It seems all too frequent these days that you pick up the newspaper or go to your favorite news blog site and you see where some very young child has been suspended from their school for having a toy gun. Or perhaps a child has been disciplined because they had a plastic knife that mom packed in their lunchbox so they could spread their peanut butter and jelly.
Of course the jist of these articles usually runs along the lines of “Oh, my God, is there any common sense in the world anymore?” We as a nation are understandably resistant to the notion that the youngest amongst us should be swept up in the current tide of the anti-violence backlash sweeping the nation due to the attention given to the numerous mass shootings that have taken place.
It seems to be an issue that even both sides of the political aisle can agree to, although from distinctively different perspectives. The conservatives tend to believe such reaction is a sign of government overreach and an obvious failure of our public school systems. And from the liberal side, well they don’t think any child should be held responsible or disciplined for any misdeed and would just as soon have no association with law enforcement.
National Review editor Rich Lowery made his feelings known in a recent column that appeared in The News-Sentinel where he wrote, “The nation’s elementary schools are overrun by small-minded and unreasonable people prone to hysterics, who can’t distinguish between make believe and reality. They are called school administrators.” Lowery cited several examples of what he believed was overreaction including a child making a gun out of Legos and a 5-year-old girl who threatened to “shoot classmates with her pink Hello Kitty gun that fires soapy bubbles.”
I certainly believe there are instances of overreach. However, very few of the critics who voice their sarcasms have any idea whatsoever of the demands that are placed on school administrations in order to provide safe learning environments. To make matters more complicated, very few understand the roadblocks that exist due to the federal legislation required by the No Child Left Behind Act.
We would like to live in a dream world where all little children are angels incapable of harming another or wreaking havoc in the classroom. But the “good old days’ are gone. And even the youngest amongst us are prone to be unfairly and negatively influenced by those who do not have their best interests at heart. That especially includes influences in the home.
Perhaps the 5-year-old girl who brought the Hello Kitty gun to school didn’t mean any harm. But then what about the 5-year-old boy who brought a pocket knife to school and attempted to slash his classmates? And when asked why he brought the knife to school, his response was, “Because I wanted to kill my teacher.”
Or how about the fourth-grader on his school bus who with a steak knife, held it to the neck of a classmate threatening, “I’m gonna cut your throat so I can watch the dust pour out”?
And what about the 5-year-old whose grandmother supplied him with a butcher knife measuring about a fourth of her grandson’s overall size that was found hidden in his book bag for the purpose of protecting himself against bullies.
And then there is the elementary student who with a look-alike pellet gun shot a female classmate in the leg and then told authorities upon their arrival, “I ain’t telling you nothing.” As it so happened the boy had passed the gun to a female friend before the police arrived who stated that she hid it for him because, “He’s my dude!”
You might say in response that what I’m talking about is like apples and oranges compared to the student in Lowery’s article who is reprimanded for simply playing with a paper gun in school. But then again we are talking about impressionable elementary students who in this modern culture are quickly frightened by the mere mention of a gun.
A student begins yelling “pow, pow” while pointing his finger like a gun. In the meantime other students react by yelling, “He’s got a gun,” and you can rest assured that other students will go home telling mommy that another student had a gun in class and those parents will register their anxieties with the principal and in turn demand that something be done.
Thus the principal has a responsibility not just to the student who wants to play gangster in the classroom but to the other students who cannot reasonably focus on their education because the national sense of paranoia has crept into their own lives.
What is fair and just? This is a question that school administrators must deal with that society in general has yet to come to terms with.
How are school administrators to provide such a secure educational environment when a growing consensus amongst the liberal elite is that a common sense of values has no place in an environment where cultural diversity is honored above security and safety?
And for a conservative like Lowery, it’s so easy for someone to judge from the outside looking in.