Thursday, February 7, 2013

Curmie Contenders: That Isn't a Weapon Edition

Plato was a really smart man, but he banned poets (a.k.a. playwrights) from his utopian Republic because they represented as real that which was in fact untrue: that isn’t really Agamemnon or Antigone or Achilles up there, after all. Plato, in other words, couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of aesthetic distance. Now, I’ll forgive his not knowing a term that wasn’t going to be invented for another couple of millennia, but the concept is really basic: no deception is involved if both actor and spectator (or “reader,” in the terms of some postmodern theorists) tacitly agree that for a limited period of time and in conventionally prescribed ways, the actor will pretend to be someone he is not and the spectator will pretend to believe him. It can be both illuminating and fun, and the “falsehood,” such as it is, warrants less ethical soul-searching than taking your kids to see Santa Claus.

That said, today, apparently, we need to go over this material very slooooooooooowly: 1). a hand with the forefinger and thumb extended is not a weapon, even if you say “bang” or “pow”; 2). a piece of paper with a quarter of it ripped off is not a weapon; 3). a Hello Kitty product, even one labeled a “bubble gun,” is not a weapon, and talking about “shooting it” does not equal shooting it; 4). a collection of Lego blocks, however configured, is not a weapon; 5). imaginary grenades thrown at equally imaginary boxes aren't weapons, either. These statements are obvious to you, Gentle Reader. They are obvious to me. They are obvious to primary school students. Not so much to school administrators, however. (Deep sigh…)

Exhibit A: Rodney Lynch, age six, was suspended in December at Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, for allegedly finger-shooting a classmate (he says she “shot” him first, and it was she who said “pow”—seriously, who cares?). A couple more students were suspended by another Maryland School a couple weeks later for the same heinous infraction: being a kid threatening behavior.

Lynch supposedly “threatened to shoot another student.” If that were true, of course, disciplinary action would be appropriate. It isn’t, of course, except in the fevered imaginations of the likes of Principal Annette Folkes, as evidenced by the fact that the accusation disappeared along with the notation in young Rodney’s permanent record when the boy’s parents put a lawyer on the case.

The later case, in Trappe, appears to have involved a game of (gasp!) cops and robbers. The father of one of the boys describes the school’s obvious over-reaction as “easily the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard of.” Yeah, pretty much, except perhaps for the district’s whining about not being able to discuss the matter because of FERPA. Or because such a statement would show the world what an idiot Principal Marcia Sprankle is. One of the two.

Come to think of it, though, these cases may be among the least insane to be discussed here. We move on to Exhibit B, which in my humble opinion is even more outrageous. You see, Melody Valentin, a fifth-grader in South Philadelphia, got screamed at by an administrator who claimed she could be arrested and initiated a search in front of her classmates. Her crime against humanity? Having a single sheet of paper ripped into the rough outline of a gun, which she was in the process of throwing away when an obnoxious little narc a classmate reported her to The Man. I confess that a sheet of paper with one quadrant missing does not immediately call the word “weapon” to my mind, but then again, I have an IQ above the temperature in Duluth in January. Clearly, I have no future in school administration.

And on to Exhibit C: this time the miscreant was a 5-year-old kindergarten girl who suggested to her friend that they shoot each other with her Hello Kitty bubble gun, which is, natch, made of pink plastic. She was allegedly suspended by the brainless trust at Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania and ordered to undergo psychological evaluation, who described the incident as… get this… a “terrorist threat.” Somebody’s been hittin’ the funny Kool-Aid a little too hard.

What, really, is there to say in the face of such transcendent stupidity? Seriously, there are more brains in cracked jewel case than these folks are demonstrating. It is Stage 1 idiocy to care in the slightest whether little girls have or use bubble guns. Stage 2 manifests as censoring speech referring to actions which are a). entirely innocent b). still hypothetical and c). off school property. Stage 3, which ought to get you locked up for your own protection, consists of construing the actions of a kindergartener—any actions, any kindergartener—as even in the general vicinity of terroristic.

Alas, Gentle Reader, there’s an Exhibit D. Another kindergartner, this one a boy named Joseph Cardosa, attends Hyannis West Elementary School on Cape Cod. His crime against humanity? Making a gun out of Legos… at an after-school program. This being a first offense against the divinely inspired regulation that kids should under no circumstances be allowed to behave like kids, he was able to escape with a warning. A second crime of this earth-shaking magnitude will result in a two-week suspension for the program. After all, quoth the village idiot principal, the pseudo-gun was a “threat to other children and other children could have been scared.” No one apparently pointed out that “could have” is a pretty fuzzy term. And the fact is, of course, that the other five year olds knew perfectly well it wasn’t a real gun: they, unlike the adults of the case, seem to be able to distinguish reality from fantasy. (Note: this does not render the case of the little boy who shot himself with a real gun he thought was a toy any less tragic. But there’s a difference between a toy a child pretends to believe is real and an actual weapon that some idiot thinks needs to match her shoes, or some damned thing.)

When I started writing this piece, there were four examples of administrative lunacy. But I didn’t write fast enough… now there are five, and the cases are stacking up like cordwood. So: Exhibit E, and please, God, let me get this posted before there’s an F. So… 2nd-grader Alex Evans was suspended by Mary Blair Elementary School in Loveland, CO, for “[throwing a] pretend grenade at an imaginary box that had something evil inside.” This makes sense because Principal Valerie Lara-Black pretty clearly has an utterly imaginary right to be anywhere within cell phone range of a position of authority.

The school district rules are stupid enough, but individual schools can make add-ons provided they can come up with some restriction that makes no fucking sense at all. That’s what happened here, allowing local officials to outlaw not merely symbolic weaponry like “guns” made of single piece of torn paper, but also the completely invisible kind. Better not mess with this kid, though. He’s obviously got the whole invisibility cloak thing going on, and I’ve seen Star Wars, so I know how easy it is to allow the Force to be perverted to evil use.

There sort of is an Exhibit F, but this one is at least comprehensible. In the Bronx, PS 4 was placed into lockdown by police after a report that a student had brought a gun to school. It turned out to be a Nerf gun, but no one knew that—unlike in the other cases described here, where the imaginary grenade was known to be imaginary, the bubble gun to be a bubble gun, etc. Over-reaction? Probably. But at least an understandable one, especially given the fact that real guns can look fake as easily as fake ones look real.

What are real weapons? Well, the one that got left in a restroom by a newly-hired security guard in a Lapeer, MI charter school. The gun was reportedly unloaded… rendering it useless, of course, if the guard actually needed it as something other than a prop in a bad community theatre production of cops and robbers. There’s some question about whether the guns fired in the hallways in Cary-Grove (IL) High School are real: the report says they were starter’s pistols, but the argument was that students need to know what gunfire sounds like. Hint: not like a starter’s pistol. So the exercise was dangerous; we’re just not sure whether because actual firearms using actual blanks were used (here’s a listing of some of the deaths caused by using blanks) or whether it’s because students and teachers now erroneously think they know what guns sound like. In any case, these two episodes stand in sharp contrast to the obviously unthreatening behaviors that led to suspensions and warnings and similar consequences to schoolchildren who did literally nothing wrong.

Curmie voters, take note: some of these folks will be back at the end of December or the beginning of January.

No comments: