Thought crime in school

Here we go again, another fine example of a irrational zero-tolerance policy being applied by some brainless wonder who happens to be in charge of a school.

Executive summary (because, once again, this post qualifies for the tl;dr tag): Seven year-old boy draws a sketch of a stick figure holding a water gun. This drawing is judged to be in violation of the school’s zero-tolerance policy for guns, and the boy is suspended.
From the article:

McDevitt, of Belleplain, said she was told he was suspended because of the school’s zero-tolerance policy for guns.”Are they abusing the zero-tolerance law? I’m sure it’s a judgment call, but when does the law start?” McDevitt said Friday. “What I’m told is it’s the time we live in. Is it the time we live in when a little boy can’t draw a picture?”

To be honest, the drawing did depict the boy shooting a classmate, and the other parents freaked. Too bad nobody seemed to notice that in the sketch, both people were smiling, and of course nobody asked the artist and therefore didn’t realize it was a water gun. Now I’m no child developmental specialist, but I’ve seen plenty of drawings by children of this age. In the cases where a child does indeed wish to depict violence against someone, that someone isn’t drawn with a smile on their face, I can tell you that. If I were a child development specialist, I’d probably also relate that children drawing violent things aren’t necessarily violent creatures, it’s simply an outworking of internal tensions brought about due to the child feeling helpless and powerless in the world around him. Such tensions naturally vanish as the child ages and gains more and more responsibility and control over their lives.

But all this is beside the point. Where is the idea that a person has the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings? Over and over in our schools, we see that the lessons taught are “you are free to express your feelings, as long as those feelings are officially approved and deemed appropriate”. Noting that the person who decides what’s appropriate would be bested in a battle of wits against the average gray squirrel.

Where is the idea that artwork is something that should be considered and discussed, looking for the meaning behind it (a meaning which may differ significantly, or be much deeper, than is apparent at first glance)? I’m sure these high-falutin’ school administrators absolutely love dressing up, going to an art museum, and sipping their wine while trying to demonstrate their intellectual prowess in a discussion of Monet. Why then, were these specialists in the workings of a child’s mind, disinclined to discuss the drawing with the young artist? Monet or a young child’s scribbling, it shares the same source, so don’t give me any crap about this being “different”. I bet Monet drew a few stick figures when he was a toddler too, so what’s the difference? Oh, I know, the difference was that Monet was likely encouraged to draw more rather than being punished.

What, exactly, was the administration thinking? What exactly were they hoping to achieve? Does anybody of sound mind truly believe that the decision to suspend this child, if only for a day, was even remotely rational? If there was a problem with the drawing or the child, wouldn’t talking with the child be more productive (of course, we’re back to the above bit about discussing the drawing)?

So what does the school administration say? What’s their side of the story; how did they see their actions as being justified?

Dennis Township Superintendent George Papp declined to comment Friday.

How typical. I guess we’ll have to wait for the carefully-worded, lawyer-vetted press release to find out what mental gyrations and buzzword-filled rhetoric they have to offer for themselves. That is, if they even bother.

In truth, the administration wasn’t thinking at all. That’s the true point of these absurd “zero-tolerance” policies. Never mind that zero-tolerance policies applied to humans is wholly irrational, and never mind that it grows even more absurd when applied to human children. What they do accomplish is to allow school administrators to get by without needing to think. Which is good, because most are incompetent at that task. Zero-tolerance policies allow uncountable numbers of difficult decisions which all lie in gray areas to be quickly reduced to black and white.

I’m hoping my local readers aren’t doing what so many throughout the country are doing, saying “well, at least that kinda stuff doesn’t happen here”. A few years back, this story was essentially mirrored at the local public (Prince Edward) school. One highschooler gave another one of those kiddie “Cowboys ‘n Indians” cap guns for a gag birthday present. Possession of it was deemed to be in violation of the school’s zero-tolerance gun policy, despite the fact that it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for anything resembling a real weapon. Kid was suspended for a week or more.

A few years prior to that, there was another incident at another local school system (Cumberland) where a computer-savvy teenager found a security hole in the school’s computer network. Rather than using his newfound ability to change grades as leverage to make out with a cheerleader or two, he immediately and discreetly mentioned this problem to his computer science teacher. Who immediately hauled him into the principal’s office, who immediately suspended him from school for a week or so. To prove they were serious, they also refused to allow him to use or access any school computer for the rest of the year (obviously, dropping the talented kid from his computer classes). Does that sound rational to you? It doesn’t to me, although I have the benefit of the extra knowledge that this kid literally knew more about the computer network than his so-called teacher. Actually, that tidbit of extra information does show a rational basis in the decision….if you assume that the authority figures involved were dimwits who felt fearful and threatened when faced with a student who knew more than the teacher. Rather than using this to encourage the child to even greater knowlege, they tried to shut him down. Is there anyone who’d like to venture a guess as to the outcome if some kid like Mozart had his piano taken away simply because he played a song better than his teacher did? A real teacher would have been overcome with pride rather than fear.

Homeschooling. It’s just not for religious nuts anymore.


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