This the first of a series I update each school year in the hope parents across America will demand their school boards and educators take the threat against our schools seriously enough to employ more than “Gun-Free School Zone” signs and feel good/do little “safety” drills. There is positive movement in this direction, but certainly not everywhere and not nearly fast enough.
The wounding of 17 and the murder of 17 students and adults at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 renewed the usual calls for completely ineffective, feel-good measures–particularly gun control–that only inflame passions and contribute nothing to saving lives. Usual was the renewed attack on “assault weapons;” the killer used a legally purchased AR-15 variant. A slightly new twist to the aftermath of that attack was an increasingly vehement and irrational attack on the NRA. A new element was blaming it on President Trump, who for some is the embodiment of evil. Amazingly, a commission appointed to investigate the shooting actually recommended arming teachers, though nothing of consequence has been done to act on that recommendation.
Not long thereafter, a May 18, 2018 attack on a medium-sized high school at Santa Fe, Texas, left 10 wounded and 13 dead. The outcry over this attack was substantially more muted and short lived than that over the Florida shooting, no doubt at least in part because the killer survived–-he provided no political ammunition to help the anti-liberty/gun narrative–-and used two of the most common firearms: a pump action shotgun and a .38 caliber revolver. There would be no “assault weapon,” to blame, and because the 17-year-old shooter took the weapons from his parents without their knowledge or permission, there was no narrative support for demands to raise the age limit for the purchase of long guns, or for “red flag” laws.
Since President Trump took office, ISIS and other terror organizations have suffered crippling losses around the world. Unfortunately, this has caused them to shift their focus to smaller, more classically terroristic operations. The FBI has admitted, even during the Obama Administration, to watching active terrorist cells and plots in all 50 states. One may safely believe this has not changed, and terrorists are seeking softer targets less likely to provoke US MOAB strikes. Few targets are softer than schools.
Regular readers know I’m a high school English teacher. I well know the educator mindset. Many recoil in horror at the mere thought of a firearm on school property. Some even oppose armed police officers, because the mere presences of guns, even in the hands of the police, somehow mystically disturbs the vibrations of a pristine educational atmosphere. As a former police officer, I know, in our divided nation, many citizens share that reflexive response. Unfortunately, such responses spring not from reason, but from emotion, ill-considered, non-falsifiable political philosophy, and a potentially earnest desire to “do something.” The cop in me–always just below the surface–wants to tell those people to wake up and do what works. The educator in me realizes that providing an engaging opportunity to learn may be the only potentially effective way of changing minds and saving lives.
Sadly, where establishing actual school security, methods and means that will not only deter attacks, but end them when and where they begin, most educators will never accept anything more effective than virtue signaling unless it is forced on them by their employers: the public.
Contemporary education is almost entirely fad based. Educrats, seeking to pad their resumes for future superintendent openings, spend billions on programs and “systems” that promise to transform education. They change such programs as often as most people change underwear. In truth, people learn in precisely the same ways they did in the time of Socrates. Educational fads change, but human nature doesn’t.
One current fad consists of blaming school shootings on bullying, which has spawned legions of hucksters making mountains of cash selling their solutions to eager educrats. Mary Grabar at PJ Media reports on one such “expert,” Jodee Blanco, who shortly after the Sandy Hook attack, appeared on CBS prompting her trademarked anti-bullying program “It’s NOT Just Joking Around!” For between $4000 and $5500, Blanco, whose self-advertised expertise is that she was once the victim of bullying–or maybe “shunning”–provides a 90-minute program:
I relive painful episodes from my past in front of the students so that they can witness firsthand what I endured at the hands of my peers. … My primary message to students is three fold: bullying is not just joking around, it damages you for life; bullying just isn’t the mean things you do, it’s all the nice things you never do; and if you’re being bullied or shunned, there’s nothing wrong with you. … In addition to the re-enactment of my school days, during which that tri-teared [sic] message is continually reinforced, I also give students specific advice on how to handle what I call “elite tormentors,” the mean members of the cool crowd. I conclude the presentation with an empathy exercise for students that brings my anti-bullying message home on a visceral and deeply personal level.
Grabar’s article should be read in its entirety. It may also be worthwhile to read my education article on bullying titled “To Anti-Bully Or Not To Anti-Bully,” which is equally skeptical of the value of programs such as Blanco’s.
There are some 50 million kids in America’s public schools. While it’s possible a small percentage of school shooters have been, at one time or another, bullied, their numbers are vanishingly small. How do we explain the 99.999999+% of kids that might have been, under some definition “bullied,” who do not shoot up their schools? Bullying can never be entirely eliminated, but competent adult supervision that demands personal responsibility from all students, and delivers sure, rapid consequences for anti-social and illegal behavior, will come close, and at no additional cost to taxpayers. It’s what school officials should be doing in the first place.
Tragically the Obama Administration set the wrong tone by working hard to make it impossible to discipline the worst juvenile criminals infesting many schools, in effect decrying bullying, while simultaneously enabling it. This was the case at Parkland, a district run by an Obama acolyte, which continues to have an all-encompassing “restorative justice” program that prevents the punishment or removal of the most dangerous adolescents. The Parkland shooter spent considerable time being “helped” by that program. Robert Runcie, the Parkland Superintendent, continued to double down on failure.
An essential question, the most important question, is what is any school prepared to do when all else fails and an armed attacker is about to begin shooting? For most American schools, the “run, lock doors and hide” model is their only answer.
There is nothing inherently wrong with running from a deadly threat, doing what one can to lock classroom doors, and trying to hide, but because schools are not designed for security–they can’t be–such measures all too often only slightly delay the inevitable. At Parkland, some of the wounded and the dead were hit when the shooter fired through classroom doors or windows. A shooter with the foresight to bring along a crowbar could easily, and within seconds, force open virtually any door or shatter any window.
Some suggestions for responding to armed school attackers have degenerated to farce, such as the Alabama middle school principal that advocated stockpiling canned food in classrooms to be issued to students, who would throw the canned fruit and vegetables at an armed maniac. One can only imagine the effectiveness of this tactic if the students functioning as little catapults are six or seven years old. Two Pennsylvania school districts are also innovators. One is issuing five gallon buckets of rocks–rather than canned veggies–handfuls of rocks to be distributed to kids to fend off armed attackers.
The other has bypassed the kids entirely and issued itty bitty wooden bats to teachers. I’m not kidding. Yes, they’ve gone batty.
Post-Parkland, other brilliant solutions have included metal detectors, transparent backpacks, and “bullet proof” backpacks. All of these methods, and more, are “feel safe, ” virtue signaling bandaids on potentially mortal wounds. The difference between feeling safe and being safe is always measured in the bodies of wounded and dead teachers and children.
Anti-liberty/gun educators and legislators are, by omission, dooming some number of students and teachers to serious injury or death in any school shooting. They are, for reasons of fear, political correctness, lack of knowledge, or victim/identity politics, condemning to death people who otherwise might live. By default they tacitly accept some unknowable level of injured and dead.
At the Parkland attack, a number of coaches were designated security guards. Unarmed, two hid like everyone else. They survived, but were eventually fired. Obviously, their employer expected them to die to vindicate progressive articles of faith. One tried to confront the attacker and was killed. He is lauded as a hero, which is surely slight compensation to his family. Thus do we see the consequences of purposefully denying good guys the means to stop killers.
Let’s examine the potential threat. How significant is the contemporary threat of school shootings in America?
A partial list of American mass and school shootings from 1996 until Parkland is available at Infoplease.com. However, one should not be fooled into thinking America is uniquely dangerous. The school shootings with by far the largest body counts have not occurred on American soil. Circa 2018, media accounts of any politically charged issue should be believed only after careful consideration. Much of what the media reports as “school violence” or “school shootings,” is anything but.
In August of 2018, even National Public Radio, a proudly progressive outlet, discovered the truth, as The Washington Examiner reports:
The U.S. Education Department released a study earlier this spring reporting that during the 2015-2016 school year, ‘240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.’ [skip]
NPR decided to call each one of the schools that the Department of Education had on file as experiencing a school-related shooting. They called for months. Repeatedly. Of the nearly 240 shooting related incidents reported to the federal government, NPR was able to confirm just eleven.
Most of the ‘shootings’ just didn’t happen. In 161 cases, NPR reports, representatives from schools or school districts said nothing happened or something had happened but it didn’t actually meet the government’s definition for a shooting. This standard isn’t super technical either. Any given educational professional with a college degree should be able to grasp the government definition, which is any discharge of a weapon at a school-sponsored event.
Many of those eleven were not what anyone would consider a mass shooting at a school. Some were merely someone firing a gun near a school, or on a playground after school hours.
Dr. John R. Lott debunked a media-hyped report claiming 31% of the world’s mass shootings have occurred in America. The Washington Examiner reports:
An authoritative fact check of a media-hyped report that 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings have occurred in the United States has found that just 1.43 of the killings happened in America.” [skip]
‘Attacks in the U.S. are not only less frequent than other countries, they are also much less deadly on average,’ said the Center’s President John R. Lott Jr. [skip]
The original claim came from a study by the University of Alabama’s Adam Lankford.
Lankford’s study reported that from 1966 to 2012, there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. We find that Lankford’s data represent a gross undercount of foreign attacks. Our list contains 1,448 attacks and at least 3,081 shooters outside the United States over just the last 15 years of the period that Lankford examined. We find at least fifteen times more mass public shooters than Lankford in less than a third the number of years,”’ wrote Lott.
And his report included endorsements. Paul Rubin, an economics professor at Emory University, said, ‘Because of faulty research, it is widely believed that a disproportionate share – 31 percent – of the world’s mass public shooters occurred in the United States. In fact, John Lott’s careful analysis of a very large data set – 437 – pages – shows that the proper number is about 2 percent, less than the U.S. share of world population. One can only hope that this important research will correct the record.’
And he included the backing of College of William & Mary Professor Carl Moody, who said, ‘The assertion that the U.S. is responsible for 31 percent of worldwide mass shooters is patently absurd.
Lott’s characteristically careful analysis represents the triumph of fact over political doctrine. Prof. Lankford has refused to comment on Lott’s analysis. Lott’s abstract and entire report are here.
Mark Twain said: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” What can be reasonably taken from accurate, non-politicized evidence is kids are–statistically–quite safe in schools. This is unsurprising. Schools generally take pains to ensure the safety of the children entrusted to them. They are, for the most part, continually and closely supervised by people who care not only about their intellectual growth, but their physical safety.
School attacks remain rare, however, most schools in America are using only passive, “feel good/feel safe” methods to give the appearance of safety. Such methods do nothing to deter shooters, and they do less than nothing to stop them when deterrence fails, as it must with appearance-seeking rather than substantive methods.
There is, for most schools, nothing to prevent or stop armed attacks.
There is an ancient Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.” We live in interesting times indeed. Domestic killers have always been with us as the residents of Sante Fe, Texas, Parkland, Florida and Newtown, Connecticut know as fact rather than remote possibility. The undeniable fact that, statistically speaking, school children may be as likely to be hit by a meteorite as shot in a school attack is surely of no comfort to the kids and teachers shot in school attacks, nor to their families.
Our times are more interesting by far because Islamic terrorists around the world would love to attack soft targets—such as schools—on American soil. Attacking schools is a very old tactic in their infernal bag of demonic tricks (go here for a fictionalized, but entirely plausible scenario). A novella of the same theme by William Forstchen is also very much worth your time.
Only a tiny fraction of a single percent of school children will ever be injured or killed by a tornado or fire while at school, yet we take reasonable precautions because we know that while rare, tornados and fires are always possible.
The same is true of school shootings, yet we don’t take every reasonable precaution we could and should take, and a growing number of consultants are making a very good living handing out less than optimum–and in some cases dangerous–advice.
We need security-conscious principals and teachers. We need schools designed with security in mind. We need effective plans, not only for tornadoes and fires, but for school attacks. Those plans should include designing school facilities to make things as difficult as possible for shooters, including attacking shooters when all else has failed and there is no alternative but passively dying.
However, our planning must recognize that attacking armed shooters empty handed will tend to produce only dead heroes and dead teachers and children.
Where we have failed, where we knowingly continue to fail, is in refusing to implement a policy that will not only deter school shooters, but will provide the only real and practical possibility of immediately stopping school shooters, potentially stopping them before anyone is hurt.
Why plan to require slight female teachers and school children to, unarmed, attack armed killers with classroom implements or canned goods when it is possible to ensure they never have to make such a desperate, doomed play for their very lives?
At the least, what I suggest would make it possible that no child would ever have to rush an armed killer with nothing more deadly than a ruler or can of peas in their shaking hand. It’s a policy that will cost schools little or nothing, and will actually enhance overall public safety, yet it is reflexively, and often violently, resisted.
In discussing potential research paper topics, arming teachers against attackers always comes up. My 16-year old students have no doubt: if a killer entered their school, they’d want their teachers armed. In that certainty, they are wiser than a great many supposedly educated adults.
I hope to see you here, gentle readers, next Tuesday, and for several Tuesdays that follow for the rest of this series. And as always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.