Believe it or not, Your Humble Observer managed to keep his nose pretty clean during his formative years, especially where school was concerned. Of course there was the occasional bump in the disciplinary road which put the kid wheels slightly out of alignment.
For instance: My buddy Ralph and I genuinely enjoyed a hardy game of cowboys and Indians, or as it's known in today's politically correct circles, bovine herding equestrians of evil European ancestry versus nature loving Native Americans. To that end, we'd often come to school packing toy heat. Cap pistols were the weapons of choice, and it really is too bad those things did not come with a silencer.
After one particularly competitive round during recess, we sort of lost all use of our eight-year-old brains and carried our action from outside into the school building. A couple of pops in the hallway alerted two teachers and the new basketball coach that Roy Rogers and Geronimo were taking a short cut.
The result of this episode of 1950ish lack of sanity was, in our opinion, pretty harsh. I caught eraser dusting duty for two weeks and lost the privilege of recess for the same period; Ralph cleaned every blackboard on the first floor for that same period. Both of us found our toy pistols (and any other paraphernalia of toy warfare) to be weaponries no grata at the Golden Triangle's learning center of excellence, Sibley School, for the remainder of the year. Two sets of parents also had a little hand in the life lesson, but that's another story.
Fast forward 57 years. In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, schools are understandably nervous where safety on the campus is concerned. But some seem to be taking the opportunity to make a statement on guns in ways that seem to stepping clearly across the line of reason.
In Alexandria, Virginia, a 10-year-old boy was arrested when police were told he brought a toy handgun to school and then showed it to others on a school bus on the way home. The youngster, a fifth-grader at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, is being charged as a juvenile with brandishing a weapon. An aside: It is only slightly ironic that the young lad is a student at a school named for a man who used and oversaw the use of more assault weaponry than one can imagine.
Further, the youth has been suspended from school and Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman indicated other action, including expulsion, is under consideration. Police officials said the boy did not point the toy gun at anyone or threaten to shoot, but he forgot to mention the gun was a fake.
Police learned of the incident this past Monday evening and the boy was arrested when authorities found the toy in his backpack when he arrived for school the next day. He was transported to juvenile detention center for booking and released to his parents.
In another incident, a six-year-old boy was suspended from a Maryland elementary school last month for configuring his hand into a gun gesture, aiming at a classmate and saying, "Pow." For that, he received a one-day suspension. In a show of lenience, officials at the school opted to not flog the child.
And, perhaps the most bizarre incident involved an eight-year-old student in the Jonesboro (Arkansas) school district. In a clear violation of the district's zero-tolerance policy against weapons, the youngster pointed a chicken finger at a teacher, saying, "Pow, pow, pow." He was suspended from school.
This last incident, which occurred about a year ago before the Sandy Hook shootings, we can understand, to a point. There's not much in the cafeteria more dangerous than a chicken finger, but it must be ingested for the real danger to be realized.
These incidents show us how far to the extreme some, both in and out of schools, have come in their sensitivity to the issue of firearms. It can be said that to err on the side of caution is not a bad thing, especially in a society which seems to have a penchant for violence. But, at least in the three aforementioned cases, the caution is replacing common sense.
We're dealing here with three youngsters whose brains are not developed to the extent that they understand completely everything that happens in their world. They are not fully developed adults, and to that we say, thank goodness. They are, perhaps, products of the environment in which they are attempting to become cranially functional.
We have to wonder if any of the three, and how many other thousands, may be found playing at great length in their "spare time" some of the most violent video games one can imagine. These are games which reward mass destruction and disregard for "the enemy" on a point system, and the challenge is to score as much as possible. That means taking no prisoners and showing no mercy, and this information is translating from the screen to a developing brain.
Sure schools, and police, are concerned. They should be, but not at the expense of creating a potentially traumatizing experience for a young, naïve student who most likely cannot form anything more than a mischievous intent.
There are experts in the fields of development who will tell us that any weapon whether it's real, imaginary or of the toy variety, is a dangerous thing. They inform us that early childhood is the place to begin training our future citizens that guns are a problem which must be addressed. If only those self-appointed protectors of our youth would add to the problem list violent video games, gangsta rap and Hollywood's penchant for killing everything that breathes in the name of "entertainment."
And while they're at it, maybe a little creative punishment can be developed for these little brain developers when they do something outside the lines of acceptability. First, through communication with parents and guardians, make the rules of what is and isn't allowed at school crystal clear. Then, if those rules are violated, don't knee-jerk a child into suspension or expulsion.
Maybe the toy gun kid would realize he made a slight mistake if school officials named him toilet monitor for a month. Our finger pointer might learn his lesson if he had dish washing duties in the cafeteria for a couple of weeks. That would certainly clean up the hand act. And, the chicken finger pointer could face the cruel and unusual punishment of having to eat chicken fingers at every meal for six weeks.
And, perhaps the cruelest punishment, all the offenders lose television, cell phone (if they have it) and computer privileges, at home and at school, for six weeks. Maybe their grades will improve. I'd recommend a well-intended spanking, but the same folks who want to punish the kids would toss us in jail for punishing the kids.
Kids look to adults for direction, and that's often not a good thing. A little reason goes a long way. In these cases, the punishment is a little harsh for the crime.