Welcome to America's Back-to-School Horror Show

The new school year is finally in full swing, and with it comes the grotesque ritual of preparing America’s school children for the possibility of being gunned down in a classroom. In a new PSA by gun violence prevention organization Sandy Hook Promise, a seemingly innocuous back-to-school supply ad becomes chaotic, and the supplies become objects of protection against carnage.

“This year my mom got me the perfect bag for back-to-school,” a student says, showing off his new backpack; another shows off her new set of folders and binders. But as a student brags about his new sneakers, we can see that he is actually running down the hallways while gunfire breaks out. Another uses her jacket to tie doors shut. One girl uses her brand new socks as a tourniquet for a student whose leg is covered in blood. The most chilling moment comes when a girl, huddled in a bathroom stall, sends an “I love you” text to her mom on her brand new phone while a shooter’s footsteps are heard approaching her.

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It’s endlessly grim, but it represents a new normal. Mark Barden, the Sandy Hook Promise co-founder whose seven-year-old son was killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, told People that the ad, “shows the juxtaposition of what kids should be thinking about—and what they are unfortunately being forced to think about when they go to school.”

While Sandy Hook Promise hopes that this nauseating trend will lead to a broader cultural shift and legislative change, others are profiting off of the stagnation.

Today, ABC News published a story about a Colorado school which enlisted TAC*ONE Consulting to train children—kindergarteners to high school seniors—to respond to an active shooter. The age-specific curriculum had kindergarteners learning to be “quiet as a mouse” and “follow their teachers like ducklings” while fifth-graders are taught to put up physical blockades around classrooms:

For the youngest kids, instructors gingerly start the discussion by asking generally about how to stay safe in schools. Kindergartners are taught how to find a good hiding spot and listen to their teachers to evacuate safely.

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[Chad Miller, Pinnacle Charter School’s CEO] says the kindergartners are spared from more detailed talk that might disturb them. “We’re not going to talk about people dying and active shooters and those types of things,” he said. “It’s a danger. And we need to all be on the same page and acting as a team so that we can keep each other safe.”

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Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times wrote about another Colorado school that is preparing their teachers for an active shooter drill with the ALICE Training Institute, an organization that touts itself as “number one” in “active shooter civilian response training” but whose practices are highly questionable.

These trainings and the new market for bulletproof backpacks offer the illusion of safety while meaningful political change gets blocked at the top. But for the powerful few selling the lie that this kind of routine violence is inevitable and unavoidable, there’s real money to be made.

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About the author

Ashley Reese

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.