From Ducking Under Desks to Active Shooter Drills by
(284 Stories)

Prompted By Cold War Coping

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I am part of the generation that hid under desks in elementary school to practice what to do if the evil Soviet Union dropped an atomic bomb on Detroit. This remote possibility led to a particularly vivid and recurring nightmare. I grew up in a small ranch-style house, and my bedroom was in the front. My brothers’ and parents’ bedrooms were in the back of the house. In my nightmare, there was an enemy camped out in my living room, which I had to walk past to reach the rest of my family. I was trapped, either in my bedroom or under a desk at school.

As part of the duck and cover generation, I despair that my legacy to today’s school children is a country in which they understand that there is no real safety as long as the gun culture persists.

But here’s the thing. While the Cold War raged, it was highly unlikely that a bomb would fall on my school or hostile forces would shoot me as I tried to reach the safety of my parents’ room. These terrors largely existed in my imagination, with the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis. That one was very real. For my grandchildren, their fears are a daily possibility, a living nightmare.

All of my grandkids, from the teens to the preschooler, have had to participate in active shooter drills. During lockdown drills, they have had to hide in closets or dark, barricaded classrooms and not make a sound. Other times, they have practiced running from a shooter in zigzag patterns to evade bullets. Sometimes, there is even a mock shooter in the hallway trying to open the door to their classroom.

In 1988, Laurie Dann, a mentally disturbed young woman, entered Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Illinois, a very safe community, where she killed second grader Nicky Corwin and wounded five others. Although people now understood that schools were a soft target, most viewed this attack as a fluke. After 9/11, everything changed.

My preschool had to add Let’s Hide and Let’s Take a Walk drills to our Windy Weather (tornado) and Fire Drill practices. Because there was a daycare in the Twin Towers, it became important for these little ones to know how to line up with a walking rope and for their teachers to take attendance, bring the contact book, and quickly leave the building, walking toward one of two safe locations, depending on the perceived danger. We tried to shield our young children from the actual threats out there. Back in the nineties, I remember one little guy who asked me to show him the tool he thought was a fire drill. No one asked that after September 2001.

We added many pages to our Risk Management Handbook as well as a camera and locked entrance system. Now, the girl who had nightmares from hiding under her desk in the fifties became the first line of defense for 250 preschoolers. Who looked safe to buzz in? A man who was also a stranger was most suspect, but a parent could also be an angry shooter. A woman who claimed she was someone’s babysitter could be another Laurie Dann.

If young school children and their parents want real nightmares, the slaughter of 20 young children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 should do the trick. The school had just installed a buzz-in security system like the one at my preschool and the door was locked.  Sadly, they were no match for the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle in the hands of a disturbed young man who shot his way into the building. On Valentine’s Day, 2018, another crazed gunman with an AR-15 assault rifle killed fourteen students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to CNN there have been at least 31 shootings at schools in our country since then, one every 11.8 days, killing 19 and injuring 44.

Young children know that bad people with guns can try to shoot them in school. Duck and cover no longer cuts it. I wish my grandkids’ fears could be as innocent as mine were. But theirs are as real as the weapons we allow pretty much anyone to purchase. We can have lockdown and active shooter drills. We can install safe entry systems with cameras. What we can’t do for my grandkids’ generation is promise them they will be safe in school, not as long as unstable and angry people can purchase guns capable of killing as many children as possible in a relatively short time.

As part of the duck and cover generation, I despair that my legacy to today’s school children is a country in which they understand that there is no real safety as long as the gun culture persists.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.


Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Tags: cold war, gun violence, school shootings
Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    We do live in a deranged world now, Laurie, where the threat isn’t existential, but real and day-to-day. After a recent school shooting, I heard a student interviewed on the news, saying she felt it was not a matter of “if”, but “when” her school would be targeted. What a terrible psychological burden we have placed on all our children – to go through their school years with that sort of fear. Thank you for making that all too grim connection.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, I am so sad about the legacy our generation is leaving today’s children. Why could we not accomplish anything regarding gun safety? I put my hope in the Parkland kids and their peers. Have to believe that someday this will get better.

  2. The times we live in reflect something far more terrifying than I remember feeling as a child during the Cold War years. I had an innocent child’s faith that everything would be okay. Not today. So sad our children’s innocence has been taken away.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wow, you bring us up short, from warm and fuzzy memories of our childhoods to the terrors of today. Active shooter drills are a lot scarier – and more necessary – than air raid drills were for us. It’s terrifying! I thought the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas would really be able to turn things around, but apparently not even they can overcome the NRA. Your picture of the kindergarteners and the soldier just breaks my heart.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I wanted to do nostalgia but am afraid today’s kids have moved from coping to fear. Like you, I believed the Parkland kids would be the change agents. They still may be, but if Sandy Hook didn’t move our government to act, I guess nothing will. So sad.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Laurie, thank you for bringing this prompt into the present, albeit with bitter irony. As laughable as those drills were when we were kids, the current school children really are threatened by the risk of classroom shootings. And everywhere and anywhere — unlike, for example, our secret comfort that the Russians would bomb NYC and we would be safe 75 miles up the coast in Connecticut.

    And, of course, your last sentence says it all. Though we probably need to add churches and synagogues to the list of unsafest spaces.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, John. Sadly, after I wrote my story the Chabad synagogue fell prey to a domestic terrorist whose assault rifle thankfully jammed, preventing even more slaughter. I guess no one is safe where they learn or pray or just stand on the front porch visiting with friends in many neighborhoods. Insane.

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