A front page story in yesterday's paper told of public school officials here in Mansfield, Connecticut (population about 20,000) conducting a security audit of the three elementary schools & the one middle school, and they are thinking of installing cameras or buzzers at the entrances of the schools. (The high school is run by a different jurisdiction). Why? "'It's unfortunate what we're faced with,' said one official, stating that the world is a much different place than it used to be." School officials pointed to school shooting earlier this year in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Wisconsin.
This kind of thinking plain wrong and it's harmful, and it's not limited to Mansfield.
Here are some facts.
According to the CDC, 6,755 children aged 5-14 died in 2004. Given that there are over 20,000,000 children (for a cool graphic) in that age range in the United States, that alone tells us that children lead, on average, pretty safe lives.
What do children die of? From the same data: Motor vehicle accidents are the number #1 killer (24% of the deaths), followed by cancer (15%), other accidents (15%), congenital malformities (6%), and suicides (4%). There were 385 homicides (6%), but only 39 of them took place at schools or on the way to or from school.
As such, students are about ten times more to be killed outside of school than within school. Do you want to keep your children safe? Send them to school!
So, our town wants to spend money to prevent something that happens annually to around 1 in one-half million children (40 / 200,000,000).
Certainly any killing of a child is a tragedy, so does that mean we should try to prevent it happening no matter how long the odds? Well, there are about 1,400 children in Mansfield elementary schools which means that we can expect, on average, one homicide in school or on the way to school about every four centuries (500,000/1,400).
Trying to prevent this every-few centuries event is problematic because any remedy programs will have their own costs. These rememdies have opportunity costs. Money spent on increased school security could be spent on educational needs, such as books, teachers, classrooms. It could also be spent on real safety issues, such as preventing motor vehicle accidents, drownings, or suicides.
They also have direct costs. The fear that they create results in social, psychological, and physical harm (e.g., isolation, nervousness, and high blood pressure).
As the Barry Glassner writes, it's not that we shouldn't be afraid, it's just that we're afraid of the wrong things.
I would much rather spend the money on books, teachers, and things with real benefits.