When I started teaching in 1997, Alice referred to one thing — Lewis Carroll’s character in a book about a place called Wonderland with strange yet familiar people and things — a (mad) hatter, a (maniacal) queen, a (worried) white rabbit, a curious and brave girl.
Since then, and the first school shooting at Columbine in 1999, the name Alice now invokes something else completely — an organization that trains teachers, students, and members of other organizations to prepare to survive an attack by an active shooter. That’s ALICE – an acronym for the five essential steps people should follow when someone comes to their community armed and dangerous.
Alert. Lockdown. Inform. Counter. Evacuate.
ALICE training is considered by many in schools to be “the standard of care.” ALICE provides teachers and students a clear protocol to follow in the event that someone comes to a school with an intent to kill as many of the people in that school as he can. ALICE tells us to be aware and alert at all times. To practice and refine locking down our classrooms and hallways. To have a system of communication in the event of a lock down. To be prepared, with our students, to counter the attack if we are able by throwing books, desks, or chairs in unison at the perpetrator. To be ready to break windows, push through doors, and flee into surrounding fields and forests to scatter and hide.
ALICE provides a good and clear protocol in the event that an active shooter comes to kill. The problem isn’t with ALICE. It’s that ALICE is a response to a problem that has not been properly discussed or addressed since 1999 when Dylan and Eric arrived to their high school wearing trench coats and carrying weapons that they used to kill 13 innocent people before killing themselves. Since that day, there have been too many school shootings to list here. Just this week in Florida – a boy named Nikolas killed 15 high school students and 2 of their teachers; and just a few years ago, in 2012, at Sandy Hook, a young man named Ryan killed 20 very young children and 6 of their teachers.
When bad things happen, communities appropriately stop, think, grieve and vow. But when the same bad thing happens over and over again, communities and the people living in them begin to change, and not for the better. They become entrenched — in sorrow, in confusion, in resignation. In misinformed notions like the one about how people with mental illness are alone to blame for this horrible phenomenon, or the one about how one’s constitutional right to bear arms overrides the possibility that one will use an AR-15 against unarmed children.
In fiction and in the real world, there are many places of wonder populated by strange yet familiar people and things. This is a time to stop and think about the worlds that we tacitly or implicitly allow to exist.