You CAN Be Too Careful, the Narrative of Vulnerability… and Terrorism

By Courtney | January 4, 2016


Holy Hell. I was in the middle of writing a post the other morning about our collective parenting angst regarding schools when my phone exploded with 6am texts from fellow parents. Our district closed all schools for the day due to a “credible terrorism threat.”

So just as I was composing the list of things I should be afraid of as a parent, I had to adda doozy: terror.

I wasn’t so much bothered that our district decided to shut down the schools – the superintendent did what he thought was right, and I applaud him for doing his job. But as the day wore on and the social media posts and texts and tv coverage became increasingly hysterical, I got angry. While I was slightly concerned about the ghost-email-threat, I became truly incensed at all the fear it tapped into and the additional anxiety it went on to generate. Social media was abuzz with worry worry worry. And some worry. And more worry. And all of the worry was wrapped around sentiments like “the world is so awful now,” and “you can’t be too careful.”


But you can. You Can Be Too Careful.

Because security has a price. Maybe it’s the money schools will be spending on cameras and buzzers and protocols (which, btw, wouldn’t have protected us from Sandyhook or Columbine) that won’t be used for libraries, arts programs or classroom aides. Or maybe it’s the psychological price of living in fear. Or maybe it’s the costs of our children whose experiences in the world will be severely curtailed by a safety-first turned into safety-only approach.

Or maybe it’s the price of another layer of fear that we will have to dig through on our way to integrating schools.

We humans are notoriously bad risk assessors. We make peace with huge risks and make mountains of small ones.

For example, the single greatest risk to your kid’s life is something most of us (myself included!) absorb every day. School, soccer practice, grandma’s house, the doctor’s office, and the farmer’s market are a car ride away. And so we drive there. Sure, we are compulsive about car seats and seat belts and air bags, but we are still driving. Car accidents are somewhere around a billion times more likely to hurt your child than a terrorist attack. Both terrorist attacks and traffic accidents are horrible tragedies. One we have no real control over and the other we engage in daily.

We don’t do risk well. And I don’t need to get into the academic discussion of our “risk society” or the “culture of fear” for that to be clear.

In no particular order, here are some things that we are constantly reminded to be freaked out about vis a vis schools:

  • College is super hard to get into, crazy competitive like never before.
  • The eroding middle class.
  • The American education system in general is “broken” and our district or local school in particular.
  • The soul crushing damage of institutional practices that discount individuality, creativity, and curiosity.
  • Memorization and corporate-sponsored curriculum.
  • Too much homework.
  • Too little homework.
  • Homework that is repetitive, boring busywork.
  • Low expectations.
  • Too-high expectations.
  • Relentless testing, NCLB, the new ESSA.
  • Emotional Unintelligence.
  • Molester Predator Teachers/Staff.
  • Dangerous and terrible other kids that might hurt or tempt my child to the dark side.
  • What other kids get at other schools that gives other kids more advantages.
  • Gluten, peanuts and their dust, pink slime, non-organic lunch food.
  • Drugs, sex, rainbow parties.
  • Eating disorders, body image, obesity.
  • Teen suicide/depression.
  • School shootings.
  • etc. etc. etc. etc.

 Let’s note, too, that this is also a list of privilege. Here are a few additional things that parents of color have to grapple with:

  • Police brutality,
  • Racial profiling.
  • Deportations, immigration issues.
  • Access to Special Ed services, being counseled into Special Ed.
  • Being overlooked for Gifted and Talented Programs.
  • Gangs, stray bullets.
  • English-Language classification.
  • Higher rates of suspensions, punitive disciplinary action, metal detectors and “random searches”.

While listing it out like this may seem glib, I don’t mean it to be: risk is everywhere, danger is omnipresent. Being a parent is a state of terrible rawness. When you discover that you’re pregnant or see your child’s face for the first time, suddenly it feels as if you don’t have skin. The hurts of my children are more painful than my own and nothing seems as important as protecting them, cushioning them.

In Paranoid Parenting (2002), Frank Furedi (who coined the term “Culture of Fear” in 1997), makes the persuasive argument that we have profoundly shifted our understanding of childhood; what was once thought of as time of resilience is now considered a period of extreme vulnerability. We feel the impact of that shift in most every parenting thing we do, advice we hear, even in the architecture of the super-safe playgrounds we take our kids to.

This narrative of vulnerability means we have to be vigilantly careful. About everything.

As far as our collective nation of children goes, being Careful has a price that everyone pays, because being careful often means being segregated.

It means sending your kids to a school that has been vetted by many middle class parents before you. It means translating school demographics (oops, I mean test scores [best should not be a proxy for wealth]) into primary decision-making tools when deciding where to enroll your kids. It means spending 200k more for a house two miles away in order to gain residency for the “better” district (WaPo on segregated communities). It means trying to get everything possible for your child within a certain definition of what is a “good” school. It means minimizing the “risk” that being poverty-adjacent is thought to bring.

Integrated/ing schools are scary for a thousand understandable reasons and a bunch more irrational reasons. And it makes some sense to avoid them altogether – especially if we have options (and being middle class, we likely have options). When we are already emotionally spent from worrying about the things on the above list, how can we possibly have the energy to add Integrated/ing schools to that? And furthermore, why on earth would we assume the “risk” of an Integrated/ing schools for our vulnerable children?

Here’s why: Because it is good for everyone –for my kid, for our nation of kids, for their generation of upcoming leaders and citizens. Because the risk isn’t as risky as we think and there are also risks we take at our segregated middle class schools, too. Because my and your kid are more than likely going to be okay… Statistically, your middle class kid will really and truly be okay. Not every kid, not every school, not every experience, but mostly. Even with pink slime, competitive college admissions and yes, terrorism, our kids will be fine.

(for more, see Why Poor Schools Might Actually Be Good for Middle Class Kids)

Posted in: our stories, parenting, race

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