What We Don't Teach

Firearms Handling in School? On what we Do and Don’t Teach.

So I’ve heard from my grandparents and a lot of anecdotal “remember when” comments over the years, that “Back in the Day” it was perfectly common for Elementary and Secondary schools to include Basic firearms handling and marksmanship training as part of a usual educational curriculum. In some tellings its part of gym class, in some civic, and in some its what the boys were doing while the girls learned home Ec. But the stories are consistent, and according to at-least a few telling a disused basement room in the old part of my school was a fully functional, and rotting, rifle range.

How common was this? And how did it end? I can’t really find blogs or retrospectives on the phenomenon. From some stories it was still going in the 50s and in some the 60s but how did it end?

It appears to have been going on on both sides of the US/Canada border, and to have stopped around the same time.

Obviously such a program existing today would be a massive culture war contention, and a massive boon to the Pro-gun side (inducting new generations into the hobby) and the idea that such a program could have existed and ended pretty-much without being noted, strikes me as incomprehensible and unthinkable from the perspective of my 2000s era childhood.


Now I’m pro-gun in most every perspective, but even from a basic education perspective it strikes me as a loss. You have a piece of equipment that, no matter what you think of it, is the core of power and political relations (not to mention bushcraft) in the modern era and can have its functionality and safe use taught in a afternoon or two, and across 12 bloody years of “education” we can’t find 2 measly afternoons to teach students the basic of safe firearms handling?

Maybe this is my personality and memory of school: I spent close to a decade sneakily reading in the back of the class (this was how i read all of A Song of Ice and Fire years before HBO announced the series) and would have loved any opportunity to learn a hard skill. And part of me deeply regrets never taking a shop class in high-school (conflicted with AV tech).

To my mind the is emblematic of a bigger problem in education where we fail to teach what can be taught and pour endless resources into trying to teach what can’t be.

Intermediate First Aid, Camping Skills, Land Navigation (basic Topo map reading), radio use, Cold-Calling, Basic Watercraft operating, advanced Outlook skills, Using basic Excel, and yes firearms safety, can all be taught to even mediocre students within a predicable time span. Hell you might even save a few dozen lives per annum.

Civics, Shakespeare, History, and Meteorology (i still don’t know why this was in the grade school ciriculum, seriously name me the various types of cloud I dare you) simply are not something that the average student will commit to memory or take much any learning from, as evidenced by all the disappointing and disturbing polling results of the average American’s knowledge of...well...anything.

Simply put if they didn’t get anything from Merchant of Venice the first time don’t expect different results the subsequent 2 times through (i swear we read it 3 times 7th, 9th and 11th grade).

And yet we have a cornucopia of useful and almost universally relevant hard skills, which almost anyone can be taught, and yet nothing.


I was always deeply persuaded by the signalling theory of education and a big part of that was what I thought was Brian Caplan’s knockdown argument:

If you could attend Harvard or Yale, but never receive any acknowledgement you went would you?

The answer is that you can! most schools actually have explicit (and shockingly cheap) audit programs, but beyond that all the courses are listed online with dates and locations, there are no guards, and oh ya if you walk right up to the prof and say “i don’t go to this school I’m just sitting on this class because i want to learn from you”...well the prof might break down weeping and hug you.

This is rarely done outside the eccentric retiree population.

If you could receive a harvard diploma without ever attending Harvard, and without learning anything , would you want to?

The answer is of course you would, in fact countless people commit criminal fraud to fake Harvard and other tier one credentials every year.


A-lot of people found this argument un-compelling but I was actually reading a work at the time about a school in which the reverse was true: HPMOR.

Hogwarts is a school where you are sworn to secrecy and can never tell anyone (well any muggle) you attended, and yet every child in the western world younger than 11 dreamed they’d be summoned there because they wanted to learn the hard skills the institution taught.

Obviously that i was on a university when i was reading both and that I could still remember newly minted freshmen whimsically looking at the old buildings and saying “its just like Hogwarts” (in between their(our) drunken revelries) made this doubly disillusioning.


And yet I could draw up a list as long as my arm of courses and classes i do want to take for which i couldn’t care less whether I got any certificate. Like Hogwarts a course on 3d printing or metal working or stunt driving or beating a polygraph, teaches hard skills and I would consider a mere piece of paper worthless compared to actually learning the respective skills.

So why don’t our education systems actually teach those skills? And why does it seem like they used to?

Could it be there’s some perverse incentive structure where pure signalling chases out hard-skills?


Do you know anything about the old firearms education in schools? Did any of you have experience with it? Should it be brought back?

Do you think schools should teach harder and more measurable skills? Which ones would you include?