Last December, Newtown, Connecticut was like any other American town. Wreaths and menorahs decorated homes and shops were bustling with holiday shoppers.
The Sandy Hook tragedy shook America to its core. 20-year-old Adam Lanza took the lives of 20 children and six school officials in the second deadliest school shooting in United States’ history. Of course the tragedy struck fear into parents and policy makers nationwide. Nobody wants any harm to come to children, here or anywhere.
But this nation has a problem. A big problem. And that problem is letting paranoia about children’s safety drive bad policies that are really just wasteful, unproductive spending.
The gun control debate was only one example of the nation’s overreaction. In the course of a year, legislatures around the country passed 86 new gun laws. Connecticut, New York, Colorado, and Maryland made obtaining a firearm significantly more difficult despite the fact that only a few of these restrictions would have prevented Lanza from stealing his mother’s weapon and entering Sandy Hook.
But that is not the biggest shock to policy nationwide.
In spite of Sandy Hook, schools remain one of the safest places for kids. In the 1,369 youth homicides between July 2009 and June 2010, only 1.4% were the result of school violence. In fact, rates of bullying and school-located dangerous incidents have sharply declined since the 80s. There is only a one in one million chance of dying in a school shooting.
Schools are safe, and they’re only getting safer. But after Sandy Hook, reason went into the rubbish. In the past 12 months, spending to make schools safer has increased by $5 billion. The past year has also seen a 121% increase in the federal COPS program, which provides school resource officers (SROs) for schools. Schools are installing video surveillance devices and requiring children to scan in and out upon entering the school campuses.
Are these schools necessarily safer? No. We can’t know what effect these programs have in reality. School shootings are simply too rare to tell what changes are making a difference.
The aftermath of Sandy Hook reminds us that horrible instances of human violence can influence policy—most of the time for the worst. That $5 billion—should it be spent on schools—could be spent to find ways of enriching lesson programs instead of increasing the prison-like state of schools. Childhood shouldn’t be about surveillance, and schools shouldn’t have to be prisons.
Sandy Hook was devastating for the entire nation, but with national tragedy comes irrationality. It’s time to put the brakes on school spending. Instead of caving to our anxieties, let’s focus on what’s important: educating and nurturing our children.