By Teresa Mull
A bill pending in the Wisconsin Legislature would require “the state superintendent of public instruction to jointly develop a curriculum for a comprehensive firearm education course to be offered as an elective to high school pupils.” Unsurprisingly, the controversial legislation has its fair share of supporters and opponents.
“I do not see a need to offer this type of training as part of a student’s instructional day,” said Patricia F. Deklotz, the superintendent for the Kettle Moraine School District. “We have successfully offered gun safety training as part of our community education offerings for many, many years.”
State Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin), the bill’s lead sponsor, argued “trap shooting should be viewed like any other sport at school. Not only does it teach safety and responsibility but it is also fun, just like attending a baseball game,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
In North Carolina, 1st grade teachers were asked to read a book about a transgender boy to the school’s young, impressionable students—until parents were secretly tipped off by a teacher and organized a campaign against the book.
In California, parents, lawmakers, and school administrators are debating whether to delay school start times across the state.
Should public schools offer a firearms safety course? Should young children in public schools learn about gender-identity issues? Should school begin at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.? These controversial questions—and many more, too—are being considered by countless school districts across the country. Regardless of how you feel about these topics, one thing should be clear to everyone (even though it isn’t): None of these policies should be under consideration, because if parents were given the freedom to choose where to send their children to school, all these questions, as well as many other concerns, would be resolved through free-market decision-making.
“Hunter Safety” was a required week-long course all 2nd graders experienced at my private elementary school in rural Pennsylvania, where the first two days of deer season are school holidays. I grew up in a family that values the Second Amendment and regularly uses firearms, and although I don’t hunt, my parents appreciated the lessons I learned as a young child about gun safety and being safe in the woods.
However, not every child needs such instruction, and many parents would rather their kid spend more time in school learning other topic areas. Though I personally think it would be a valuable learning experience to take a gun safety course in high school, mandating a specific curriculum, whether the course is required or not, will always result in at least one disgruntled parent—and reasonably so.
Parents should be frustrated when school officials and lawmakers impose their beliefs on students, but the best thing to do is not to try to convince every parent to agree on a curriculum, which will never happen, or to allow the majority of parents or educators to impose their wills on groups in the minority, which is what usually occurs. Instead, parents should be empowered with the freedom to choose from a wide variety of educational options, thereby permitting them to customize their child’s learning experience.
Unfortunately, at present, such a view isn’t widespread amongst Wisconsin’s lawmakers. The state has only a few limited school choice programs—four voucher programs and a tax-credit scholarship program—and the Wisconsin State Journal reported, “A proposal to expand the number of private school vouchers in Wisconsin isn’t gaining traction with some Republican lawmakers who have previously backed expanding school choice.”
If Wisconsin were to follow the lead of states such as Arizona and Nevada, where universal education savings accounts are on their way to becoming reality, the need for a firearms safety course bill would disappear instantly, as would virtually all other mandates.
Lawmakers will never be able to create legislation that contents everyone, and they shouldn’t try. Instead, they should de-legislate as much as possible and trust people to make their own choices.
School choice is a win-win solution, and it works every time.
Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.