An acquaintance of mine recently suggested that “active shooter drills” in schools are just like the Cold War, except the Soviets are us. His comment reminded me of a news story I had just seen. A middle school in Florida partnered with their local police department in conducting a real-life active shooter drill, with police officers carrying AR-15’s and firing blanks in the hallways. Students had no idea that the gun shots were part of a drill, and many of them frantically sent text messages to their parents. Moms and dads left work early, speeding to the local school in fear for the lives of their children; just to find out that the entire drill had been coordinated for their “safety.” As a nation we currently have no idea how the fear of mass shootings will affect the psychological development of this current generation of students.
While I believe that the effects of fear can be difficult to predict, I also believe there is a current example of these effects that can clearly be seen developing in our community. Our fear of mass shootings has led our school corporation to increase safety and security staff at every school, costing the school corporation approximately $1.4 million dollars a year. On top of that the fear of school violence has led many parents to home school their children. Over the past ten years the VCSC enrollment has declined by 1,292 students, with an estimated loss of $8.2 million dollars a year in state funding. As a direct result of fear, our schools have lost nearly $10 million dollars. This is an extremely difficult problem, requiring a powerful vision to overcome.
It is challenging to help a community develop a vision for a brighter future while in the midst of fear, but it’s very easy to make a profit. Unfortunately, the most influential leaders in our city have chosen profit. Many of the leaders in our community have partnered with wealthy business people to sell us a casino that they promise will help fund our schools. Instead of investing in recovery, our commissioners, with the help of our city and county councils, chose to build a $63.5 million dollar jail. And the mayor has stated that once city finances stabilize one of the first things he wants to do is reach out to defense contractors in the hopes of bringing in revenue from military assets. Just to recap, the current vision for the future of our community, that is being put forward by the most influential leaders in our city, revolves around profiting off of greed, crime, and war.
I know that our schools need more money. I know that our city needs better paying jobs. And I know that we are desperate for these things, but we cannot allow our community to be manipulated and ripped-off by the rich and powerful because of our desperation. In times like this, it can often feel like there’s nothing we can do to change things. Thankfully, there is something we can do right now. There is still time for our community to partner with a national organization called the Bail Project, and dramatically reduce the number of folks in our jail. It wouldn’t make much sense to continue moving forward on the construction of a new jail if we were able to empty the current one. It would take a tremendous effort to accomplish this in such a short period of time, but it is still possible.
I also have to admit, it is much easier to say no to something than it is to present a viable alternative. As a community we do need to reject the current vision that is being proposed by our city leaders, but we also have to come together and present an alternative vision for a better tomorrow. Personally, I believe that Eva Kor has already presented part of that vision. In many of her talks, she spoke about how learning to grow food in Israel was the key to her recovery. How beautiful would it be for our city to take the time and money that we are currently planning to spend on a jail and casino, and instead put it towards developing a small-scale agricultural network. Investing in small farms and developing programs to teach people in the community how to grow healthy food. This is just one idea that could be part of a new overall vision for Terre Haute. A vision that benefits the mind, body, and soul of the entire community.