There was a time when I blogged regularly about homeschooling, though I have not done so in a long time. A while back I started to blog about gun ownership. I engaged in each of these topics for similar reasons. I have a political and professional interest in homeschooling (as a science educator) and a complex culinario-political interested in guns (as a political progressive who likes to eat wild animal but does not like people shooting each other). But the reason I blogged about these issues was more narrowly defined. I wanted to see if it was possible to achieve dÃ©tente among people with dramatically different perspectives on a specific issue.
I was under the impression that most homeschoolers were Christians who did not want their children to be exposed to the real world because it is so Satanic and stuff, and especially did not want their children to be exposed to Evolution in science class. I knew there would be other homeschoolers out there with different reasons for homeschooling, but I figured they would be more or less in agreement with me about issues of curriculum, accountability, and so on
I thought that by drawing out homeschoolers into a conversation, and bringing in people interested in science education, we would have a conversation in eSpace that would otherwise never have happened in Meatspace1. And, it is absolutely true that this happened. There are people who come from that Christian homeschooling world that I still communicate with, and the communication is not as uneasy as one might guess. People who don’t know much about homeschooling learned a lot more than they thought they needed to know.
That bloggy experiment was also a dismal failure for two reasons. One is that I was very new to blogging and was utterly unaware of how to handle hostility, disputes, conflict, and what sometimes emerged as outright hatred. That was my fault. The other is that there is a community of homeschoolers that calls themselves the ‘Evolved Homeschoolers” because they teach evolution, and are generally not particularly religious (many are atheists) and they desperately want to distinguish themselves from the Christian Homeschoolers. One would think that these science-oriented individuals who happen to be homeshcoolers would be allies with someone like me, who wants to advance science education. But these folks are not allies to anyone. They homeschool because they hate schools and anyone who is in any way supportive of traditional schooling is seen as an enemy. They have a cultish siege mentality and charismatic leaders who are very angry people and whom no one within the movement questions. If it wasn’t for the fact that they live dispersed across the nation, I’d worry a great deal about a Waco Texas like end to them all.
(Two examples of homeschooling blog posts are: The Homeschooler Mind Set and The odd logic of home school jingoism. If you read through the comments you’ll notice some missing commenters, such as one known as “Doc.” Those comments were deleted because of violation of Scienceblogs.com or because threatening language was used.)
So that didn’t go well. But my foray into gun ownership went better, perhaps because I have more ambivalent feelings about firearms. Personally, I would have preferred it if guns were never invented. Personally, I would have no problems with strict ownership and possession laws that would make it very unlikely that anyone, upstanding citizen or criminal, would have a gun on them or near them at any moment in time. But, I’ve also come to accept the fact that in the United States, gun ownership is a big part of our culture. Assuming that most people are going to have the legal right to own any number of a large number of deadly weapons, there are things that can be done to stem what sometimes seems like insanity. Every day someone in the United States is shot by accident, an avoidable accident. (During hunting season this number goes up.) A certain number of killings or woundings occur because a gun owner insists on leaving a loaded firearm without a safety out on a nightstand or in a glove box so as to shoot the bad guy imagined to be poised to strike (note: this is not always a good idea). Perhaps the gun goes off when a pillow knocks it off the stand, perhaps the half asleep and possibly intoxicated gun owner shoots a 12 year old child who is out in the hall heading for the bathroom. My position on gun ownership is this: The community of gun owners, by and large, has not demonstrated that it can be trusted to posses such a dangerous thing without sensible, enforced, regulation. And there isn’t enough of that (the regulation, that is).
So here’s what I do. I write a simple blog post that lists a bunch of nasty stuff that has recently happened with guns. Perhaps a list of recent accidents, or perhaps a description of a recent school shooting. I don’t say much about; I just post the facts, more or less. I use tags (hidden clues used by search engines) like “gun control” and “gun ownership” and “firearms.”
There are people who patrol the Internet looking for anti-gun conversations, or who have an interest in guns so somehow gun related blog posts come across their radar screen. They show up (in small numbers, but they always so show up) and sometimes they are mad. They yell at me for calling for the banning of all guns. They spew NRA rhetoric about how guns don’t kill people, people kill people, etc. etc.
At that point I may note in a simple comment that I’ve not said anything about guns. Maybe a commenter or two chimes in. In a short time the gun-ownership supporting commenter figures out that he or she has (probably) miscalculated the situation. A conversation ensues. Sometimes the conversation is reasonable. A discovery is made: Most people really are not at one end of the spectrum or the other, at those distant poles, in the debate over gun ownership. There are areas of agreement. There are things people didn’t know that they now know. Gun control advocates learn that being pro-gun does not mean right wing, or anti-safety. Pro gun people learn to be more sensitive about teenage suicide and that a piece of string and a loaded firearm really are not the same kind of tool in the hands of a depressed 14 year old. Gun control advocates learn that the number of people who actually die when they shoot each other or themselves by accident is a tiny fraction of the total overall number of fatal gun incidents, and gun advocates learn that many “anti-gun” people mainly want gun owners to lock the things up when they are not using them. Gun control advocates learn that when a conceal-carry law is passed, the Wild Wild West does not ensue. Pro-gun people learn that when a conceal-carry law is passed, the number of gun-toting heroes that jump in and stop crimes does not change either.
We do not reach perfect agreement, but we make measurable and meaningful progress. And that is what we are … well, that is what we are shooting for.
(Most of my current blogging on guns is a The X Blog. Examples of “just the facts” posts that lead to interesting discussions include: Fun with Guns, Interesting gun-related facts, and Seven Year Old Jaymee Stewart Had Died.
1“Meatspace” is a term for “real life” as opposed to the virtual society of social networking and the internet.