School Safety in America: Rhetoric vs Reality

For July 3, 2019                              

Please share with your friends & neighbors 

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Saturday night at 9:30 my son Will, 12, and I biked to Shake the Lake.  Will does not like crowds, I found out, and after parking our bikes & walking down the closed-off John Nolen Drive as far as the stage at the west side of Monona Terrace, we turned around.

As we arrived back at the bike rack, the fireworks started up right at 10:00. Will wanted to watch, so we rode over to Brittingham Park for a view without streetlights.  It all got over at about 10:20. We pedaled home on the bike path, passing the bike counter at Regent and Monroe Street at 10:36.

Only later did we find out the real fireworks began at about 10:25.

Madisonians now have had at least two experiences with active shooters:  one at a workplace on September 19 in Middleton that injured at least four people, and the one Saturday night at a family-friendly event that injured one person and triggered panic in children and adults alike.

Workplace, public space and school shootings rightfully have our attention.

This week (July 3) David Perrodin will return to WN@TL for his talk entitled “School Safety in America:  Rhetoric vs Reality.”

David pointed out during his talk in 2013 that the last time a schoolchild died in a fire in the United States was 1958 at Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago.

While schoolhouse deaths by fire have abated, the chilling reality is that the killing of schoolchildren by firearms continues with a frequency that is at once astonishing and numbing.

Perrodin’s book, “School of Errors – Rethinking School Safety in America,” challenges “the unchecked expansion of school fortification and hyper-realistic drills and questions the realized benefit of inter-agency collaboration during a sentinel event.”

Here’s how he describes his talk:

School safety is the dominant topic in American education with $3 billion allocated annually to promoting safe K-12 school environments. As of May 2019, only 43 of 50 states required schools to have safety plans and conduct safety drills. What is a “good” school safety plan and what is a “good” school safety drill? Nobody knows. Individual schools attempt to interpret and apply these foggy expectations with little oversight and less accountability.

Safety vendors and the media have perfected the art of persuading panicked parents and nervous school boards that schools can fortify their way to safety. Unregulated “security solutions” pose danger to schools and hundreds of bills and grants perpetuate these popular fixes. Parents and the community want to “see” school safety. It’s similar to rhetoric that produced France’s impressive Maginot line…which was defeated when the German military simply marched around it and through Belgium. Today, novice curiosity seekers with minimal planning manage to foil security at high-profile, well-funded venues fairly regularly.

Think those nifty new safety apps for smartphones have survived the scrutiny of scientific trials? Think again. Most devices go directly from conception to marketing – and while that centers a debate about business ethics, it’s a perfectly legal practice as school safety equipment is not subjected to the scientific method of product trials.

On par with the ramifications of flipping the magnetic poles, the entire safety paradigm morphed in 2011. While Americans are bound to the social contract that the government will act in their best interests during a crisis, civilian rescue operations, sometimes as rudimentary as a smartphone and free apps, are efficiently scaling novice volunteers to save thousands of lives. This phenomenon concurrently shifted student’s behavior to seek consensus from their “phone tribe” during a crisis situation instead of following a leader.

While we are busy corralling the usual suspects, the sleuthy top threat to school safety can be purchased for $250 and the intelligence community has no plan to counter its swift, destructive impact on students. Let’s work the problem. Are you ready?


About the Speaker:

David Perrodin of Viterbo University promotes a safety initiative of taking action before a disaster strikes. He is an author, educator, researcher, professor, legal expert witness, consultant, and host of The Safety Doc Podcast. David received his Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at University of Wisconsin-Madison where he researched high stakes safety decisions in education, health care and military. He presented on WN@TL in 2013 and wrote and directed a film about school safety with Pulitzer Prize winner David Obst.


Next week (July 10) more science that hits close to home as Daniel Wright of Civil & Environmental Engineering speaks on “What’s Up with All These Storms & Floods?

I just hope the Drought breaks soon.  We’ve gone 17 hours now without rain.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Thanks again!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension


UW-Madison:  5.8 million owners, one pretty good public land-grant teaching, research and extension university.

Visit UW-Madison’s science outreach portal at for information on the people, places & programs on campus that welcome you to come experience science as exploring the unknown, all year round.

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