A Lesson on Critical Thinking from the NRA

A Lesson on Critical Thinking from the NRA


The recent Newtown tragedy has the entire country on edge. With four mass shootings since July, “wow, that’s unbelievable” has quickly become “oh no, not again.” And when the spectrum of violence begins to include schoolchildren, inaction becomes unacceptable.

The National Rifle Association has become one of the first organizations to put forth a plan of action -- namely, to place armed security guards in every public school across the country. Its statement, released December 21st, is not without merit. The organization strongly condemns how successfully violence has been perpetuated through television and video games. 

But instead of suggesting ways to empower young people to filter out the “16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence” they experience through digital mediums, the NRA is proposing an increase in the steely instruments often behind such acts of violence. Writes NRA President Wayne LaPierre:

Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work — and by that I mean armed security.

To be sure, there is no empirical evidence to support or deny the notion that armed guards in schools will deter lunatics from performing mass (or small) acts of violence in our schools, but the proposal laid out by LaPierre and the NRA is representative of another element sorely missing from our schools: critical thinking skills.

As schools have failed to adequately prepare generations of students to think critically about the ever-connected, fast-changing world around us, it should come as no surprise that the proposed solutions to the most vexing issues of the day -- climate change, fiscal responsibility, and sadly, crazed gunmen in classrooms -- stem from 19th and 20th century mindsets.

In the spirit of critical thinking skills, there are no knee-jerk reactions here to why the NRA proposal is wrong -- just a few numbers to paint a clearer picture of the problem we face. The following numbers are based on 142 incidents of gun violence in primary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions in the U.S. between 1900-2012 :

  • A surprising 8% involve educators falling victim to their loved ones on school grounds
  • Nearly 11% have been perpetrated by police officers, parents, or teachers
  • Just a hair over 25% have been mass acts of violence. In all but two of the thirty-five cases, the perpetrator was a student. And in nearly every case, the perpetrator ended his or her own life.
  • Three incidents (Viriginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the Bath School disaster of 1927) comprise nearly a third of all fatalities in this period.
  • A whopping 56% of gun violence in schools has been student-on-student violence or suicide

What do these stats say about the NRA proposal? Not too much actually. There simply isn’t enough data to support or reject its effectiveness -- only an ideal shared by some 4.3 million members that the destructive nature of our schools’ most afflicted students will significantly be deterred by gun-wielding security guards.

The Guardian reports that the cost of implementing such a plan would cost anywhere between $5-7 billion. For the sake of argument, based on salaries from indeed.com that cost could be closer to $2-3 billion if you settle for the average “good guy with a gun” and a generous donation of weapons and/or training from the NRA. That’s roughly the equivalent of monies lost for struggling schools and disadvantaged or special needs students if we fall off the impending fiscal cliff.

When LaPierre and co. rightfully acknowledge that “there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children,” that seems like an awful lot of money to put towards a wait-and-see solution. If this humble technologist can set out with a Google Spreadsheet, Wikipedia, and several hours of fact-checking to form a “more perfect” view of gun violence in schools, it would seem that the most powerful lobbying organization in the country might be able to find a more pragmatic and effective solution.

Perhaps these funds could go to security systems, mental health facilities, or career and guidance counseling -- all much needed to address the underlying issues of violence in schools. Or why not be creative and allocate a few million dollars for an incubator to edtech startups whose services adhere to NRA family values that most Americans agree upon?

Or here’s a stocking stuffer: maybe the money could bring a little holiday cheer to the estimated 1M homeless students for whom this holiday season will be just another of survival.

Leonard Medlock is an associate editor at EdSurge, an entrepreneur, a graduate of Stanford's Learning, Design, and Technology program, a passionate advocate of teachers and a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan.

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