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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


A Failure to Get at a Problem's Roots

Hockey pucks for active shooters and other things I don't understand.

November 29, 2018

Like Oakland University Police Chief, Mark Gordon, I too have been damaged by hockey pucks.

Only one of us thinks it may be a good idea to arm faculty and students with hockey pucks as a “last resort” as defense against an active shooter.

As reported by The Detroit News, Gordon, a one-time youth hockey coach, was once hit in the head with a puck, and it “caused a fair amount of damage to me.” 

I was also hit in the head by a puck, just below my helmet senior year of high school during a Thanksgiving tournament. Apparently, I went down for a bit, but then got up and skated off and even played the rest of the game. While I’m told I went home and ate my Thanksgiving dinner, I have no memory of it, essentially waking up the next day during the next game and being surprised to find myself playing hockey[1].

So yes, hockey pucks, when struck with sticks at a high velocity can do damage. The puck that hit me – a shot deflected off of another player - was probably going in excess of 50 mph at impact. A couple of years ago in my adult beer league I had a four inch gash opened on my shin – even through the pads – from a shot that might’ve been going 60 mph.[2]

But hurling pucks at someone firing a gun seems, I don’t know, goofy? Spending $2500 on branded pucks to hand out to students seems, I don’t know, dumb?

It has me thinking that perhaps Gordon has worked some sort of bizarre faulty logic problem:

A: Canada has mass shootings once every two years versus one every seven days in the United States.

B: Canada has lots of hockey pucks.

Therefore: The presence of hockey pucks is a deterrent against mass shootings.

I mock, but I despair. Here we have a rather obvious example of a failure to address the root of a problem and because of this failure, a truly absurd policy and waste of money results.

As my friend and self-defense expert Susan Schorn said on Twitter, a book is a far better weapon against an active shooter than a hockey puck. 

Unfortunately, to make way for our bags full of hockey pucks, we’ll need to leave the books at home.

As strange as this connection may seem, this news reminded me of another recent story, this one from NPR about “The Benefit of Taking Loans Out of College.” The story highlights research which found that it may be beneficial for students to defy concerns about taking on debt because that debt may help them do better in school. 

Students who borrowed “attempted more courses,” “earned more credit,” and “had higher grade point averages.” These students at 2-year schools were also more likely to transfer to a 4-year program.

The reason, according to Lesley Turner, professor of economics at the University of Maryland? “This loan allowed students to work less.”

For me, what these two stories share in common is an almost willful failure to examine the roots of the underlying problem.

Students eschewing college loans is not the core problem of college completion, just as lack of hockey pucks isn’t at the root of mass shootings.

The research on loans itself isn’t the problem. In the current world of how students must pay for college, it’s good to know the best route for navigation, but the entire NPR article passes by without a single voice pointing out that an even better route would be to reduce the cost of college in such a way as to allow students to actually concentrate on school when they’re in school.

When students can concentrate on school, they do better at school. Go figure. Where is the voice in that story – like The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice – advocating for directly confronting the barriers with stand between students and success? 

I wish I better understood the roots of the difficulty to confront the roots of a problem. Maybe someone can explain this to me in the comments.

In a way, it reminds me of all the – to my mind counterproductive – effort put into trying to make education more “efficient,” particularly when it comes to my particular passion, how we teach writing.

Rather than confronting the most pressing and easily identifiable problem – too many instructors[3]trying to work with too many students – we’re given “efficiency” tools like algorithmic grading, tools which ignore everything we know about the effective teaching of writing and the necessity of human contact and one-to-one instruction. 

If you have 80 or 100 or 120 essays to grade it is difficult to teach well, one’s priorities get distorted, quality compromised. It is inevitable. This is the problem. Not curriculum. Not lack of technological gewgaws that help us work more efficiently.

And yet, this is a problem that is apparently impossible to confront. Instead, we create “solutions” which end up exacerbating the existing problem by making it less likely that we truly confront the existing problem at its roots.

Rather than figuring out which students should get loans and how much they should take out, I wan our energy put towards achieving free post-secondary education. I recognize the extreme hurdles faced to see such a program enacted but it at least addresses the problem at the roots.

I believe writing instructors should be allowed to do their work to the best of their abilities, which involves reducing how many students they’re expected to teach (in some cases by half or more), and giving them the support and security necessary to do the work.

We’re so far off from achieving this goal, it seems almost like an impossibility, but I’d rather keep advocating for the seemingly impossible than doing things that help perpetuate the unacceptable status quo.

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one.  



[1]Very badly, as it turns out. My coach had been wondering what was wrong with me.

[2]Professionals can strike pucks at over 100mph. Here’s a series of clips of Shea Weber, who has the hardest shot in the NHL, injuring people with his slapshot

[3]Nontenurable instructors for that matter.

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