What I Was Taught in Lockdown

I was in lockdown with a classroom of eighth graders during the Virginia Tech shootings on April 16, 2007. When the intercom announcement ended that our school was in lockdown, although forbidden to have them at school, the girls took out their cell phones from their purses and began texting their mothers.

Anne applying lessons taught by eighth gradersI read Civil Disobedience in high school and again in college, discussed it abstractly, and understood and believed. But I can’t quote it, and I can’t remember the words I used for my weak pronouncement of the school cell phone rule on April 16.

I do remember the young woman seated at her desk with her intent expression, long brown hair hanging forward, eyes not obediently on her teacher, but lowered, her two thumbs moving adeptly, courageously, making words with a keypad.

That young woman and her texting classmates taught me that it’s the threat of horror that calls forth defiance. They taught me, too, that if I wanted to be a part of helping anyone in the future, I needed intimate knowledge of every aspect of that personal, potent device they were using.

April 16th was a catalyst for me to delve deeply into the essence of what I could, and could not, know to be true. I pushed, howling, to “drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” Those lowest terms started as pages of handwritten text, became Word doc files, then distilled themselves to if-then drawings on my white board which I photographed, erased, and drew the next in a series. In 2010, my former student, Alex Edelman, reduced those docs and drawings further and transformed them into lines of code. Over the next years, those lines of code became our health software platform and mobile application, Cognichoice. It is no less than my best attempt, compelled by 0s and 1s, to reduce to lowest terms what I have found from driving life, and being driven by life, into a corner.

I wrote this matter-of-fact post about health mobile apps. I wanted to add young women were texting on April 16th.

Photo: Dan Smith