Thursday, April 19, 2007

Avoiding the Next School Massacre

What happens to make people shoot up a school classroom?

Eric at Classical Values asks why the Virginia Tech students, especially the adult males, didn't fight back.

There are several factors which intuition says probably contributed.

  • From the time kids are babies until the end of high school, they are told that fighting is what bad kids do, and not to do it.
  • Those with the urge to protect others before themselves are in Iraq and Afghanistan, not Southwest Virginia.
  • The cops are always saying not to fight back.
  • It's a gun free zone. He can't possibly have a gun.
  • No one told them to fight back, that they had offensive capability and could fight back.

That last point bears expansion. Have ever had an object, such as a ball, thrown at you when you weren't expecting it, even in a context where you should be? It takes a lot of concentration to deal with it.

Now imagine a college textbook flying at you. You can't catch it with a gun in your hand. A hail of textbooks, pens, cell phones, backpacks, and furniture would be impossible to deal with for an attacker. A group of two or three people picking up furniture and charging the attacker with it would be able to disable him without being killed. If he happened to need a body bag after that, well, better him than the rest.

That's how kids should be trained, from kindergarten, to react to someone who threatens them or attacks their teacher. Fight back, with whatever means you have available.

A school district in Texas tried training like that, but the media controversy shut them down.

Burleson Independent School District (BISD) hired Response Options, a Dallas-based company, to provide general school safety training, which included fight-back training. The latter included encouraging students to throw objects at armed intruders, knock them off balance, make as much noise as possible, lock onto an intruder’s limbs, and try to take intruders down.

Teachers, 650 freshmen, and some elementary school students in the 8,500-student district received the training.

But after a national media buzz, on October 20 the district sent students’ parents a letter stating “BISD does not, nor will we support teaching our students to attack an intruder.”

Instead, they're trained to be helpless targets.

Why should students live with a general background fear, an implicit picture of themselves as victims in waiting? The odds of an attack are very low, after all. For a number that may as well be 100% of students, a classroom attack will never happen. Telling them that if an attack occurs, they are not just allowed but called on to repel it will do more for them than all the counseling and empowerment sessions they could attend. It's real empowerment, not feel good happy talk.

A bit of math: there are 55,000,000 K-12 students enrolled in US schools. Assuming that number holds for 10 years, then each year there will be about 4.25 million different students, or about 93,000,000 students total. Supposing that there will be 930 students involved in school attacks in the next ten years, an outrageously high number, that's 1 in 100,000 (0.001%) or approximately zero.

Compared to the number of kids who will be involved in violent crime not part of a "school shooter" scenario, it's statistical noise.

So why not teach them to fight back? Does not fighting back increase their survival chances, even for the zero percent of them who will be in that situation? Logic says no: killers who come to school have come to leave no survivors. The kids will be killed if they do nothing.

With regard to the charge that we are trained to act with cowardice in the face of a VaTech scenario, the always insightful Mark Steyn writes:

I’d prefer to say that the default position is a terrible enervating passivity. Murderous misfit loners are mercifully rare. But this awful corrosive passivity is far more pervasive, and, unlike the psycho killer, is an existential threat to a functioning society.

The lessons from VaTech are few in number. But we do know that when the targets fought back and became adversaries, more people lived. When they sat nicely or played dead, more people died.

Take your pick.

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Anonymous said...

I've spent the past 1/2 hour reading your recent posts...
Thanks.. good stuff.. I feel energized..

Anonymous said...

It's a little breathtaking, seeing all these bloggers imply that the victims of the massacre were cowards. Sure, you don't come out and say it, but it's there. Why else would you be so condescending, asking "why didn't they fight?" as if that's what you would do when faced with a mad gunman. As if that's the natural reaction when a sudden mortal danger appears. As if it was their fault.

Those poor people probably froze, or ran away, if they had the chance to do that at all. That's what untrained people do when confronted with danger. Even if they had the time and presence of mind to calmly formulate a plan, I sincerely hope "throwing books at the heavily armed madman" would never be a part of it.

A group of two or three people picking up furniture and attacking him with it, what on Earth are you talking about? Do you think people had time to organise a defence? Do you think Cho hung around and waited patiently for some students to mount an attack on him?

For all the airs of logic and pure reason you affect, it's clear your conclusions are clouded by some deluded notions of heroism, a lack of understanding of human nature. You can talk about what "factors" were at play here, and how "the government" or "the media" were to blame for these deaths, but what you are really saying is that the dead did something wrong, and you would've known better.

Loren Heal said...


It seems like you wanted to read that, but perhaps I should have been more clear: we have been trained to react as those people did. Be nice, and you'll be treated well. Don't act threatening. Cooperate.

Cooperating with a school shooter means giving them what they want, which is a soft target.

Have you ever tried to dodge a textbook? You sound educated, as if you've had to carry them. Thrown, they have sharp corners and a randomized flight pattern. Even a person who practices can't defend against just one accurately thrown book.

If I'm in a room full of school desks and someone has a gun, I'm picking up a desk, rather than trying to get under it. Holding the desk, my next thought is to do something with it rather than waiting around.

I really can't see any other course of action, including playing dead.

But that's all because I know I'm allowed to defend myself.

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