In a more civilized world, of the sort that kids in schools everywhere should be urged to imagine and indeed strive for, there would of course be no need for metal detectors in those places where they go off to learn each day. But until those kids, of this generation or the ones after it, can perform such a transformation, safety measures and devices are as essential as bricks and mortar and almost as critical as books and computers.
The blunt if sad truth is that Albany School Superintendent Eva Joseph and the city Board of Education are altogether sensible to take up Mayor Jerry Jennings on his offer of three state-owned metal detectors for Albany High.
"The landscape has changed," says Ms. Joseph in an accurate and plainspoken assessment.
Metal detectors at the high school actually might be less intrusive than the random searches for weapons or, worse, wider use of hand-held wands. It was an uneasy sight there last week, students lined up outside for hours waiting to be patted down in an escalation of security after a stabbing the previous week. Some students were brazen enough to be mentioned by name in the newspaper after they left school for the day without ever really going to school.
That much is now acknowledged by Ed Brown, president of the very school board that just a year ago resisted installation of metal detectors at Albany High.
Cold and imposing as they no doubt are in an education setting, metal detectors could easily be what prevents another outbreak of violence at a school that scarcely needs one. Imag ine the viciousness of the finger-pointing that would ensue if such an incident were to take place and the word was out that city school officials had said, in essence, thanks but no thanks to Mr. Jennings' overture.
In a school system where politics are everywhere, taking up the mayor on his offer serves the additional purpose of staving off an utterly unnecessary ruckus before it ever begins. Saying yes to the mayor whose interest in, and criticism of, the city's schools knows no bounds is to call his bluff. Already Mr. Jennings is suggesting that surveillance cameras should be installed at Albany High as well.
That idea requires public debate before being more seriously considered. Yet it hardly would require such security and technology to make all those with such a vested interest in public education in Albany, at the high school in particular, feel as if they're under scrutiny that's so intense as to be harsh.
Occasions of violence and the more frequent apprehension about them don't make Albany High unique or even unusual. Just a week's worth of news reports gives prominent mention to fatalities at schools in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and troubling incidents at schools in Colorado and Nevada. In Guilderland, a high school student was arrested last week after allegedly pulling a knife on a group of other students.
The difference is that these incidents hit home in Albany and in all the schools so much closer to it. Metal detectors at Albany High represent prudence. It's what goes on beyond them, inside the school itself, that represents something so much more enlightening.