25 August 2014

Zero Tolerance or Zero Intelligence?

by Fran Rizer

I've often laughed at some of the "crimes" in Florida that Leigh writes about, but last week has made me as embarrassed by South Carolina as much as Florida should make Leigh and some others.
The Big Bang Theory characters– all above
average intelligence except Penny
It happened in Summerville, SC, a small town not too far from the coast.  I spent a wonderful summer there years ago as a drama consultant when their Talented and Gifted summer program produced a musical I'd written.  At that time, the people seemed friendly and though they weren't of The Big Bang Theory intelligence, they didn't seem to be idiots either.

Alex Stone
Imagine my surprise when the news plastered pictures of a sixteen-year-old Summerville student locally, regionally, and nationally.  The young man, Alex Stone, was assigned to write a few sentences about himself and a status as though he were posting on Facebook. In the status, Stone wrote a fictional story stating that he'd killed his neighbor's "pet dinosaur" with a gun.

As soon as the teacher saw the word, "gun," she reported it to school officials who called law enforcement to search Stone's locker and book bag.  No guns or weapons of any kind were located, but Stone was handcuffed and arrested for arguing that he meant the whole thing to be funny.  This was interpreted as "being disruptive." He was suspended for the rest of the week during the first few days of the school term.

Could this be the dinosaur Alex wrote about?
Having taught in an inner-city school where I once took a straight-edged razor from a ten-year-old, I'm pretty much in favor of zero tolerance, but I am also in favor of student creativity and a little common sense on the part of authorities.

Alex Stone's mother has hired a lawyer and states that the school didn't call her and tell her what was happening. If they had, she would have gone there and suggested they simply make Alex write a different paper for the assignment. In fact, the school didn't contact her at all.  She first learned about her son's difficulties that day from law enforcement after his arrest.
I'm not saying Pop Tarts are good for your health,
but should this be cause for suspension?

To me, this incident bumps the Pop Tart gun suspension from the throne as most absurd zero tolerance suspension.  If you've forgotten about that event, an eight-year-old was suspended in May, 2013, for chewing his Pop Tart into a gun shape. Thank heaven that one wasn't in South Carolina.

I have a major problem with the fact that the arrest and suspension are going into Alex Stone's permanent records and his photo has been shown all over news media.  In no report did I see the name or photo of the teacher who reacted to this paper as "a threat" because she saw the word 'gun.'  

Personally, if I were his teacher, I would have told Alex how creative and imaginative his assignment was, but cautioned him about the extremes to which some people take zero tolerance.  The only way I would have seen his assignment as "threatening" was if the he'd called me a dinosaur before writing the paper or if students were specifically given a list of "forbidden words" for writing prior to the assignment. (Just think about what could have been on that list.)

My teen-aged grandson and I discussed the numerous news reports about this incident. His response:  "Using a dinosaur as the victim made it obvious his paper was creative fiction." He paused, thought a minute, and then added, "If zero tolerance means the word 'gun' can't be included in anything in schools, they need to throw away the dictionaries and severely censor school computers and I-pads."

Once again, I'm left wondering how and why fiction sells so well when real life is sometimes far more absurd.

Until we meet again, take care of … you.

20 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

So in Summerville, you can’t even take the word ‘gun’ to school? I vote zero intelligence.

To me, the most ridiculous school arrest occurred a few years ago when a little 5- or 6-year-old boy kissed a girl. The girl’s mother insisted on sexual harassment prosecution including branding the child a sexual predator. I doubt things when that far, but imagine how messed up both children could turn out.

To answer your question, Fran, fiction is ofter easier to believe than real life. Who can believe adults could act this way?

Were any dinosaurs harmed in the making of this story?

Jan Grape said...

I thought the whole thing was beyond absurd when I heard abhis Fran. If the school is going to get that stupid about the word gun they will have to destroy ALL textbooks. Arrest the teachers for treason, oh I don't know, hang 'em high or something. Sounds like something they'd do in TX talk about ruining a child's creativity or even his good nature. Miracle if he doesn't hate teachers, cops, school forever. He may now walk in with a TrannusRex and fireball them all.

Jan Grape said...

I thought the whole thing was beyond absurd when I heard about this Fran. If the school is going to get that stupid about the word gun they will have to destroy ALL textbooks. Arrest the teachers for treason, oh I don't know, hang 'em high or something. Sounds like something they'd do in TX talk about ruining a child's creativity or even his good nature. Miracle if he doesn't hate teachers, cops, school forever. He may now walk in with a TrannusRex and fireball them all.

Janice law said...

I've always thought that one of the most basic requirements for doing anything in education was a big sense of humor.

Melodie Campbell said...

I learn/hear of the most interesting things on this blog! These types of extremes are baffling to me.
Love Leigh's comment re dinosaurs.

Fran Rizer said...

Thanks for your comments Leigh, Jan, Janice, and Melodie. I seldom share news in my blogs, but this was another of those situations that annoyed me beyond belief. I won't write it, but my mind immediately spun off into a story about how many events can stifle a young person's creativity and sense of humor.

Eve Fisher said...

Well, we just got back from a mini-vacation, and what's the news? Kids getting booted out of school for threatening to shoot a dinosaur. You can't make this stuff up.

People are NUTS. I remember when my husband exhibited one of his sculptures, a larger-than-life size diver, made of recycled lilac branches, and has what could be seen as a penis. (Unerect.) A woman saw it and wanted it taken down immediately! The gallery owner refused, and told us later she said, "If I had an axe, I'd Bobbitize it!" A few issues going on there...

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, that's hysterical. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. (And Jan's vision of a fire-breathing T-rex cracked me up.)

For years, the Disney Village (after several name changes, now called West Side, I believe) had Grecian and Romanesque statues scattered among the walks and trees. At some point ONE tourist complained that some had breasts and Disney execs yanked out the sculptures. I suspect most of those ended up in executive mansions in Windermere.

Elizabeth said...

So at that school, one couldn't even say the name of Tim Gunn?

The schools are doing some really stupid things these days. I saw a headline that a kid got in trouble at school for saying "God bless you" after someone sneezed. Me, I always say "Na zdrowie!"

Anonymous said...

When we moved to South Carolina (where we lived for 3 years), my son was in first grade. I was called to the principal's office one day because his teacher was livid with rage at his "bad attitude." She had asked kids in the class to name kinds of transportation in a discussion. My son had raised his hand and suggested "space shuttle" -- mind you this was in 1986 and he wanted to be an astronaut. The outlook for cultivating creativity has been bad for a while in certain classrooms around the country. And for that matter, in certain jobs.

Herschel Cozine said...

This is absurd. Doesn't this violate freedom of speech, a constitutional right? I am constantly amazed at the stupidity of some so=called educators who are responsible for the welfare and education of our children. God help us.

Herschel Cozine said...

I just realized I can't say "God" in school. My humble apologies to all the educators I offended.

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, Charlie Sheen better not be in SC or the state your husband's statue was the next time he gets a bit weird. They'd probably arrest him for saying, "Winner, winner," thinking he was saying, "Weiner, weiner."
Elizabeth, in answer to your question, I guess not.
Anonymous, the last year before I retired from teaching, the principal actually told me she'd prefer that I squelch some of the kids' creativity and teach more robotically. This was even though my students always excelled on standardized testing.
Your son's experience reminds me of my cousin's daughter Shannon when she was in elementary school. As a class activity, the students were each given a red Solo cup with a small ball in it. On the table were construction paper, a stapler, scissors, tape, and paper clips. "Now," the teacher said, "I want you to cover the ball." The other children began cutting and taping and stapling. Shannon just sat there. The teacher came over and scolded her for not working and told her time was almost up for her to cover the ball.
Shannon took the ball from her cup, placed it on the table, and turned the cup upside down over it. She then said, "There," but the teacher told her mother Shannon was "uncooperative."

Fran Rizer said...

Herschel, your comment went up just as I posted my last one. I think a lot of us broke that rule--especially before tests.

Dixon Hill said...

Ok ... whew! . . . took me a moment to catch my breath. Still chuckling over Herschel's apology comment -- not to mention everybody else's. LOL

Fran, you're a candle of common sense and intelligence, gleaming from within the dark idiocracy we're permitting public education to become. Thanks for the post!

--Dixon

Louis A. Willis said...

When will the schools hire teachers who exercise common sense?

I read a story in the local newspaper recently in which a teacher sent a girl in middle school to the principal’s office for saying “bless you” after another student in class sneezed.

I expect soon school boards that select the text books will reject all that have the words “gun,” “bless you,” and a few other word that the teachers haven’t yet discovered are threatening.

Fran Rizer said...

Dixon, thanks for the flattery. I love it!

Louis, it's easier to laugh about these things than the alternative, which would be for them to make me cry.

Rick said...

Great blog entry, Fran. You know how I felt about this one. I still have to laugh at my favorite comment that someone made in a response to one of the news agencies Facebook post about this:
"This needs to be taken seriously...if he goes around killing dinosaurs they'll go extinct!"

Stephen Ross said...

Nice, Fran!

Anonymous said...

Fran, I love the story about the cup and the ball. That girl was not only using her head, she was practical in the extreme. Engineer in the making, I would say! I sure wish we had more teachers like you were. Sigh.