In the wake of the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Florida, we got an e-mail from our friend Win Straube, entrepreneur and proprietor of the Straube Center office complex in Pennington. Straube, a longtime advocate of online learning for people of all ages (www.straube.org), felt the Florida school shooting justified what you might call a “modest proposal” for action.
In Straube’s view, it’s time to consider a no-nonsense solution: Parents, he wrote, “don’t send your kids to school.”
Here’s his argument: “In the last 52 years at least 1,077 American lives were lost in school murders in the U.S.A. (beginning August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas). By now today’s American schools are battlegrounds in an ongoing theater of war.”
Acknowledging that many factors contribute to this violence, Straube believes his solution is both “radical and practical.” The fact is that “schools are being made into reversed jails, with the students and teachers locked inside, and the attackers outside, free to attack again. Never mind, that sitting still on a school chair for hours at a time is not a very learning-conducive environment anyway, nor very healthy.
“Nowadays kids start learning through the use of their iPhones and tablets far earlier than by ‘going to school.’ They do so by playing video games, searching for information, communicating with peers, parents, and far more.”
Straube proposes that learning “be switched to online learning in any location,” including iPhone, tablet, or laptop. “Students can be located in their homes, alone or with parents, or with friends in whatever convenient settings, at anytime, anywhere.”
Now is this the craziest idea you have heard in response to the latest mass murder in a public school?
Well, it is a little crazy, I do have to admit. As Straube himself concedes, this proposal “means the entire educational system would have to be redesigned and restructured.” Moreover, he says, every student would have to be supplied with the laptop, tablet, or other device to accommodate the educational materials. And WiFi or other Internet access would have to be provided for the areas in which students will be conducting their school work.
Even if, as Straube maintains, the cost of an all-online learning system is ultimately less than the continuing and escalating costs of maintaining a bricks-and-mortar system, there are still other downsides to the Straube proposal. For one there’s a certain camaraderie that comes from joining up with your peers in a common place for 180 days a year (give or take).
On top of all that, I suspect that adolescents and teenagers interacting in a physical place such as a school gain valuable experience in conflict resolution and anger management — social skills that the typical sick school shooter seems to have not mastered. In my mind online learning could be a valuable complement to bricks and mortar education, but not a substitute for it.
Having said all that, I have to add that I have absolutely no evidence that any of my beliefs stated above have any basis in fact. Who knows: Maybe a bunch of kids studying separately in their bedrooms at home end up having closer and more positive relations with their fellow students with whom they are linked by nothing more than the Internet. I don’t know of any studies.
That said, I still think Straube’s proposal is a little crazy. But is it the craziest idea you have ever heard in response to the Florida shootings? Of course not.
The craziest idea you have heard is the one suggested by some of our stalwart leaders, encouraged by the National Rifle Association: Arming the teachers so that a psychopath thinking about taking out a group of schoolchildren with his assault weapon will think twice. Of course the proponents of this crazy proposal argue that it wouldn’t be any old school marm or Mr. Chips who would be packing heat in the classroom. It would be teachers with an affinity for firearms — the gym teacher, say, who served in the military — and they would receive special training from professional instructors.
Even more than with the online learning proposal, this crazy proposal raises all sorts of practical problems.
The teacher gets in a scuffle with a student or a visitor to the school. The weapon suddenly gets involved. A confrontation with a student that previously would have led to the teacher calling for help, possibly summoning professional police, instead devolves into a shooting. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then a hammer is likely to be used.
It gets worse. A real shooter does enter the school, and the armed teacher confronts him. As one former FBI agent said in the post-Parkland media frenzy, trained officers who practice four times a year at a shooting range become 80 to 90 percent accurate at the range. In actual gun battles with criminals their accuracy falls to 25 percent or less. How well will the teachers do? And where do all those missed shots end up?
Then there’s the question relative firepower. A slew of online discussions highlight the superiority of the AR 15 to the Glock handgun that the sheriff’s deputy at Parkland had at his side. Was he really a coward? Or did he consider himself defenseless against superior firepower?
Finally, to borrow a thought line from the opponents of gun control, the presence of armed guards at the schools still won’t eliminate all psychopaths shooting up innocent bystanders. There have been killings in churches — why not arm the ministers? Remember the shootings in the movie theater, night club, and Las Vegas? Shouldn’t event organizers be armed?
I said before that I had no evidence to support my objections to make all learning online learning. But I won’t concede that same point on the question of arming teachers. In fact, I think there is pretty good evidence to back up the assertion that armed teachers will not lessen the chance of school shootings and may in fact increase the chance.
It turns out we already have an American institution where children gather every day, where they are protected by adults with firearms, and we have fairly decent statistics on how many get killed. That institution, of course, is the American home.
So how is this working out? According to the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one out of three homes with kids have guns. About 1.7 million kids live with unlocked, loaded guns. In 2014 more than 2,500 children (from newborns to 19-year-olds) died by gunshot.
But, someone might argue, a lot of those deaths were “just” accidental shootings. You can’t penalize good gun owners for the actions or inactions of careless gun owners. They have a point: People who die from accidental shooting were more than three times as likely to have had a firearm in their home than a control group that had no accidental shooting deaths.
But intentional deaths — homicides — caused by firearms still plague kids and teenagers. Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that in 2016 more than 1,875 kids and teenagers died in homicides carried out with guns. Adding in accidental shootings and the total rises to 3,155. Those totals for one year far surpass the total of school shootings in the past 52 years, as cited by Straube above.
I call gun violence a kitchen sink problem — one you should try to solve by throwing everything you have at it with the possible exception of the kitchen sink. I would urge lawmakers to introduce — or attempt to introduce — a ban on assault-style weapons. Even though there is little chance it will be introduced or passed, every ruling or vote against it can be recorded and played back in future elections. I would advocate for limitations on high capacity ammunition clips and “bump stock” add-ons, and for stronger background checks.
Closer to home make schools more secure with exterior door locks, video cameras, etc. Make sure local police are communicating with the schools (most already are). And, if you are a parent, let the parents of your kid’s playmates know that yours is a gun-free house. Ask other parents to do the same. If other parents can’t do the same, have your kids play at some other house. Given all that we know, that doesn’t sound too crazy.