Many, many things in education have changed, but one ritual that has remained the same, one that still elicits excitement among most kids and even some parents, is school supplies shopping.

It’s lost its charm a bit over the years – I’ve done it 16 years in a row, after all – but I remember how much I enjoyed it when I was a kid, and then looking forward to it when my kids started school.

There is nothing more satisfying to me than making a list and being able to check off every single thing on it in one trip. The price of school supplies shopping makes me want to cry, as does the giant wall of it that pops up in stores the first week of summer, but I much prefer buying the supplies over having the buy the clothes.

I will probably always have school supplies in my house, in my trusty filing cabinet. I buy them at the end of the school year when they’re on sale, so I’m always stocked up on pencils and loose leaf and erasers and glue sticks, and every other thing you can imagine. Lord knows if supplies like that will even be used years from now. My youngest son completes a lot of his work on-line, so my grandkids may not even get to experience the school supply shopping excitement previous generations of students enjoyed.

But schoolwork on the computer isn’t the only thing different. This year media is reporting on a trend in back-to-school shopping that I never would have predicted even five years ago. Though some would consider the item practical, I find it alarming. It’s a troubling sign of our times.

Parents are buying bulletproof backpacks. They’re worried about school safety, rightfully so. In the United States especially, they’re feeling helpless over the sluggish reaction of elected officials on gun control, and in all First World countries, even those with stricter gun laws, moms and dads want to do something – anything – to protect their kids.

One company, Guard Dog Security, makes the ProShield II, a backpack that offers bulletproof protection with the very practical features of a charging bank and built-in auxiliary ports. Peace of mind and a place to charge their iPhone comes at a price, though: $189.99.

Another company, Bullet Blocker, makes backpacks, as well as bulletproof binder inserts and tablet cases. They have been making the backpacks since 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 dead. The company’s founder had two kids in middle school at the time and was incredulous when he found out that their school’s active shooter response was to simply hide and wait for the police. As a former deputy sheriff and firearms instructor, he thought he could do better and, if sales are any indication, he was right.

When you think of how many times we’ve been witness to senseless scenes of panicked students fleeing classrooms and SWAT teams patrolling hallways with pointed guns, maybe parents aren’t overreacting. About one quarter of the 160 mass shooting incidents in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013 occurred in schools or colleges, according to a report by Texas State University. And the names of some of those institutions are burned in the minds of parents with school-aged children: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High; Sandy Hook Elementary; Columbine; Virginia Tech.

Though there have been a number of incidents here over the past few decades, Canada doesn’t have as epidemic a problem with school shootings as exists in the United States. Our school systems, our governments, our laws, our attitudes toward gun control, our national attitudes toward gun violence and public safety, seem to be entirely different than our southern neighbours. And because of this, most of the available stories and statistics about school shootings, reference American incidents and outcomes.

Their federal government introduced a $1.8 million grant for a program that will teach high school students “mass casualty survival techniques” in the event of a school shooting. In programs “similar to how students learn health education and driver’s education,” the School-Age Trauma Training program, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, will offer medical triage and bleeding control techniques to high school students.

This is what it’s become.

School used to be the place kids went to learn math and show off their new pencil case, but it has long ceased to be only about that. Now it’s the place that feeds the hungry, counsels the troubled, and teaches mass shooting survival techniques. How tragic.