Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Monday, April 26, 1999

Preparing schools
for the inevitable

I vaguely remember, in the 1960s, a schoolwide exercise at Manoa Elementary. At least once a year, our entire student body would march into the cafeteria. Then we'd get down on our hands and knees, crawl under the long vinyl-topped tables, huddle together and cover our eyes.

We all thought it was kind of funny, and didn't realize the serious purpose behind the mock drill: preparation for a nuclear attack. Now, on reflection, it was both chilling and pathetic. How ridiculous to believe that hiding under tables and covering our peepers (to prevent blindness from the flash, we were told) would have saved us from an atomic blast.

These days, America's young people must worry about holocausts of a different nature.

The latest occurred last Tuesday in Littleton, Colo., when two Columbine High students went on a methodical killing spree. Armed with sawed-off shotguns and homemade bombs, the duo fatally shot 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide.

For the past week, the nation was debilitated by a shared grief. Americans pored over newspaper articles, and watched newscasts and hour-long specials, chronicling the bloodbath and introducing us to the victims and assassins. Once again came the utterance, "How could something like this have happened?"

How could this have happened? You must be kidding.

It sounds like the neighbor or family member of a dead person, slain by his or her "loved one" after prolonged abuse: "Well, yes, I knew they fought often. And the police did come to the house a lot because of domestic disturbances. And she did have bruises and cuts and broken bones every once in a while. But I NEVER thought that he would murder her."

Why not? What else?

The Colorado catastrophe is not the first school shooting nor will it be the last. Not when the most popular movies, cable TV shows and video games are rife with gore; when a dance style called the "mosh pit" looks like a gang fight; and capital punishment is applauded as the ultimate eye-for-an-eye revenge. We are bombing another country in the name of peace, for goodness sake, yet we still have the gall to feign surprise at another manifestation of violence?

DON'T even get me started on the accessibility of guns. They are way too easy to obtain, especially on the mainland.

How bizarre that one grief-stricken Columbine student berated himself on national TV because, he said, as an expert marksman he could have "saved lives" if he had brought his own firearm on campus that day. Welcome to the wild, wild west.

Back in the 1960s, when elementary-age students in Manoa traipsed down to the cafeteria to cower under tables, at least we got something right. We were preparing for war because it was a real possibility.

Now a new battle is blazing and the "enemy" is within, so schools must prepare their charges for scenarios of a different nature.

After all, the campus is only a reflection of what goes on in the bigger, badder community at large.

This time, though, don't bother teaching kids how to hide under desks. The teens at Columbine High can attest to that one first-hand. It doesn't work.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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