Our Kids' Halloween Frights Should Not Last A Lifetime
By Allan Shedlin
Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
Caitlyne Gonzales’s Halloween frights come every day.
Caitlyne is 10 years old. Her nightmares come in the daytime – sometimes multiple times per day – and they often come when she is at school. Caitlyne was in fourth grade last May attending Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, when a teenage gunman entered her school, unchallenged, and massacred 19 children and two teachers.
Sometimes, I think her school should have been named “Robbed Elementary School“ because every single student in attendance was robbed of whatever innocence they may have brought to school with them that day. None of those children will ever be quite the same, nor will their parents, nor will their teachers. And frankly, nor will any school child, parent, or school employee.
In many ways, Caitlyne is every school child.
As a former teacher and elementary school principal during the past century – a time that, in hindsight, seems like a totally different era – I well remember a new student visiting our school prior to his first school day. His father had been recently shot to death. The boy was five years old and he bluntly asked me if we allowed guns in our school. I responded, “We don’t allow guns here. This is a very safe place.”
Alas, if a principal today was asked the same question, that principal could not offer the same reassurance.
During my tenure as the executive director of the National Elementary School Center, we created a program in which the school became a locus of child advocacy. It was challenged by some as providing services beyond a school’s primary educational mission. In defense of the concept I often quoted a first grader who summed things up perfectly by volunteering, “It’s hard to learn when you’re hungry.”
And it’s very hard to focus on your academics when you begin your school day walking through a metal detector, see armed guards in hallways, and/or you have to practice active-shooter drills. And it’s equally hard for the educators and for parents when they can no longer reassure their children that schools are a very safe place.
We are all living during a time when Halloween frights lurk in every school every day; in a country that has more guns than citizens and where we have experienced more than one mass shooting every day in 2022. We are living in a world that is angry and has also gone mad.
We are living during a time when 9/11 and calling 9-1-1 have come together in a way that needs to awaken the best in each and all of us. Our children need to feel and be safe. Daddies and mommies must be able to carry out their duty as protectors, and teachers can teach during a time that is not designated a mental health epidemic by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Surgeon General.
We must continue our fight for progress towards the day when Halloween frights for kids (and adults) are limited to just one night per year; when the emotional shrapnel of school bullets do not puncture our students’ innocence; and a world in which we finally “turn our swords into plowshares.”
If you want to do something to support safer schools and public places for our children and families, please consider donating to one or more of the following organizations that have been fighting our country's unique gun addiction and gun-violence epidemic for decades:
And here are resources for talking with your children about gun violence in schools and the news coverage they're likely to encounter. The following resources were compiled by Daddying Film Festival Circle of Friends member Inspired Teaching:
Table Talk: Talking with Children about Gun Violence (Anti-Defamation League)
Empowering Young People in Aftermath of Hate (English/en Español) (Anti-Defamation League)
Helping Students Make Sense of News Stories About Bias & Injustice (Anti-Defamation League)
Children's Responses to Trauma (Everytown for Gun Safety)
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the inaugural Daddying Film Festival to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.