Monongalia County West Virginia, 1987:
So there I was, the new teacher in my first classroom, staring down a bunch of high school sophomores who were doing their level best to convince me that I was expecting too much from them. I wanted to assess the group’s writing skills so I asked for a bit of creative writing, nothing special, just a few hundred words. I offered the old chestnut: Write about what you know, but most of the kids were stuck, and I could feel the wheels spinning.
One of them asked, “Mr. Hirsh, can I write about hunting?”
Up until that moment, I did not know if I would mesh with this batch of kids. They looked at me suspiciously. I was an outsider in their community, but this most welcome question infused me with hope. “Absolutely!” I said with a smile. “I would find that very interesting.” I could tell by the sudden increase in eye contact that I was on to something that might motivate more than just one kid.
“Are you a hunter, Mr. Hirsh?”
“I sure am. I grew up on a farm with plenty of deer and varmints to zap.”
“So do you own a gun?”
I held my hand at waist level and gave an answer that would get me fired today. I actually said, “I have a stack of them about this high. How about you?”
Well, the flood gates opened. Everyone had something to add. By the end of the period I had heard many thoughtful comments about rites of passage, values, traditions, cautionary tales, and dreams for the future. The kids were thinking critically and treated each other’s comments with total respect. I was floored. I struck gold on my first day in the mine. These are the very themes that we cover in their much despised reading books.
Our conversation energized everyone in the room, and I learned an important lesson that day. The hold up in the writing process that morning was caused by anxiety over how I would judge my students’ values. I needed to show them that I was open to their culture.
Good teachers model the skills they teach by participating in assignments. I wrote my own hunting story and included it in the pile of drafts that the kids handed in. We always shared our writing in “read-around-sessions” and when my story came up, it was a big hit with the kids and they wanted to hear more of my family tales. They gave me an assignment: write a book about your crazy family that features all the hunting and shooting.
Well, kids… it took a few years to write it. I am handing in the assignment just a bit late. As an excuse at least let me offer that in addition to teaching writing on the middle and high school levels for twenty years, I also became distracted with teaching future teachers and a doctoral program at WVU.
The P.C. police had me writing paper after paper about social justice. There was always a crisis atmosphere and outrage seemed to simmer just beneath the surface of every thesis statement. We studied just about everyone’s social situation and feverishly wrote about the nobility of making drastic changes to the system. Though overwhelming and at times nauseating, I do “get it” but I always felt that in the final analysis I was being told to choose between my students and the Ivory Tower crowd.
I chose the kids.
This blog is my retort to the university and school board social engineers who sit on high and attempt to shape their pupils into a progressive, John Dewey friendly society. I will offer that the professorial class is often as miss-characterized as gun owners are. I can list many profs who have hunting licenses, concealed weapon carry permits and basements that are awash in ordinance. Unfortunately, their influence is muted by the rest.
I offer this blog and The Guns We Left Behind to show gun culture in a different light via stories, not lectures—I make allusions, not allegations and I will do my level best to keep this site from degenerating into a political and malice laden experience. This blog shall be a place where it is OK to fondly remember our guns and take strength from the lessons we learned afield.
I hope that there are other writers out there who have similar pent up stories to tell. Like me, they may have stifled their creativity in the face of what they see as near universal revulsion to guns. The Guns We Left Behind Blog is here to help. After all, the act of writing is often a form of healing.