Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
SPOTLIGHT: Error-ridden data fuels bad decisions, wastes money, and scares kids.
BIG PICTURE: In April, a US Department of Education report told the world there had been 235 school shootings in America during the 2015-2106 school year. In August, National Public Radio (NPR) dropped a bombshell. Its own independent investigation had confirmed only 11 such cases.
That’s quite a discrepancy. In the words of NPR radio host David Greene “mistakes happen, but this is – these are important mistakes.” Indeed.
America is home to 96,360 schools. The government’s erroneous number implied that 1 out of every 410 schools had experienced a school shooting. But if the correct tally is 11, only 1 school out of every 8,760 had such an experience.
In the words of NPR journalist Anya Kamenetz, these incidents are “by any measure, extremely rare.” Exactly. It’s important to notice that this tally isn’t about casualties. It’s about whether a firearm was discharged on school property, during a school-sponsored event, or while students were in transit to and from school – regardless of whether anyone got hurt.
By comparison, the insurance industry advises Americans that their odds of dying “from an injury in 2016 were 1 in 1,374” – six times more likely than a school was to experience a firearms discharge. Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society says the lifetime chance of developing a brain tumour is 1 in 143 for males, and 1 in 185 for females.
Rare though they are, school shootings attract enormous attention from the media, which spurs action by politicians and education officials. NPR tells us:
At least 53 new school safety laws were passed in states in 2018. Districts are spending millions of dollars to “harden” schools with new security measures and equipment. A blue-ribbon federal school safety commission led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is holding public events around the country…Children are spending class time on active-shooter drills and their parents are buying bulletproof backpacks. [links in the original]
It goes without saying that the millions being spent on all of the above are millions that won’t be available for other purposes.
TOP TAKEAWAY: Prudent decision making requires a sense of proportion, a big picture perspective.
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