Opinion: Daily Journal

A teachable moment missed with the national school walkout

(CJ photo by Kari Travis)
(CJ photo by Kari Travis)

On Tuesday, I received a call from school officials informing parents of activities for a “national school walkout,” planned in response to the recent deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Wednesday morning, I did what I expect many other parents did. I had a conversation with my children about gun violence.

Ironically, I realized I would need to teach my children about the subject before I send them off to school. Especially because the subject involves a long-recognized civil right.

It was the school’s announcement that there would be walkout activities that prompted me. It seems to me this issue being on everyone’s minds makes it a highly teachable moment. But do professional educators see it that way?

What, I asked, is your school teaching you about guns? Anything?

Mass school shootings are down overall, especially since the 1990s. Did you know that? That’s a finding from recent research from a criminologist at Northeastern University. Has your school told anyone about that?

Do you know why? Because school shootings tend to track with violent acts in general. And violent acts in general are also down.

Gun killings are down — dramatically — since the 1990s. Did you know that? Has your school told anyone about that?

In fact, violent, nonfatal gun crimes are also down dramatically since the 1990s. Hear anything about that?

Do you know what’s up dramatically since the 1990s? Gun sales. The amount of legally owned guns in society has skyrocketed.

If more guns meant more gun violence, I said, we wouldn’t be seeing dramatic declines in gun violence. But what if guns do indeed have a defensive purpose? What if their presence — or the belief in a criminal’s mind that they might be present — can be a deterrent against violence? Then significantly falling gun violence with significantly increasing gun ownership fits.

Self-defense. Has your school taught gun ownership as a civil right? The history behind it? The idea of a right to self-defense?

Did they even discuss the details in Parkland? How government officials, federal to local, failed over and over again to take obvious, proper steps that could have prevented it? How the FBI ignored direct warnings about the shooter? How the county sheriff’s office overlooked a history of violence and also ignored a direct warning the killer could be a “school shooter in the making”? How the armed school resource officer and then county deputies did nothing while the shooting was going on?

Why, I asked, aren’t schools taking the opportunity to teach these things? Kids who might otherwise be bored by history and civics would be paying attention. It would be a perfect time to model an adult response to a hot-button topic: Field questions. Test assumptions. Compare alternative viewpoints. Collect data. Weight the merits. Acknowledge shortcomings. Debate. Treat different viewpoints respectfully.

Instead, if they’re being taught anything, it’s by watching educators react Ready-FIRE!-aim. Or to promote their emotional response without grounding it. Neither serves the purpose of providing education.

I suppose that’s why it’s said education begins in the home. But I think it’s a shame nonetheless.

Jon Sanders (@jonpsanders) is director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation.