Saturday, December 28, 2013

Curmie Contenders: That Isn't a Weapon Edition (volume 2)


Curmie feels no need to reaffirm his commitment to safe schools and to reasonable gun control measures (background checks and bans on private ownership of assault weapons, for example). Still, what a lot of schools are doing with silly rules and idiotic “zero tolerance” policies is brain-meltingly stupid. We’ve already talked about this once this year, in a lengthy five-part post encapsulated here:
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…)
And now… four more.

Not a weapon.
We start in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where 7-year-old Park Elementary School student Josh Welch was suspended for chewing a pop-tart into the shape of a gun and waving it around. Well, sort of the shape of a gun: the boy’s father hired a lawyer, who describes the offending pastry thus: “The chewed cereal bar looked no more like a gun than the puzzle pieces of the states of Idaho, Oklahoma, or Florida. ... There is no evidence that any other student was frightened by the pastry.” School administrators responded by wondering what those states look like. OK, I made that part up, but I didn’t make up the part about the school’s refusal to remove the incident from Josh’s record.

Of course no other students were frightened: they’re capable of distinguishing between reality and imagination. This is the only good news to come out of this story. There are ways in which stupidity is its own punishment, and there’s plenty of it at play here. But there’s a troubling aspect to this business, and not simply that the NRA has given the kid a lifetime membership at a fundraiser for area Republican pols. That’s a publicity stunt, nothing more, and even National Review blogger Charles C.W. Cooke believes that the “NRA would have spent its time and money far more profitably had it conducted a dogged campaign to hound out of public service whomever thought it appropriate to punish a small child for making pastry shapes.” When Curmie starts citing NR mouthpieces with approbation, things are bad.

Here’s a logic question for you, Gentle Reader.
1). No rational person believes that a pop-tart, even one bitten into a shape that more or less resembles a gun, is a weapon.
2). Administrators at Park Elementary School think a gun-shaped pop-tart wielded by a 2nd-grader is a weapon.
3). Therefore…?
Not a weapon.
Next stop: Simpsonville, South Carolina, where Rhett Parham, an autistic 13-year-old, was suspended by Hillcrest Middle School for bringing a crude drawing of a bomb to school. Yes, a drawing. A cartoon, actually. And the kid is autistic. Wow.

Rhett had modeled his drawing on an old Nintendo 64 video game and showed it to some older students at school. One of them, naturally, ran squealing to the administration, who promptly over-reacted, just like it says to do in How to Be an Idiot.

Rhett’s mom responds completely appropriately: “I’m angry. I’m upset and I’m incredulous, honestly, that a child could come in and bring a drawing and that’s somehow perceived as a threat -- especially someone with special needs who really doesn’t filter information the same way that typical children do.”

Contrast that with the mewling of the district:
It is important and necessary to thoroughly investigate any threat to student safety, including a student’s intent. This is one of the most difficult judgments a school official must make. This investigation began when threatening comments were made, resulting in the responsible removal of the student from the school to ensure everyone’s safety while the incident and intent were assessed.

The school’s administration responded appropriately to the severity of this incident, investigated it fully, and acted in accord with applicable laws, policies and procedures. The school administration has met and will continue to meet with the parents to resolve the matter.
There is, by the way, no evidence of “threatening comments”; the “responsible removal” was anything but; there was never the slightest threat to anyone’s safety; it would be difficult to imagine a less “appropriate” response. Indeed, if anyone deserves a suspension, it’s the obnoxious little nark who started the ball rolling.

Not a weapon.
And so we move on… to Coventry, Rhode Island, where 12-year-old Joseph Lyssikatos was suspended from Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School for carrying a gun-shaped keychain, perhaps an inch and a half or two inches in length, that he’d won at an amusement park. Rules are rules, you see. Oy vey.

It’s difficult to argue with Joseph’s father, Keith Bonanno, when he says, “It was clearly a toy you would get in a bubble at a gumball machine. This is bordering on insanity over here,” except, perhaps to suggest that the border was a few miles back. We’re out of the suburbs and all the way into downtown Looneyville.

To aggravate the situation, school officials told his parents that they’re “lucky he didn’t get suspended for ten days, or, even worse, expelled.” The radio interviewer asks the obvious follow-up question, “Expelled for what?” And… guess what… “gun replica” and “zero tolerance” are part of the answer. The boy is a good student, taking advanced math, has no record of behavioral problems… all of which mean nothing, of course, because… Zero Tolerance.

Curmie is reminded of one of the most famous (not to be confused with “best”) episodes of the classic TV series “Star Trek.” Entitled “The Apple,” it depicts a society in which the natives (including a pre-“Starsky and Hutch” David Soul) wander around in somnambulant daze, intoning “we must feed Vaal,” referring to the ostensibly dragon-headed idol who simultaneously provides them with food and shelter on the one hand and controls everything about their lives on the other. It is, in other words, a relationship that is both symbiotic and pernicious. Substitute “zero tolerance” for “Vaal” and school administrators for the natives, and the parallel seems pretty accurate.

Not a weapon.
Finally (please, God, let it be “finally”), there’s a case in Arizona, where parents have pulled their 3rd-grade son out of Scottsdale Country Day School when he was threatened with expulsion for what the “headmaster” described as “highly disturbing” drawings—that’s them at left. Here, Gentle Reader, is when you wonder what the hell is so disturbing about them, and I say “I don’t know; my IQ is above room temperature. Sorry.”

The three drawings depict a ninja, a soldier, and a Star Wars character: possibilities for the 8-year-old’s Hallowe’en costume. Ah, but… they’re armed (!), and there’s a rule against that. Of course there is: it’s grounds for suspension to display “any behavior that is deemed threatening such as violent behavior, drawings depicting weapons, blood, or aggression…” The boy’s father muses, “I think we really send our children the wrong message when we show that, as adults, we're so afraid of our shadow that an innocent picture - that any 8-year-old might've drawn - is cause for this kind of concern.” To which Curmie responds: “yep.”

Meanwhile, headmaster Steve Prahcharov claims that he can’t guarantee the safety of the other kids if such a loathsome creature as this is allowed to roam the hallways. After all, mixed in with passages about saving the earth and protecting humanity are plans for escaping a killer zombie at school. One wonders which part so terrifies Prahcharov. Perhaps the real problem is that the kid pointed out the school’s lack of an effective zombie defense plan.

Seriously, there’s something very wrong in all these stories. I’m not going to try to guess at the motives of those involved—post-Newtown over-sensitivity to gun violence is insufficient to explain such inanity, but I’m not ready to come to the same conclusions as Curmie’s netpal Jack Marshall, over at Ethics Alarms:
this is a deliberate and relentless process of state indoctrination. The schools, teachers and administrators are determined to make future generations of Americans just as fearful and negatively disposed toward guns, and thus toward self-sufficiency and the Second Amendment, while pushing them to embrace complete dependence on a government that cannot be depended upon, and trust in a government that has proven progressively more untrustworthy.
I’m not sure Jack’s wrong, either, by the way, although I kind of suspect that it’s once again time to invoke Hanlon’s Razor.

What I can say is that we are well on our way to a potentially devastating “crying wolf” scenario. A drawing of a bomb isn’t a weapon. A 2”-long keychain “gun” isn’t a weapon. A breakfast pastry in the hands of a little boy, regardless of what shape it is, isn’t a weapon. Drawings of potential Hallowe’en costumes aren’t weapons. We’re not talking here about anything, anything, that could reasonably be construed as dangerous—not by a child, not from a distance, nothing. Someday, some kid is going to bring a real gun to school—not with any malice, necessarily—and when we hear about it, we’re all going to say, “what, again?” because we figure it’s another drawing… or foodstuff… or tiny toy. And someday, that real gun is going to hurt someone because, inured by episode after episode of unprovoked hysteria, no one will know what to do when there’s a real threat.

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