You’re in the midst of your English class of twenty-five high school students debating the symbolism of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Mid-sentence, a chill runs up your spine and all at once, twenty-six heads turn towards the door attempting to assess why fireworks are going off in the hallway. Screams shattering the silence just feet away beyond the classroom door. Panic filling your students as one girl lets out her own panicked filled scream. What do you do?
If you ever attended the public school system, you’re already familiar and indoctrinated with the procedures in the event of a fire, earthquake, or tornado. However, it wasn’t long ago that our parents, and the baby boomers, were routinely practicing the mordant Cold War era Duck and Cover procedures. Unlike the shield of Captain America that could resist an attack even by Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir; ironically, human hands nor a one-inch pressboard desktop with a child hunkered beneath it would have been an effective magic shield against ionizing radiation and the devastating effects of a nuclear blast. This was a constant fear that people lived with daily and many children, now adults, suffer from PTSD.
Up until most recently, the worst scenario a teacher had to worry about was getting students to cooperate and participate in drills. Unfortunately, scenarios such as these are no longer limited to just practicing a procedure in the rare event of such a tragedy. In 2015, more than fifty school shootings took place in K12 schools and colleges, resulting in 30 deaths and more than 50 injuries. However, the scope is much wider than just schools with theaters, churches, restaurants, and most recently, the fourteen lives lost during a holiday party shoot out.
“There’s an illusion that having all these video cameras, metal detectors, sensors, SWAT kinds of people on campus makes the place safer…The problem is…It doesn’t feel safer. It feels like a prison.”
Ron Ave Astor, US California
Based on a course taught by Robert H. Koff, co-author and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Human Behavior in Extreme Situations: Implications for K-12 Education in the Twenty-First Century features various situations—mainly hostile—that examines how people react and respond during a crisis in order to survive and what can be done to prepare should you find yourself in a similar situation.
Written with educational professionals in mind, Chapter 1 briefly references the Columbine High school, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings, however, all historical events used as examples stray far from the pedagogical setting meant for this book, except for Chowchilla. That’s not to say that the events chosen are not useful in portraying unique situations and highlighting various behaviors useful for students, teachers and administrators. Quite the contrary. Except for the case of the brainwashed POWs during the Korean War with “give-up-it-is”, each poignant situation was overcome by having strong leadership and a plan.
Part 3 onward, provides sound advice to teachers and administrators on getting to know their students on a personal level both at home and at school, encourage growth and leadership skills, problem-solving and critical thinking, and how to persevere in various situations. Also included is a glossary and four surveys geared at students, parents and guardians, teachers and staff, and administrators, each with their own set of discussion questions to open dialogue and move the conversation along.
Human Behavior in Extreme Situations is a well-written resource in a unique scenario-based platform for educators and administrators to take necessary action without involving fear tactics or propaganda. While this book’s target audience is clearly established, it should be duly noted that as it’s a quick and informative read easily understood by all ages, it is a perfect resource for any environment, including home, office, church, youth programs, etc. The various examples throughout the book provide brief history lessons that despite being tragic, will easily engage students, and create and promote a positive and empowering environment alongside skills that students—or teachers—will hopefully never have to use for such events featured in this book.