As my 10 year old daughter prepares in a week or so take part in an away from home school sponsored camping and learning experience I read with some alarm a story carried widely by the media (here’s the BBC version) about teachers from Scales Elementary school in Tennessee who had “staged a mock gun attack” on their sixth graders during a school camping trip. On the last night of a camping trip, the staff told the students a gun wielding assailant was in the area. Students recall teachers specifically using the term “code red,” which students had been previously trained meant that a gun wielder was in the school. In the face of parental outrage, school officials are describing the fake gun scenario as a “learning experience” that the staff had planned and that students had been told in that a prank would occur for teaching purposes during the trip. As the media storm builds, however, two staff members, an assistant principal and a teacher have been placed on unpaid leave for the duration of the school year.
Coming only a few weeks after the massacre at Virginia Tech it is difficult to believe that the staff members were not more wary that their particular prank might be misread (although perhaps they thought it even more relevant as a teaching issue). But the predictable focus on individual misconduct should not divert us from noting something subtler but pervasive, how central the imagined threat of violent crime has become to the American school experience. As Bill Lyons and Julie Drew argue in their terrific book, Punishing Schools, both inner city and suburban schools now bristle with routines designed to prevent crime in school and how much the remote possibility of violent crime justifies a system targeted at lesser misconduct. In the name of protecting children, we now invest their emerging subjectivity with a code system designed to highlight the salience of violent crime (how many other code colors besides “red” are there one wonders). The teachers in