Bullet-proof Backpacks, Whiteboards: Logical Or Lunacy?

by Bill Brenner on January 24, 2013

After what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, would you buy your child a bullet-proof backpack? If you’re a teacher, would you want to have a bullet-proof whiteboard? A couple companies think so.

Mood music:


A friend who happens to be a teacher brought these to my attention yesterday, and my first reaction was to balk and say, “Here we go again with businesses trying to cash in on our fear.” After a few hours of research, I’m not balking anymore. In fact, I’m still not sure what to think.

The whiteboard idea comes from Maryland’s Pocomoke City-based Hardwire. It developed a hand-held whiteboard teachers could use as a shield if necessary. The company says the shield can stop bullets fired from a handgun at pointblank range. The backpacks are sold by a number of companies, and sales have gone through the roof since Dec. 14, the day of the Sandy Hook massacre.

What to make of it? On the surface it makes perfect sense. Our children live in a seemingly more dangerous world than the one we grew up in. I used to walk to and from school and hang out under the bridge without much fear for my safety other than the occasional threat from bullies. We can’t let our kids do that today. When I drop my kids at school, I don’t drive away until I’ve watched both enter the school.

With all these school shootings, it’s hard to even feel safe when they get in the building.

But my attitude has also changed in recent years in that I don’t think we should overprotect our kids. As scary as the thought may be, they need a taste of the tough stuff so they can grow tougher themselves.

My attitude is also influenced by my past suffering with fear and anxiety. A decade ago I would have obsessed about acquiring extra shielding for my children. I probably would have spent money we didn’t have to get it. Since bringing that fear to heel, I’ve been steadfast in my belief that you have to face what scares you in the eyes and make it blink.

Believing that as I do, my natural instinct is to dismiss these bullet-proof products as a waste. It’s just more security theater, where you may feel safer but you’re not. If a gunman enters a school with an assault rifle, the backpacks will be hanging on hooks out of the kids’ reach, which wouldn’t do any good. And in the confusing first moments of gunfire, will a teacher be quick enough to pull the whiteboard off the wall?

Part of me says life is too short to waste time on such calculations.

But the part of me that writes about security for a living thinks these defenses might just make the difference for a few people in that moment of danger.

I try to end these posts with a proposed way forward. In this case, since I admittedly don’t have answers to propose, I’d like to open the floor for discussion.

In the comments section, tell me if you would buy these things for your classroom and your kids.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Renee January 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Looks like a fear-based gimick to me. Taking measures to improve existing school security is reasonable—this seems way over the top. Is the teacher supposed to grab this and duck under it? What about all the kids? Statistically, the chances of getting run over by a drunk driver or a teenager on a cell phone on the way to school must be much higher, and yet we don’t drive our kids to school in tanks. It’s also worth taking a realistic look at what might (or, likely, won’t) happen if we were to drop the kids off and drive away. Maybe letting them do this is actually the next “right” step.

Karen April 17, 2013 at 9:16 am

It makes about as much sense as learning smearing toothpaste under your eyes can help with tear gas. It’s knowledge I don’t really need. In fact, it can be as heavy as a backpack and takes up space in my brain. But I think it gives people comfort….that they may be able to do something in a moment of attack. What it might give you is a few precious milliseconds of calm when threatened and that might be priceless.

Tyler August 17, 2013 at 6:53 am

All this is doing is giving teachers a visual reminder that they need to fear their students. If a school needs $60,000 in bulletproof whiteboards why would any intelligent person want to consider going to such a fear mongering school?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: