In January 2013, I realized I had used “Now this is the worst example of insane no-tolerance school conduct that there can ever be!” multiple times, and that it was time to make some close calls. I asked readers to rank the following real examples of child abuse by schools, in which children of various ages were punished cruelly and excessively for harmless conduct that violated a poorly envisioned no-tolerance rule. This was the list:
1. Biting pizza into the shape of a gun.
2. Pointing a finger in the shape of a gun and saying “Bang!”
3. Threatening to shoot a student with a bubble gun.
4. A deaf child who makes the obvious sign-language symbol for gun, to “say” his own name, because his first name is “Hunter”
5. Expelling a student and bringing charges of criminal assault for shooting another student with a spitball through a straw
6. Accidentally bringing a paring knife to school in a lunch box
7. Drawing a picture of your father holding a gun
8. Playing with a LEGO figure carrying a LEGO automatic weapon
9. Drawing a picture of a gun
10. Writing a poem about the Newtown shooting.
I received a lot of responses on the blog, more off-site. I never published the final results, however, which also takes into consideration my own positions. Here, from most defensible to most insane, is the current order, and why each entry landed where it did:
1. Expelling a student and bringing charges of criminal assault for shooting another student with a spitball through a straw.
This is still insane, of course, but at least the student actually did something justifying some form of discipline. In this case, the discipline is so wildly disproportionate to the “crime” that it amounts to cruelty.
2. Accidentally bringing a paring knife to school in a lunch box
The classic no-tolerance example: even though it was accepted that the breach of the no-weapons rule was accidental, the child was punished anyway. Since that episode, we have seen the worst possible example of its illogical extension, in the case last March where a student who stopped a classmate from cutting herself took away the razor blade, gave it to the teacher—and was suspended. This would be far down the list.
3. Pointing a finger in the shape of a gun and saying “Bang!”
At least this is an arguable threat. Is the case of the child punished for threatening to use Tolkien magic to make a classmate disappear more insane, or less? I’d say it’s pretty close.
4. Threatening to shoot a student with a bubble gun.
A text book “a gun is a gun and hence evil no matter what it shoots” case of anti-gun indoctrination. But it is at least a threat, though less threatening than vanishing by ring, on the theory that some kids may believe in magic, but I have yet to meet anyone terrified by bubbles.
5. Biting pizza into the shape of a gun.
The classic. (The later Virginia case involving a Pop Tart is essentially the same, but not as funny.) Once, this was #1o. How I long for those innocent days.
6. Playing with a LEGO figure carrying a LEGO automatic weapon
More indoctrination. A teeny, weeny fake plastic gun is still a gun.
7. Drawing a picture of your father holding a gun.
Now we’re in the anti-free speech, anti-expression, thought control section. Nothing tangible, not a gun or a toy gun, or a gun made of pizza. Just a picture. The horror.
8. Drawing a picture of a gun.
This is more insane than the insane instance above. The harmless picture in that case shows someone holding the gun, which conveys at least the potential of violence. A picture of a gun alone suggests no violence at all, unless you are deranged…like the teachers who suspend students for drawing pictures of guns.
9. Writing a poem about the Newtown shooting.
Again, an offense to free speech and thought. This is conceivably worse than last year’s Alex Stone case, who was arrested and suspended because he wrote a passage on his Facebook page, as part of an assignment, that described using a gun to kill a dinosaur, because the story involved in the Newton case was based on fact. Forgetting unpleasant history is more of a threat to civilization than banning violent fiction.
10. A deaf child who makes the obvious sign-language symbol for gun, to “say” his own name, because his first name is “Hunter”
“Because it is my name!” proclaims John Proctor in “The Crucible” when he refuses to save his life by signing a false confession. I cannot imagine anything more monstrous than telling a deaf toddler that his name is such an obscenity that he may not express it the only way he knows.
But will I now state that this is as bad as no-tolerance monstrosities can get? Oh, no—I’m not making that mistake again.
Please review the draft order, and if you want to substitute other no-tolerance outrages covered on Ethics Alarms, or one I haven’t covered, fire away.
Oops. Better not say it like that…