Nov 222016

It’s an ongoing truism that “kids today are different.” No doubt true, and surely this is in part due to changing educational methods. I was in high school from 1976 until 1980 in Missoula, Montana. I strongly suspect that the unique demonstration I once witnessed in a history class would not be performed today.

I wish I could remember the name of the Hellgate High School history instructor at the crux of this story. I remember virtually nothing of his class besides this particular demonstration. He was intelligent and sufficiently erudite to not arouse any negative memories in me. I think the classroom was on the second floor of the building and faced east.

His demonstration was a great example of the pedagogical power of props. In this case the prop was a percussion cap rifle. As I recall, he used this prop to illustrate the power and effectiveness of this particular device for those who owned them. The percussion cap rifle was a great advance technologically over the flint lock rifle. Perhaps it fit into an historical narrative about “taming the west.”

As I recall, the rifle he brought into class that day was quite long. I think it was a muzzle loader. The instructor stood in front of the class, explaining the various functions of the rifle, probably illustrating how to use the rod to ram a ball down the muzzle. He did not “load” the weapon with black powder, nor ram a ball down the muzzle. He did however, load a live percussion cap into the piece.

At this point my memory of the event becomes much more deeply ingrained. Knowingly and purposefully, he cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger, discharging the percussion cap! This was unexpected, profoundly startling, and really loud. In retrospect, I believe he had obtained permission from the administrators of the school to do this.

I remain curious if such a stunt was an artifact of the times, the late 70’s, or was a product of a firearm tolerant culture like that found in Montana, or both. I strongly suspect, but don’t know, that such a demonstration would be utterly inconceivable today, in any public school.

 Posted by on 11/22/2016 Growing Up In Montana Tagged with:

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