Seven seniors at a high school at a La Quinta, California high school have been suspended for three to five days, causing some of them to miss graduation, because they participated in a role-playing game, organized on Facebook, after school during their own personal time. The school administrators found the game objectionable, which you will be able to understand. But nobody was hurt, and no laws were broken.
That is all we really need to know. That the seniors were disciplined by the school for an activity completely unrelated to school is a pure abuse of power. This is an outrageous extension of school and government authority into the private lives of the students involved. It should not matter what the game was…not to the school. The governments of La Quinta, California and the United States couldn’t outlaw the game, nor could they forbid citizens to play it, not could they punish citizens that did.
Now, because you may be curious, here’s a description of the game.
It is called “Beat the Jew.” It involved some participants playing the role of Nazis, who blindfolded and dropped off other students, playing “Jews,” who then had to find their way back to the starting point, along Highway 111, as the “Nazis” pursued them. Those who were captured were “incinerated” or “enslaved.” The game was promoted online, attracting about 40 students. The school claims that because the game was discussed on school grounds, the school has jurisdiction to punish participants under the part of its conduct code that forbids harassment or creating a hostile education environment and bullying,
“This is appalling to us,” a spokeswoman for the school district said. “We want our students to understand the horror of a title like this.”
I’m sure they do, and the place to teach them that is in class. The fact that school administrators don’t like their students’ choice of fantasy games, however, doesn’t give them authority to reach into the students’ private lives and force them into politically correct pastimes. The school claims that because “Beat the Jew” was discussed on school grounds, the school had jurisdiction to punish participants under the section of its conduct code that forbids harassment, creating a hostile education environment, and bullying.
Really? How does an outside school activity create a hostile education environment, except for the fact that it may antagonize school staff who believe that they should be able to pass judgment on what students do for fun? And who, exactly, was bullied and harassed? The voluntary participants who played the fleeing “Jews”? The absent real Jews, who didn’t know the game was going on? The school has no legitimate legal, ethical or educational basis for punishing the students.The game wasn’t harassment, and it wasn’t bullying. It was insensitively titled, that’s all. If the fleeing participants were called “escaped convicts” and the pursuers were called “the police,” would that have broken the school code? How about if the runners were called “Roadrunners” and the chasers were called “Coyotes”? The school district is keeping students from their graduation because it doesn’t approve of the name of the game!
If a school can suspend students for a voluntary role-playing game, it can suspend them for playing vicious, politically incorrect and racially insensitive videogames, of which there are many. It can suspend them for having sexist, racist, or homophobic rap on their MP3 players. It can suspend them for their jokes and tee-shirts, or for reading Mein Kampf, or maybe Ann Coulter. This steps so far outside a school’s—and a government’s— proper authority that it should be causing a fire drill at the A.C.L.U, which has so far been notably and shamefully silent.
I’m not going to defend the game, though at least it shows some historical awareness. Personally, I prefer “Capture the Flag” or Frisbee golf. The game….this must be emphasized...doesn’t matter. It is not the business of the school to approve it or condemn it, and certainly not to interfere with it. The conduct of the school in suspending the seven students is irresponsible, arrogant and, yes, bullying. The school administrators are the bullies here, using force to intimidate, harm and humiliate without authority or justification.
A school can teach students how to think, and what to think about, but it dare not dictate what to think. We shouldn’t trust teachers and administrators to do that. This episode illustrates exactly why we can’t trust them.
If my son played such a game, he would hear from me, but if his school tried to punish him for legal activity he engaged in after school hours, I would be waging war against that school, all the way to the State House and the courts. The parents of the seven suspended La Quinta students should do the same.
[Thanks to Eugene Volokh for publicizing this story.]