By installing protections against mass shootings, school administrators are establishing the way America’s public schools will look for the next few decades, but taxpayers don’t get much say in the important questions underlying these decisions: Do we want our schools to be places of learning, socializing, and constructive imagination, as well as safe? Or are we okay creating safe, prison-like places where kids do not want to be, and do not thrive? For Slate, Henry Grabar writes about public schools’ redesigns in the era of mass shootings, and how fear and the security industry are often leading decision-making, rather than a more patient, reasoned, intentional path. Living with the threat of a school shooting is already anxiety-inducing, but we don’t know the longterm psychological and educational consequences of all these architectural modifications, from metal detectors to barricades, drills to imposing doors. As the architect of the redesigned Sandy Hook Elementary School told Grabar, a school’s “first concern in school design should always be education”.
“There is this industry that is monetizing off of fear,” said Jenine Kotob, a D.C.-based school architect, when I spoke to her earlier this month. “The school security industry is now a $2.7 billion industry in the United States, and those numbers keep rising. Thinking about the building and the site in a holistic way, and not necessarily focusing on the bells and whistles that come after the fact, would probably be a better investment.”
Kotob is one of the estimated 225,000 Americans who have lived through a school shooting. One of her best friends was killed at Virginia Tech. Later, she studied in Israel and Palestine, and saw schools built for war, with features like perimeter walls designed to withstand explosives. “If America continues along a trajectory of fear, we will end up in a situation where the building and the infrastructure we’re investing in are not places we want to be. We’re talking about a building that will be standing for 20, 30, 40 years. And how we react today says a lot about who we are as a society and what our beliefs are.”