School Shootings, Fear, and Homeschooling

In the wake of the recent attempted school shooting in Georgia, I read about a parent considering homeschooling in order to protect her daughter from the risk of school shootings. Here is an excerpt:

As homeschoolers lament, “this is why we homeschool”, one mother at McNair Elementary, said the following, “Honestly, it makes my not want to sent my children to school. It makes me want to homeschool my daughter.” “The fact that someone can come in a school and have an armed weapon, and me not be able to get to her and hold her and comfort her because I don’t know what’s going on with her.” I feel that maybe in my care maybe she’s safer”.

I wasn’t at all surprised to read this. After all, after Sandy Hook I watched homeschoolers go out of their way to capitalize on the shooting. This image, for instance, circulated facebook:

And homeschool leader Kevin Swanson had this to say:

Public schools are dangerous to body and soul.  If parents won’t pull their children out for the godless content of the curriculum (that erodes all reverence and recognition of God), then maybe they will do it for their bodily protection.   Don’t forget, the Columbine shooters referred to “Natural Selection” often on their web entries, and wore the moniker on their T-shirts as they conducted the executions.

Prediction: The homeschooling movement will grow in Connecticut.  I was Executive Director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado during the Columbine shootings, and home education inquiries increased 50% during the six months following the shootings.

Not surprisingly, this all perfectly matches my experiences growing up. Homeschooled K-12 myself, I knew kids who attended public school until Columbine, when they were suddenly pulled out of school to be homeschooled. Columbine made schools seem a dangerous space, and a significant number of families began homeschooling as a direct result of that tragedy. From a June 1999 HSLDA article:

While politicians and pundits debate the cause of the recent shooting tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, parents have decided to take matters into their own hands by considering home schooling their children.

Phone call inquiries to various state home school associations throughout the country have jumped since the Columbine shootings on April 20.

Due to fear of a similar situation many students fear going back to the public schools. There is some consensus among home schooling advocates that the Columbine incident has caused an rise in interest of home education as an alternative to public education. Joe Adams co-director of the Christian Home Educators of Kentucky is expecting a 25% increase in attendance for this years state convention.

Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) have been swarmed with inquiries. Calls have increased fivefold, from about 60 a month to over 300. CHEC holds monthly workshops to explain home schooling laws, curriculums and philosophies to curious parents. Participation grew from 15 in February to 45 in May to 500 for the June session.

In other words, the idea of turning to homeschooling in order to avoid the risk of school shootings is very, very familiar to me. I saw it happen after Columbine, and I’m not surprised that it happened after Sandy Hook or that it would come up again after another attempted shooting. But from my vantage point today, it looks a bit different. See, I happen to think that statistics, well, matter.

Number of children killed in school shooting each year: ~10

Number of accidental child gun deaths each year: ~60

Number of children killed in auto accidents each year: ~2000

A child is 200 times more likely to be killed in an auto accident than in a school shooting—and I should point out that the numbers for auto accident deaths only include children under driving age, and therefore do not include deaths due to risky teen driving. Why, then, is there talk of homeschooling in the wake of school shootings but no talk of giving up the car, or at least of giving up extraneous driving like vacations, out of concern about the much, much greater risk of child auto death?

Part of the reason is likely that auto death is a known enemy while death from school shootings is an unknown enemy. It’s also probably similar to the way people view air travel with trepidation when auto travel is actually significantly more dangerous—namely, every major plane crash makes the national news while car accident deaths are consigned to local news and treated as normal rather than sensational. But while it is possible to understand where this imbalance of concern comes from, this doesn’t change the fact that the risk of dying from a school shooting while attending school is far, far safer than stepping into a car—something we do all the time and rarely give a second thought to.

A child is also 6 times more likely to suffer an accidental gun death than to die in a school shooting—and to be perfectly clear, the stat for accidental gun deaths is only for children 12 and under, meaning that if it were extended to age 18 the number might well be higher. And yet many of the same homeschoolers who will point to danger of school shootings as one of their many reasons for homeschooling also own guns. Sure, they may talk about safety locks and such, but that’s analogous to putting security guards or metal detectors in schools, not analogous to responding to school shootings by pulling children out of school altogether. There’s just a staggering lack of consistency here.

I could go on. My point is that while I understand the emotional reaction parents have to school shootings, when you look at the actual numbers a child is far safer going to school than he or she is getting in a car or having parents who are gun owners. We all take some amount of risk in our lives—if we didn’t, we’d all be hermits hiding out in isolated caves. Since we’re not all hiding out in caves, I see no reason not to complicate the narrative that has parents examining homeschooling out of fear of school shootings. The fact of the matter is that a child is actually safer from accidental death or gun violence during the hours spent in school than during the hours spent out of school.

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