There’s an article this morning about a seven-year-old boy who was suspended for two days from school for chewing his breakfast pastry into the form of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang!” I understand the nation is terrified about gun violence right now, but this punishment seems horrendously excessive. This kid is going to have a school rap sheet about a gun-related suspension on his record. And he’s in the second grade.
This is obviously an extreme example of administrative stupidity, but I worry about schools and what they might be like when my son enters kindergarten in a couple of years. In addition to the hysteria about guns and lock-downs, there’s also the matter of standardized testing. I hear parents of older kids complain about the amount of assigned homework and the pressure to achieve good test scores. Their children are stressed out, scared and, in some cases, depressed. And these are grade school kids! Imagine what the emotional abyss of junior high school is going to be like for them. That, in my mind, is the appropriate time to be frightened, strung out and depressed.
When I was a kid, I hated school. It was hard for me to sit still in the classroom for hours on end and pay attention. Some of my teachers ridiculed me for this and it affected my self confidence for a long time. And this was in the golden days of the 1980s, when the biggest concern for a grade school boy was getting a bathroom pass at 2:50 so he could sit in the stall until the bell mercifully rang ten minutes later. Now, there is so much more to worry about at school – violence, testing, vaccinations, peer pressure, cyber-bullying, ADHD and zero tolerance for kids doing the kinds of stupid things kids will do. Like nibbling a pastry so it takes the shape of a gun.
Boys love guns, by the way. There is no getting around that. So far, we have successfully kept our three-year-old away from toy guns, but eventually he is going to discover one and want to try it out. That doesn’t mean he is a threat to anyone or will even want to own a real gun someday.
Anyway, I worry about what is happening in American schools, which weren’t so great when I was a child and have seemingly become even more miserable, humorless, demanding places. Especially for active boys who have a hard time sitting still and paying attention. I hope I’m wrong about all this and that my son will get to learn and grow in a supportive, encouraging, relatively safe place. But, like scores of parents and educators these days, I have my fears.