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I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about thinking. What I mean, is that I spend a lot of my clock cycles thinking about the how, why, and all of thinking, and pondering questions about how we learn, why we learn the way we do, and is there a better way to do it. Way too often, we do things in a certain way because that’s always the way it’s been done. And that reminds me of the sad tale of Monkey No. 3.

The story goes something like this:

A group of researchers conducted an experiment on some lab monkeys. The experiment studied learned behaviors. First, they put an electrified “shock” plate in the center of the test subject room. Above the panel, they suspended a bunch of bananas. They introduced Monkey No. 1 into the room. He immediately spied the bananas, and moved to the center of the room to get one. The minute he hit the electrified shock panel, they shocked him. Every time he tried to go for a banana, they shocked him.

Next, they introduced an old friend of Monkey No. 1 into the room, the one known as Monkey No. 2. The second monkey immediately noticed the bunch of bananas and ran to the center of the room to get some. Monkey No. 1, sensing the impending disaster grabbed his friend, Monkey No. 2 to keep him away from the shocking experience. Monkey No. 2 was understandably confused. He kept trying to get at the bananas, but every time he got close, Monkey No. 1 went all Johnny Weissmuller on him, eventually getting to the point where No. 1 would beat the stuffing out of No. 2 if he even looked as if he was going for the bananas. So there they sat, two hungry monkeys and a bunch of bananas. Note that Monkey No. 2 had no idea that the plate below the bananas could shock him. It never did. His only negative stimuli was provided by Monkey No. 1.

In the third phase of the experiment, Monkey No. 1 was taken out of the room, and the new guy, Monkey No.3 was introduced into the scene. Now Monkey No. 3 looks up at the bananas, looks at Monkey No. 2 and says something like, “Dude! Bananas!” When he gets no positive reaction, he decides to play the part of a Monkey of Action, and go for the bananas. And that’s when Monkey No. 2 beats the every-lovin’ crap out of Monkey No. 3.

Realize that neither Monkeys number 2 and 3 EVER experienced the electrical shock. Yet Monkey No. 2 had learned, painfully, that screwing around with those bananas will get you hurt.

So what does this have to do with guns? Plenty. How you train at a range was decided long before you even took up a gun. And you’ll likely find if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you’ll get much the same reception. But allow me one more, quick detour first. Seth Godin is a well-known marketing guru, and the author of a bunch of successful marketing books.

Seth recently wrote about the state of education, and why we teach our kids the way we do. His point was that there was a time when kids worked long hours for little pay in factories. When activists proposed child labor laws, the robber barons were furious. Just like today, the CEOs argued that if you removed their source of cheap labor, their companies would not be able to compete.

Advocates argued that even though they’d lose their child labor, that schools would be set up just like factories, and churn out kids already pre-conditioned to factory work. They’d sit in neat, ordered rows, work at repetitive tasks, take instructions and orders from an authoritarian figure, and generally learn to expect boredom for long stretches of the day. Schools were never really intended to educate kids, so much as they were designed to indoctrinate them and prepare them for work in the factories of their futures.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. We’ve shipped most of those kinds of jobs overseas, and replaced a lot of the work with automation. Today’s jobs require people who can think and work independently, and demand imagination, intelligence, and critical thought. None of which you’ll learn in school. So throwing more money at schools, paying teachers more – none of that will solve the real problem: how to prepare our kids to work at jobs that don’t involve assembly lines.

We can extend this analogy further, to encompass gun training. It’s easy to imagine that, short of a little hand-eye coordination practice, shooting at a range is piss-poor training for actual, tactical situations. You’d think (or hope) that maybe this problem is unique to private citizens, but training for police and military is not much better,, and suffers from the same limitations.

Sure, there are places like Thunder Ranch and Gunsite. But they are the (expensive) exception to the rule. I don’t know what the stats are, but I’d be surprised if even as many as 20% of CHL holders have been through training that involved a “fun house,” moving while shooting, or shooting in simulated, real-world situations.

“We’ve always done it that way” is a powerful tool to stop progress in its tracks. And I’m thinking maybe it’s time for us to rethink that, and try fixing how training works (for both schools and ranges), rather than just becoming Monkey No. 3.

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  1. Not even the military does much real world training. it’s difficult and expensive, not to mention very personalized and complicated.

  2. Seth Godin may be a marketing guru, but apparently he has no idea about the history of education. The concept of sitting in a class and being lectured at by a teachers while performing repetitive tasks extends much further back into history than than the turn of 19th century. It can be traced all the way back to the Greeks. The oldest standing schoolhouse in the US can be traced to the latter part of the 17th Century. The idea that education is centered around the framework of factory conditions is ridiculous.

    • I agree. While proponents of child labor may have used such arguments to support their position, the structure of education as we see it today has been around a lot longer than child labor in factories.

    • Not exactly true. Compulsory education doesn’t go back very far at all. Performing repetitive tasks in school goes back further than that, of course, but the word “repetitive” took on a new meaning when kids were required to be at it for 35 hours a week.

      If you don’t think schools are based on the factory model, watch this. It may not be intended that way, but they are. Why are students “produced in batches”? It’s as if the most important thing about them is their “date of manufacture”.

    • All that is fine, but it is totally ridiculous to compare child factory labor in the 19th century with public school education. The work wasn’t just tedious and repetitive, it was incredibly dangerous. Children were often given the most hazardous tasks because they were smaller and nimbler.

      • Oh, come on. Those aren’t the aspects of factory labor to which he was comparing the schools. Schools resemble factories in that they are boring, repetitive, and demanding of a very high degree of conformity.

        There may be differences as well, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the suggestion that we might improve our pedagogy by moving still *further* away from the factory model.

        • Of course he was. He was just too stupid to realize it. You can’t acclimatize workers to 19th/20th century factory work by parking them in classrooms. The two environments only resemble each other if you know nothing about them.

          Is there a law or something that states that everything that escapes from the piehole of a “marketing guru” must be insipidly superficial?

  3. Marksmanship training, such as one might receive at a range, is important even though it isn’t “tactical” training. The military provides tactical training to a small number of soldiers because true tactical training is so goddam expensive it cannot be provided to all. Police departments train a small percentage of LEOS for the same reason. Ditto the Feds. And frankly, unless we’re going to storm Bin Laden’s compound, tactical training is something we might enjoy and benefit from, but not something we must have.

    Tactical training is a must-have if we need to go up against well-trained fighters, not the typical street thug or home invader. It might be great to spend a couple of grand on tactical training. It will improve gun-handling, perhaps safety too, and it would be a confidence-booster for sure. That’s all good, and well worth the cost if you ask me. But necessary? I’m thinking not.

  4. Only tactical training I recieved in the Army was during basic training. I would say for the six weeks they did quite well. I was not in the combat arms, but the training I got for my MOS was about as hands on as one could expect. I suspect that goes for everybody else with their assigned MOS.

  5. You could just plop down 10 or 15 bucks and shoot a local steel, uspsa, or IDPA style match. You can move and shoot to and around cover, draw, reload, and mix in whatever techniques you want. No, its not perfect, but it beats the “every-lovin’ crap” out of the square range.

  6. With their “no holsters”, “no brass scrounging,” “no prone”, “no standing”, “no moving” “no tactical reloads” and “no rapid fire” rules, gun clubs and their Range Nazis can go chew on my used earplugs. They’re like a driver training course where the cars are stuck in 1st gear and you don’t get to leave the parking lot.

    Even the so-called ‘practical’ matches at my local ranges are so constipated with arbitrary rules that I refuse to waste my time with them. The only time or reason I go to a range is to use their benches and measured 100-yard ranges. When I want to really shoot a gun or practice useful shooting techniques I have to head for the mountains.

    • The only idiotic rule of the range I currently go to is “no rapid fire”, which has zero rationale behind it. If you find a person who cannot keep their gun under control, then toss them out. Just because someone is shooting rapidly doesn’t mean that they’re out of control.

      I think part of it though is that the place I go to all the range masters are around 75, so they’re in the “I’m old so I’m going to be a dick to everyone” phase of life.

    • To understand why range rules are what they are, you need only hang around behind the line for a few hours and really observe what transpires. Once you get an eyeful of that you might stop going to commercial ranges altogether.

      We all have the right to practice in the manner we choose, but we don’t have the right to endanger others or expose them to liability in the process. Really, it comes down to this: If you are serious about shooting, you must have (or have access to) a shooting space of your own. Not just for this reason, but for all the reasons.

  7. New guy here. I’m enjoying the site. I grew up in an isolated rural area. I learned how to clear a firearm and muzzle control before I could multiply or divide. As a non combatant with 24 years in the military and a little time in places where things were rather discombobulating I can say I have seen some of the best and some of the worst weapons handling on the face of the planet. I do not shoot issued weapons. I have observed. I find paper and popup ranges boring. I also know many of our current crop of Warriors have survived running gun fights with not much more than pop ups and paper training. Get to know your pistol, but if you want adrenalin, movement and noise shoot quail, grouse or pheasant. Of course if you do not own or know someone with suitable land and dogs it’s probably just as cheap to go to one of those fancy tactical shooting courses. I remember a senior officer with significant combat experience complaining about the lack of instinctive shooting in urban terrain. I took him to a skeet range. He acted like it was Christmas. Skeet or clays, try it. You might like it. It develops a different set of skills.

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