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A Rant

You know, I'm getting a little fed up. How hysterical can this country become, how ignorant and knee-jerk? I'm thinking particularly of school administrators.

Today I read in the news that a 13 year-old, Texas boy was locked up in Juvenile Hall, because he wrote a horror story that involved the accidental shooting of his teacher. He wasn't reprimanded. He wasn't sent to detention or even counseled. He was sent to JAIL! FOR TEN DAYS!

In the light of the school shootings over the last couple of years, I can understand a high level of concern among educators and administrators. It makes sense that there is some nervousness among those charged, not only with educating our kids, but with keeping them safe. These are strange times, and they have been heralded with strange events.

But I look at the reactions following the tragic events in Oregon, Arkansas, Colorado, and Georgia (among others), and I simply can't believe the foolishness perpetrated by school boards and administrators. . . logical, wise, compassionate adults.

But it passes the point of ridiculous.

Other cases

In Wilmington, North Carolina a high-schooler was suspended and then convicted of communicating threats because he typed "The End Is Near" on a school computer. Maybe, as he argued in his defense, he was making a joke that had nothing to do with school shootings, or perhaps he really was making a joke in very bad taste. But a threat? I think not. It was, regardless of the quality, a joke.

And if this youth was so troubled as to be considered a threat, does making him a criminal help him out? Does slapping him with a misdemeanor conviction protect anyone in the community? Or does it make him angry? And with him the other teens in the community, or anywhere else, got a dose of what they've decried for ages. .. the inequity and capriciousness of the "establishment." It seems to me that the effects of such foolish action are to rile the youth, and further anger the already moody kids.

These were hardly isolated cases. Cases have hit the news from areas as widespread as California, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and New York. Students all over the country have suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the disciplinarian's desk. All on a sudden, making a joke about blowing up the chemistry lab is grounds for suspension, or worse. Children, making childish threats, have suddenly found themselves facing law enforcement, instead of parents and teachers.

It's nuts. And it's scary. How far down can the kids be pushed? When does this become suppression of their rights? When does it begin to reshape their minds and stifle their creativity?

Back to the case . . .

The young man in the Texas case was completing an assignment for his class. He was not plotting the bloody assassination of his teacher. He recognized the terror in his story. That's why he submitted it as a "HORROR" story. Kids have written stuff like this forever. They do so, because they read the work of adults who have become famous writing about murder and mayhem. Think E.A. Poe. Think Stephen King. Hell, think Brothers Grimm!

The administrators involved said that perhaps the issue wouldn't have been escalated, except that the boy used the names of real people. Not that I believe that statement in the first place, but for Pete's sake! He's a 13 year-old kid, trying to write a story that would capture the imaginations of his audience. . . primarily, other 13 year-old kids. . . his friends and classmates. How better to get their attention than to use names they all knew? How better, for that matter, to exorcise horrific images from his mind than by putting them on paper and laughing about it?

Because that's what they do, you know. . . teenaged kids. They make jokes about the things that bother them. They bring their fears into the open, and then try to laugh at them. The evil in the world becomes the subject of gallows humor. Maybe laughing about it will make it a little easier to bear. Because they know, these teens, that they are basically powerless to do anything about it. It's the adults' world. The grown-ups rule things.

Some of us never outgrow that tendency to laugh at our fears. The responsibilities of adult society may make us keep the more morbid cracks to ourselves, but we try to laugh at the things we cannot change. It's been the fodder of comedians for ages. But I don't see anyone locking up adults for making jokes about "going postal".

It's going too far. If we let things continue apace, we will give rise to a nation of total paranoiacs. It's bad enough already. Parents are afraid, and in turn they are making their children afraid. What will that mean to their children's children? And they won't just be afraid of the small handful of truly evil people out there. They will be afraid of authority, and of society, because they are learning that you cannot speak freely, lest someone take your words at face value and have you arrested.

It's time to relax a little bit. It's time to get back to the reality that every black trench coat doesn't cover a psychotic killer. Time to remember that if you pinch your lover, she may sometimes say, "I'm gonna kill you!", and never mean one word of it.

And most of all, it's time to remember that kids are kids, and we need to let that be. Help them, and guide them. But don't crush them with our own fear. They have enough of their own already.

WPL 11/04/99