Sunday, July 21, 2013

Curmie Wannabees: Punishing Heroes

To say that Curmie is behind in his writing is roughly akin to saying that NFL nose tackles tend to be rather large men. And there’s a backlog of Curmie contenders to get through. It will take a while to catch up, but let’s start with two variations on the same theme: a student reprimanded (or worse) for being a hero.

We look first to Florida (where else?), where, in late February, a 16-year-old student at Cypress Lake High School disarmed a 15-year-old football player who was pointing a loaded .22 caliber revolver at a teammate and threatening to kill him. The incident occurred on a school bus, apparently the aftermath of an argument during practice. (They practice football in February?) The names of most of the leading characters in this little drama haven’t been released because of their ages, so Curmie is going to refer to them as Perp (yes, he was later identified, but this keeps it simple), Hero, and Victim—you can follow that, right, Gentle Reader? Idiots #1 and #2 will make their entrance shortly.

Anyway, Perp is upset with Victim and pulls out a loaded handgun. Hero and a couple of his friends wrestle the gun away from Perp, apparently saving the life of Victim and quite possibly others. Who says so? Well, Victim, for one, and apparently other witnesses as well.

Jeffrey Nadel, the president of the National Youth Rights Association, gets this one right: “This student should be hailed as a life-saving hero.” Indeed, anyone with a lick of sense is praising this young man.

So, what was the school’s response, specifically that of Idiot #1 (that would be Principal Tracey Perkins)? Why, to suspend Hero, of course! You see, he “was involved in an incident where a weapon was present.” The school later changed the rationale (about the time, one suspects, when people started talking about how fucking stupid the idiots running that school are) to the fact that Hero was “uncooperative” with the investigation—under duress, without access to his mother or an attorney, in shock, raised not to be a ”snitch,” fearful of retaliation…—gee, I can’t understand why he might not be a nice, compliant little narc.

Even if Hero’s reluctance to cooperate, whatever his motivation, were to be a legitimate cause for suspension, the fact is that there’s that pesky document with… you know… photographs of it and stuff (left) that shows that all that was needed to suspend Hero was the fact that rather than allow a fellow student to be shot at point-blank range, he intervened. Well, that and having a principal who doesn’t have the brains to be a speed bump.

Let’s face it, Idiot #1, if you know he was there, you also know what he did, and if you have the brains God gave a turnip, you know that suspending Hero sends every possible variety of wrong message to the students in your charge. Yes, yes, I know. Under Florida law, you had the legal right to issue an “emergency suspension” without having to deal with all those messy due process issues. Idiot #2 (district mouthpiece Alberto Rodriguez) told us that: “Florida law allows the principal to suspend a student immediately pending a hearing.” But presumably even the assembled cretins in Tallahassee didn’t anticipate that you’d suspend a kid for stopping the potential for gun violence. The fact that you can do something colossally moronic doesn’t mean that you should.

Principal Perkins, I think it’s a safe bet to call you an early front-runner for the Curmie Award. I truly do hope you win, because for someone to beat you, they’d have to invent a whole new kind of stupid, and I really don’t want to see that.

It saddens me to note, however, that Florida doesn’t have a monopoly on this particular kind of insanity. There are idiots running schools in Canada, too: in Calgary, to be precise.

This time, the incident took place in a classroom in May, and the weapon of choice was a knife instead of a gun. Otherwise, I suspect that Stevie Nicks would call the story “hauntingly familiar.”

Briar MacLean (right), age 13, heard the “flick” of a knife (and that means it wasn’t exactly a Boy Scout knife, if you catch my drift) and heard someone say that a bully indeed had a knife. The teacher was on the other side of the room. So he stepped in, pushing the bully away. The situation didn’t escalate… until young Briar was summoned to the principal’s office and not allowed to leave. The police were called in; his locker was searched; his mother was called.

The mother, Leah O’Donnell, was rightfully puzzled at why her son was in trouble for doing what everyone in the world other than a school administrator would recognize as the obviously right thing. The school does not “condone heroics,” she was told. She asked the logical next question: “I asked: ‘In the time it would have taken him to go get a teacher, could that kid’s throat have been slit?’ She [the vice-principal] said yes, but that’s beside the point. That we ‘don’t condone heroics in this school.’”

What is most terrifying about this incident is not that a 13-year-old kid would carry a flick-knife to school and apparently be prepared to use it; it is not even that another boy should be reprimanded for doing the right thing. No, it is that that vice-principal has no freaking idea how stupid she and her boss look.

Sure, if Hero in Florida or Briar in Calgary hadn’t intervened, there might have been a couple of dead bodies, but rules are rules. And this is where, yet again (as here, here, and here), Curmie invokes the wisdom of Confucius, who always advised against rules and in favor of a wise arbiter.

Now, it is only fair to grant that there is a certain amount of consequentialism at play here: important elements of these stories would be very different had Hero been shot or Briar stabbed. But in a very real sense, nothing would have changed. Demonstrating the courage to stand up for those in danger ought to be regarded as a virtue worthy of considerable praise. It is not by accident that Briar MacLean’s story is linked to a “related” story by the editors at the National Post to the tale of Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, the middle-aged woman who talked down the heavily armed killers of that British soldier on the streets of London a few days earlier.

This is obviously not an appeal for more weapons or more laws or more enforcement. This is, rather, a straightforward statement of fact: heroes are real and we need more of them. Not vigilantes, not rulebook-toting nanny-staters, not legalistic regulation-parsers. Heroes. We also need fewer stupid people in charge.

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