An opinion column at USA Today caught my eye: law prof blogger Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds noting that American public schools have a demented "zero tolerance" approach to boy games:
At South Eastern Middle School in Fawn Grove, Pa., for example, 10-year-old Johnny Jones was suspended for using an imaginary bow and arrow. That's right - - not a real bow and arrow, but an imaginary bow and arrow. A female classmate saw this infraction, tattled to a teacher, and the principal gave Jones a one-day suspension for making a "threat" in class.It seems that even the vaguest gesture towards projectile weaponry causes public (state) school teachers and administrators to panic and threaten / punish / suspend children - nearly all boys - in the name of "zero tolerance", otherwise known as "the death of common sense and discretion".
The article was rather well timed, as only today I was buttonholed by a fellow engineer who had received an admonitory email from her son's teacher: during playtime he had made a "gun" hand shape with the traditional index finger and thumb, and pretended to fire it at his playmate's imaginary space ship. Apparently this caused the (female) teacher "serious concern" and she instructed my colleague to stop this kind of nihilistic behaviour in her son forthwith.
This young man is six years old. SIX YEARS OLD. If he wasn't indulging in this kind of play, I'd be worried. He's a perfectly pleasant, well behaved credit to his parents; and yet it seems that behaving like a regular boy without causing any harm or worry to other children makes him eligible for admonishment at best, and potential punishment if he does it again.
As Glenn Reynolds notes:
This is a serious PR problem for the American education establishment, but underlying the bad publicity is a serious substantive problem: When your kids attend schools like these, they are under the thumb of Kafkaesque bureaucrats who see no problem blotting your kid's permanent record for reasons of bureaucratic convenience or political correctness.I wish that his first assertion were true - it seems that this immensely stupid and blockheaded behaviour by school administrators is free of consequence. Since parents have to send their children to the nearest public school unless they can afford private education or have the time and ability to homeschool, what action can the parents take to even inconvenience the offending school?
At some point, voluntarily putting your kid in such a situation looks a bit like parental malpractice -- especially if your kid is a boy, since boys seem to do worse in today's nearly-all-female K-12 environment.
I can't believe that this oppressive environment is making it any less likely that boys will perpetrate violence at school. Rather, those who previously had a play outlet for their natural male aggression will now have it bottled up. It's like pushing down on a balloon - the air you displace has to pop up again somewhere else, and if you're holding down too much of the balloon then eventually it's going to pop. Unless you start lacing school food with tranquilizers, you're not going to reduce male aggression. Actually, forget I said that - perhaps I shouldn't give ideas to these idiots.
I suspect the real reason behind this is the (illusion) of control - these teachers and administrators see behaviour which jars with their sensibilities, and can indulge themselves in controlling and "suppressing" it without any consequence. The more they do this, the more bold and far-reaching their actions will be - and if a child finally snaps and commits a crime of violence at a public school, it will be used as a reason to extend their control.