Saving kids from their own imaginations
Recently, Mary Blair Elementary School in Loveland, Colorado suspended a 7-year-old second grader for an act of violence. Colorado is the scene of the horrific 1999 Columbine school shootings and the shocking 2012 movie theater spree killings in Aurora. School districts have little patience for any student threatening or acting out in a violent manner at school. So what did this little boy do? While playing at recess he threw an imaginary grenade at an imaginary box that held something evil inside it, destroying it and thus, saving the world.
School officials acknowledge the boy had nothing in his hand and didn’t actually throw anything. But they say school policy prohibits any real or play fighting, and bars any real or play weapons. While there is no direct prohibition against imaginary weapons, district officials say schools can enhance their prohibitions.
What in the name of all that is holy?
I bit my tongue when a 6 year old was suspended for pointing a finger at a classmate and saying, “Pow!” After all, that is a threatening gesture.
And police in Washington DC recently arrested a 10 year old boy who brought a toy gun to school. The boy showed the gun to classmates but didn’t aim it at anyone. It was a typical toy gun with the orange cap at the end denoting a fake weapon. Still, taking a fake gun to school can cause panic. It could also cause someone with a real weapon to use theirs. Officials are preparing to expel the boy.
Both of those cases could be worked out in a way that spares the children being kicked out of school. But I’m not talking about those cases.
How the hell does a 7-year-old boy get suspended for throwing an imaginary grenade in an effort to save the world? This bothers me because it was mere play. He didn’t lob the pretend grenade at any student. What if the child was savvy enough to say he was lobbing pretend water balloons at a clown or he was tossing sacks of food from the back of a U.N. truck to starving refugees? Okay, I’m being absurd, but this kid was suspended just for what he was imagining.
It bothers me because my then-7 year old grandson Kawika got in trouble and was suspended from recesses because on a recess he and a friend were pretending they were robots. Kawika was playing the “good robot” and the other boy was playing an evil one. They battled using imaginary rays from their hands. Kawika said, “Now, I will kill you,” and a teacher heard it and that was it.
Unfortunately, when these kids are busted for these offenses, they don’t understand it. The 7 year old in Loveland is bewildered as to why he’s in trouble just as Kawika was. The 7 year old couldn’t even pronounce his punishment in a TV news report saying, “They said I was ‘dispended’.” Kawika didn’t know why he had to sit out his recesses for trying to kill an evil killer robot.
I understand there have been awful school shootings. I see that schools are trying to be more proactive against violence, bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment. But how about we use our brains to distinguish genuine threats and problems from misunderstandings? Frequently what happens when you implement zero tolerance policies, you end up allowing zero discretion. Zero context. Zero common sense. And kids take away zero lessons from it.
Let’s hope that when the little 7 year old boy goes back to school after serving his suspension that school officials make sure he enters the school through an imaginary metal detector for everyone’s imaginary safety.