I woke up this morning to find two examples of absolute hysteria in the news. The first one involved a kindergartener in Maryland: the little boy brought a toy cap gun to school, in violation of the school’s “anti-gun” policy. When this was discovered, the principal proceeded to question the five-year old for two hours before his mother was notified. The kindergartener now faces a 10-day suspension, which will be part of his permanent record.
The other example, which took place two days before and two states over, involved another kindergartener. This little boy was found carrying a plastic Lego gun in his pocket. The consequences for possession of the toy on school grounds were a detention, a forced written apology, a possible suspension off the bus, and public humiliation in the form of a letter sent to every parent in the school, explaining the situation.
It’s news stories like this that make me mourn the loss of common sense and compassion.
Both children were kindergartners – five and six-year olds. If you’re at all familiar with children that young, you know that they are still very shaky on the concept of actions having consequences. They’re not evil. They’re not terrorists. They’re little kids who have new toys that they want to show their friends. They’re little kids who jam things in their pockets and then forget about them. They do not go around premeditating ways to stick it to the man and strike fear in the hearts of their peers by bringing Lego guns on the bus. But to witness the hysterical responses of school officials, you would think these were hardened criminals who are a clear danger to society.
I know there will be a portion of people reading this who think, “Remember Columbine? Remember Pearl? Remember Sandy Hook? Authority figures need to make sure they do everything possible to prevent tragedies like that from ever happening again, and so zero-tolerance rules like this are sensible and just”. I do, in fact, remember Columbine and Pearl. I was a middle school teacher when they both unfolded. I live an hour north of Sandy Hook, and held my kids in horror and sorrow when the first reports of the shootings came through. I remember, and I think these zero-tolerance rules are actually exacerbating the problem.
Look at the profile of a school shooter. He (and overwhelmingly it is a male who commits these crimes) is marked by a failure to socially integrate. He is unable to properly express his aggression and shows a marked deficit in compassion. Typically, school shootings are not the result of such a person “snapping”, but rather they are well thought out plans that have been in the works for some time.
Now look at the actions of hysterical school officials. Instead of taking the opportunity to model compassion and embracing a teachable moment about actions having consequences in an age-appropriate manner, these adults are engaging in a very public shaming of a small child. A letter sent home to every single parent in a school, detailing the presence of a Lego in a kindergartener’s pocket is not designed to ensure successful social integration for the “offender.” A two-hour interrogation of a five year old is never justified and cannot produce positive outcomes.
Draconian actions like this only serve to alienate children from adults, and set the stage for the creation of the exact sort of social isolation and aggression that we’re seeking to avoid.
But it’s so much easier, isn’t it? It’s so much easier to craft “one size fits all” zero-tolerance policies and avoid any nuance of thought. It’s easier to come down like a hammer of justice than to model compassion and mercy. Better to force an anti-gun agenda than to gently help the child understand that actions have consequences.
In light of these two events at the hands of school administrators, two small drops in a growing bucket of anti-child reactions to gun issues, it is all the more important for parents to remember that they, and not the educational system, are the primary educators of their children. Or, as Rob Reiner put it, “Something is wrong here, and it’s more than easy access to guns or violence on TV. It’s about a lack of love and attachment to loving people early in life.”