Hats off to Kentucky schools

On May 9, 2001, at Oldsmar Elementary School near Tampa, Fla., a fifth-grade student was handcuffed, taken into police custody and suspended from school for drawing pictures of weapons.

It was the same punishment if he had brought a real gun to school.

March 24, 2001, a third grader in West Monroe, La., was suspended for three days for drawing a picture of a soldier holding a knife in a fort with rifles and handguns.

These disciplinary actions are the result of a "zero-tolerance" policy many schools have installed as a way to curb school shootings.

When a kid brings a weapon to school to commit a crime, this is a criminal act, and they should be punished.

If a kid brings a gun or a knife to school for self-defense, the kids may have committed a crime, but the school is not doing its job.

But in the name of "violence prevention," should all weapons and imitations thereof be barred from schools?

Contrast the "zero tolerance" policy in some U.S. schools with Finland, where upon receiving a Ph.D. the graduate is presented with a sword, along with a diploma.

"The tradition comes from the crusade period transition rituals practiced in several European orders of knights," According to anthropologist Juha Pentakainen of Helsinki University.

The symbolism of giving someone a sword upon graduation is that they have gained the maturity to be able to own a potentially lethal weapon, and know how to use it properly.

Some opposed to weapons may counter that one does not normally receive a Ph.D. until their late 20s, which is a very different matter than much younger kids having weapons in school.

Some will even argue that weapons have no place in schools with younger students; and maybe even insist that all weapons should be banned.

First of all, you cannot ban all weapons because a weapon is any potentially lethal tool. Most likely there are a dozen objects within 10 feet of you that could be used as weapons.

Schools already are filled with pencils, pens and scissors that could be used with lethal intent. A world without weapons is impossibility. As with the example of Finland, the issue for a society should be how to help citizens gain the maturity to be able to use weapons safely.

Receiving a weapon is a measure of trust in one's maturity. Considering the weapons in schools debate and its relation to maturity, an interesting question arises: Could learning to use a weapon be a path to maturity? In Kentucky, the answer to that question is resoundingly affirmative.

This spring the Kentucky Departments of Education and Fish and Wildlife Resources implemented the archery education program "On Target for Life" in 22 middle schools.

Following a 12-hour National Archery Association archery-training program, teachers presented a two-week course in Olympic-style target archery in PE classes.

The course includes archery history, safety, technique, equipment, mental concentration and self-improvement, with actual archery instruction on a special range constructed in the gymnasium. The Archery Manufacturers Organization donated money and equipment for the program, which has a total cost of $134,000. Several sportsmen's clubs also chipped in to help programs get underway.

More than 3,000 students went through this spring's two-week curriculum, and, according to the teachers, the students were enthusiastic about learning archery and better behaved on days when archery was taught. They also reported the program seemed to appeal to many students who normally don't like PE or may not be typically athletic.

Original plans called for offering "On Target for Life" in 120 state schools in three years, according to Roy Grimes, deputy commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Resources,.

Following this spring's pilot program, the demand has been so strong state officials now expect to have more than 100 schools enrolled in the program by the end of the year. The goal is to reach 50,000 to 75,000 students per year.

To encourage students to continue, Kentucky plans to organize a state archery competition for the spring that will attract up to 1000 students, Grimes said.

The ultimate goal of the program is to make target archery a high school sport and increase opportunities for more students to learn about it. Currently, archery is not a Kentucky High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sport.

In a survey of students who went through "On Target for Life" in the Woodford County Middle Schools, 73 percent of the students reported almost never having shot a bow before the class and 78 percent did not want a bow. On exit, 97 percent said they enjoyed the class, 60 percent said they wanted to become target archers and 33 percent said they wanted to become bowhunters.

Hunters should take note of this. You may not be able to arrange to get school classes to go out into the field to hunt, but as Kentucky's program shows, you can familiarize kids, schools and teachers with a hunters' weapons, which in turn makes hunters seem less mysterious and threatening to non-hunters.

There were no accidents or injuries in this spring's archery program in the Kentucky schools. This may sound incredible to anti-weapons types, but the U.S. Product Safety Commission Information Clearing House reports that in 1998 archery was the safest of all sports.

Following the glowing results in Kentucky, 26 other states have inquired about how they might start an in-school archery program.

As a sidebar, in South Korea, more than 3 million school children study archery every year. A "zero tolerance" program for weapons in Korean schools would be a joke, and yet Korea does not have a problem with school violence. Weapons are something to respect, not fear.

Right now, with fears about terrorism and school violence, weapons possession is a very hot and touchy subject in the United States.

The "On Target for Life" archery program in Kentucky suggests than instead of adopting a "zero tolerance" program as a way to curb violence, schools might be wiser to actively teach about weapons and their safe and sane use.

For more information about Kentucky's "On Target for Life" program, contact Roy Grimes at (800) 858-1549 or e-mail him at: roy.grimes@mail.state.ky.us.

James Swan is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting."

To purchase a copy visit his website.