantasy. Fact is that the number of actual stranger abductions is vanishingly small as nearly every abduction is perpetrated by those who already know the child in question. People simply do not stand around waiting for a child to kidnap, in the same way that people don't get hit by meteors.

  14. The system has to have some sort of recognition system. The fact that the secretary has seen you means that you know you've been noticed. Sure the secretary probably forgets you immediately, but its something for you to keep in mind.

    Child abductors don't have to be unknown to the student in order to be a problem for schools. An estranged parent who does kidnap their kid is just as much a school liability issue as random kidnappings.

    I actually think that the chances that people would kidnap random schoolage kids is ridiculously small. That being said, I think its because the number of people who kidnap random schoolage kids is also ridiculously small. That being said, I don't think its ridiculous that these people would approach kids at schools. An unnamed friend of mine was in fact approached by a stranger in the bathroom of a well-guarded kids toy store. The store was far better protected then a school is (locked doors or no) but they went there because there was a large number of kids.

  15. There isn't any recognition system. There is no camera, there is just a buzzer that you hit and then sometimes the door opens (if the secretary is at her desk) or it doesn't. Then you walk in and go wherever you want.