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A Pointed Reminder

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

“In schools,” the Washington Post headline warned, “a pointed finger or a toy gun can spell trouble.” The front-page feature detailed a far too extensive and growing list of zero tolerance, zero commonsense punishments meted out to children as young as five at various “educational” institutions.

A ten-year old boy in Alexandria, Virginia, showed kids on the bus his new toy gun, which sported a bright orange tip to let even the most dense person know its essential toyness. Police arrested him the next day.

His mother points out that her son did not threaten anyone. Or pretend to. Nevertheless, he has been “fingerprinted and photographed,” writes the Post. “He now has a probation officer, lawyers and another court date.”

In my Virginia county, Prince William, an eight-year-old boy contorted his hand and fingers into an apparently loaded pistol and through insidious manipulation of his mouth and lips may have imitated the sound of firing hot lead at a classmate, while said classmate was, in an evil orgy of violence, simultaneously pretending to be shooting arrows from an invisible bow.

The finger-slinger was suspended for “threatening to harm self or others.” He did neither, of course, but his offense is equivalent to having waved a loaded gun. (No word on the whereabouts of the silent-but-deadly pantomime archer.)

A five-year-old girl was interrogated by three school staff members, summarily found guilty of issuing a “terroristic threat,” and suspended for ten days for allegedly attempting to murder her friend and then commit suicide. She offered to unload her weapon all over her friend and herself. The weapon? A Hello Kitty gun, which fires bubbles.

The Post suggests the schools are jumpy after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. But this zero tolerance insanity didn’t begin last December.

My grandson was suspended from his public school more than a year ago. He was six and playfully shot his finger at several fellow students.

Educators, who long ago abandoned the distinction between play and reality, must have been shocked at the lack of fatalities.

Does the crusade against crime really require public institutions to reject, utterly, common sense?

Shouting “No!” . . . I’m Paul Jacob.

Unhappiness Is a Drawn Gun

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Dear Reader: This “BEST of Common Sense” comment originally aired on September 20, 2007. The growing use of zero-tolerance policies — especially having anything to do with guns — is the opposite of common sense. Mass insanity may be more popular these days, but I still prefer common sense. —PJ

There’s the real world, and there are representations of it.

I draw a picture of, say, a gun. That picture is of a gun; it is not itself an actual gun. It’s just, well, a doodle.

This being the case — that doodles differ from real threats — then why was a 13-year-old boy near Mesa, Arizona, suspended from school?

He drew a gun . . . on a piece of paper. He didn’t point it at anybody. He made no hit list. He didn’t say “Bang.” No one even got a paper cut.

But school officials treated it as a threat, lectured his poor father on the shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School, and suspended the lad.

The district spokesman insisted that the doodle was “absolutely considered a threat.” But somehow, knowing that this student was suspended, I’m not feeling any safer.

If our teachers and administrators can’t distinguish real threats from doodles — doodles most boys do, doodles I drew when I was a boy — then what are they teaching the kids? To overreact to everything? To not be able to distinguish small problems from big ones? To treat every symbol or representation as the real thing?

It’s elementary: The map is not the actual territory; the representation is not the thing represented.

You’d think, then, that teachers would be trying to impart (not erase) that notion from the minds of students.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Gateway Capitalism

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

You’ve heard of “gateway drugs.” What about “gateway capitalism”?

The mayor of Clayton, California, apparently believes that two little girls selling zucchinis and melons by the roadside is the start of something bad.

The city cracked down on Katie and Sabrina Lewis’s veggie stand. Mayor Gregg Manning defended the bust, saying that “They may start out with a little card-table and selling a couple of things, but then who is to say what else they have. Is all the produce made there, do they make it themselves? Are they going to have eggs and chickens for sale next?”

Heavens! Capitalism run amok! Streetside vendors are to be allowed only when city governments run the show, as in the growing movement to establish old-fashioned day-markets. You know, Saturday Markets and Sunday Markets and the like.

But veggie stands, like dreaded lemonade stands, are illegal in Clayton.

You can understand the concern, I guess: Traffic problems. This police operation started off on one complaint. But most neighbors defend the stand, saying that traffic was never a problem.

So now 11-year-old Katie has gotten political. She circulated a petition to reopen the stand, and has lots of signatures. Best of luck to Katie and Sabrina, but I am afraid that the lesson you’ll really be learning isn’t about capitalism at all. It’s about bureaucracy.

And an awful void of common sense.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

“Safe” Kids Are Fat Kids

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Even the most careful athlete sometimes pulls a muscle. Does that mean that vigorous and sometimes even risky exercise is more dangerous than being a cordoned and cosseted couch potato?

Many of the gendarmes who oversee America’s playgrounds seem to think so. I don’t know how real the so-called “epidemic” of obesity is. (Is the fat infectious?) But it wouldn’t surprise me if kids banned from playing one “dangerous” game after another tend to accumulate more flab than when they were rambunctiously running around like they always used to do.

Even playing tag is outlawed in some places. Along with cops and robbers, monkey bars, and sliding into third base. Playground mats laid down to break possible falls are the latest terror. The sun sometimes makes them hot, and barefooted kids can burn their feet.

Playground activists are in an uproar over this latest bogus crisis. When are the canopies going up?

Philip Howard, the author of The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America, says we’re teaching kids to be flabby in more ways than one. He notes that scrapes and bruises are one way “children learn their limits, and the need to take personal responsibility.”

Life is an inherently risky venture. You don’t learn to cope with those risks if you are never allowed to take even modest ones. And that’s dangerous.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.