by Beth Perry
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
My teenage son’s ambition is to become a professional film director. He loves to talk about films and devotes much of his free time to studying the work of his favorite directors. He has already written several original screenplays, and in fact, has plans to begin filming of his first amateur movie project very soon. Anyone that knows my son knows of the career path he wants to follow.
Recently someone at his school overheard my son talking about this upcoming film project with friends. This anonymous individual reported to the school office they had heard my son say he would soon begin shooting. My son’s friends were swiftly called to the principal’s office and questioned about the conversation. His friends explained that my son was talking, of course, about a movie. When my son learned they had been called in, he went to the principal and asked for an explanation. The principal told him that school policy requires the office to investigate any incident of a student using the words, “shoot” or “shooting”.
This scenario of speech policing (along with the encouragement of jump-to-conclusion eavesdropping) are extensions of Zero Tolerance polices currently implemented in schools across the nation. These policies again made news headlines this week, after David Duren-Sanner, an 18-year old Clarksville, Tennessee student was suspended and sent to alternative school. Officials at Duren-Sanner’s high school had carried out a random vehicle search and found a fishing knife wedged under a seat in the car he had driven to school. The car belonged to his father (a commercial fisherman), and Duren-Sanner himself did not know his father had left the knife in the vehicle. Now not only has this honor student been forced into alternative school, he may also be banned from attending his high school prom.
Overreactions on the part of school administrators should be the exception, not the rule. However, such overreactions have become a reoccurring problem in our schools over the last few years. There was the case of the six-year old Colorado child who was accused of sexually harassing a classmate after kissing her hand. There was the 7-year old Baltimore child suspended from school for allegedly chewing his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun.
The case of the 4-year old Bellmead, TX preschooler accused of sexually harassing a teacher’s aid for simply giving her a hug. The Hyannis 5-year old threatened with suspension because he constructed a gun out of Lego’s blocks at school (officials claimed the Lego gun was a threat). The Virginia Beach children that were suspended from their school after a neighbor called police to complain the kids were playing with toy Airsoft rifles in THEIR OWN YARD.
The list goes on and on.
My family has produced a lot of educators, and I am uncomfortable knocking what can and should be a noble profession. I also know schools need commonsense policies aimed to maintain peaceable environments. At the same time, I believe that in an atmosphere where educators are apt to misconstrue pupils’ actions and words in the most objectionable light, the stress level inevitably stunts children’s enthusiasm for learning and discourages independent thinking.
This atmosphere reminds me of an event from my own junior high school days. Our school had a well-stocked library. The librarian, Mrs. Lacey, kept the shelves filled with hundreds of books of a multitude of subjects and genres. There were contemporary works as well as the classic volumes. It was in this library that my friends and I were first turned on to the works of Ray Bradbury, William Faulkner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frank Herbert, Shirley Jackson, Harper Lee, John Steinbeck and so many other renowned and talented writers.
Then during one spring break, when students were home for an entire week, a group of personnel with the Superintendent’s office decided to use the time to deface our books. The group called it redaction, not defacement, but it still involved them poring through the library books and obscuring portions of text with heavy black marker. It was a meticulous procedure, carried out under the premise it would protect impressionable young minds from what certain offended school staffers claimed was inappropriate, suggestive and/or subversive content.
When spring break was over and students had returned to school, we found more than half our books had been targeted. The redactors had even taken liberty with the library’s two editions of the Holy Bible, by blacking out practically every word of the Song of Songs. And what books the censors hadn’t had time to get to, they simply removed from the school.
Mrs. Lacey was outraged, as was my English teacher, Mrs. Davis. Now while Mrs. Lacey lamented and wept openly, Mrs. Davis was just angry. She had been accustomed to suggesting books for her students to check out and read. While we were not tested on these, Mrs. Davis encouraged us to share our thoughts on the books with the class, and tell what we had taken away from our reading experience.
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Davis did not let this act of censorship stop her from suggesting books. She printed out a list of suggested reading titles and handed these out to us. These books, she said, were available at the county library; where, she added, the cowards at the superintendent’s office did not have the power to sashay in and deface books. She added that her greatest hope was that her children (we students) would never turn into the same kind of bleating sheep that worked in the Superintendent’s office.
Framers and supporters of Zero Tolerance tell us that these policies are put into place to protect students and ensure school staff will be spared from discomforting situations. But this reasoning is the same censors have historically invoked to excuse the destruction of books. And for many ears, it still sounds like bleating.
Beth Perry is a fiscally conservative Libertarian and a follower of Norse Traditionalism. She is known as a writer of children’s stories and as a contributor to Hubpages. Under her pen name, Anya Howard, she has authored several Romance novels and stories. Happily married and mother of four, Beth lives in the Smokey Mountains region of Tennessee where she has never made moonshine – though she has been known to dance under it. See: http://bethperry.hubpages.com/ http://anyahoward.com