The Right Opinion

No Way to End Violence in Schools

By Linda Chavez · Jan. 4, 2013

The shooting of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn., just before Christmas has reignited the debate about guns and violence in America. But the problem with trying to tackle a complex issue in reaction to a horrific event is that too often we end up making symbolic gestures – and sometimes those gestures end up doing as much harm as good. A prime example is the recent suspension of a six-year-old boy from a public school in Silver Spring, Md. His offense? He pointed his index finger at another child and said, “Pow.”

The school claims that the boy was actually threatening to shoot the other child. Maryland schools have a zero-tolerance policy that treats any offense that can be deemed violent as cause for suspension. Maryland is simply following a nationwide trend in which children, even very young children, can be punished with suspension for what are essentially harmless acts.

In its defense, the school claims that an assistant principal spoke with the boy earlier in the school year about “the inappropriateness of using objects to make shooting gestures.” Really? You have to wonder if this person has ever spent 15 minutes around a group of young boys.

In the early 1970s, when my first son was about three or four years old, I remember deciding that I would limit his exposure to toys that I thought would encourage aggression. No guns, G.I. Joes or similar toys could be found among his playthings. Instead, I bought him wood blocks, Legos, plastic animal farms and the like, hoping to increase his creativity and discourage any aggressive tendencies.

I soon discovered that his favorite building activity was to create tall towers with his blocks in order to knock them down, scattering pieces far and wide. As for his Lego set, he learned quickly how to put the pieces together to make a colorful plastic object that resembled a pistol, with which he would run around the house shouting, “Bam, bam, bam.” As for the farmyard set, it gathered dust in the corner when the poor animals weren't being used as props in the skyscraper demolitions.

By the time he was five, I'd given up on the idea I could turn nature on its head by restricting access to certain toys. Boys will be boys – and that's not a bad thing. He soon had a full complement of toy soldiers, plastic guns, bows and arrows and other toys that wouldn't pass muster with the Maryland public school system. By the time my next two sons came along, I'd abandoned my silly notions of social engineering. All three boys grew up to be responsible, caring adults.

A Washington Post study of suspensions of elementary school children in the Washington, D.C. region, found more than 6,000 children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade who had been suspended. Among these, 50 were in pre-kindergarten, 433 were in kindergarten, 677 were in first grade, 813 in second grade, and 1,086 in third grade. Many of these children either ended up spending days at home with little supervision or accompanying parents to work, according to the study.

And the “offenses” that booted these kids out of school temporarily included behavior as normal and unthreatening as one kindergartener kicking off his shoes and crying in frustration. In Fairfax, a neighboring suburban school system in Virginia, a student was suspended for possession of a controlled substance when he inadvertently placed prescription medication in his shirt pocket and then took it during a break. Surely, such behavior does not warrant a child being kept out of school for days.

It is as if schools have lost common sense and judgment. It's one thing to remove a child, even a very young one, who becomes physically violent and cannot control his or her behavior, therefore interfering with the ability of other kids in the classroom to learn. But it is another thing for a child to bring actual weapons to school or to use physical objects to threaten or harm other students. And it is a very different thing to point a finger and say “pow.”

Such overreaction not only won't prevent further Newtown massacres from taking place, it will make it more difficult to teach children the difference between real aggression and mere playfulness. We won't be safer, just more confused on how to prevent actual violence.

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18 Comments

Stephen in NH said:

The wussification of America will continue to haunt this nation for decades to come.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 8:47 AM

Daniel Perry in York, SC said:

one word...

Homeschooling

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 9:21 AM

READY4ACHANGE in ILLINOIS replied:

I was thinking the same thing Daniel! I always wondered why people would home school their children - now I think it may become mandatory soon as parents will have no other recourse. It is a sad state our beautiful country is in right now!

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 12:04 PM

rab in jo,mo said:

Yes, the "zero tolerance" rules in schools have certainly been taken too far.

In our house, there were no toy guns as we were taught that "guns are not toys". Didn't stop me from making my own facsimiles out of wood, good enough for playing "war" with the other kids in the neighborhood.

Later on, we got BB guns, but there was hell to pay if caught pointing one at another person. My daughter had a BB gun at 7 and .22 at 8. She knows full well what a gun can do, and the permanence of firing one indiscriminately. There is no mystery nor curiosity about guns - certainly no fantasies that real life is like a computer game. Rules 1 & 2 are strongly enforced, keep your booger hook off the trigger until ready to shoot and don't point a gun at something you aren't willing to kill.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Tex Horn in Texas said:

Schools have lost common sense and judgement? Yes they have, as has virtually all American citizens (and illegals) as we bow to the god of the insanely politically correct.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 11:07 AM

richard ryan in Lamar,Missouri said:

Linda, common sense is not part of the make up for school administrators or teachers either for that matter. A case in point: Several years ago, our grandson who was in kindergarten or first grade one, was dared by a little girl in his class to moon her, so he proceeded to do so. In response the school in all it`s wisdom, charged him with sexual harassment and suspended him for three days. Isn`t that just absolutely brilliant. A six year old does not have the slightest idea about sexual harassment. The proper thing to have done would have been to have a talk with him and let it go at that. The problem here is that common sense is like deodorant; the people who need it most never use it.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

An Cub scout at one of our schools was suspended because he brought his Scout eating utensils consisting of a fork, spoon, and knife to school. He talked about it and showed how it worked during show and tell and was suspended for bringing a weapon on school grounds. What a bunch of idiots we have running the education systems in this country.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:11 PM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas replied:

Wow. I'm not surprised, but.. Wow.

I carried a good-sized pocket knife to school all the time. A lot of guys did and nobody ever gave it a second thought.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Army Officer (Ret) in Kansas said:

A great bit of wisdom I read once (I think it was by the great American author John Ross):

"Don't buy your kids toy guns. Buy them real guns."

Plus, there's nothing quite like the look of glee on a 16-year-old girl's face when she cuts a target stand in half with a sub-machine gun.* ;-)

That way they learn responsibility - and respect for what a firearm can do.

* Special license required. Under proper supervision. Laws in your state may vary.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 1:16 PM

Dioneikes in Colorado said:

The way to end violence with a gun in the schools is for a legal concealed carry person to double tap on center mass of the whack job that is trying to kill the innocents. Preferrably using a .45 hollowpoint. That'll ruin their day, and push that third button on their shirt so far back in their chest cavity that a coroner would have to get a search warrant to find it.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Merry in Cave Creek, AZ replied:

Actually, as Sheriff Joe's people instruct the armed posse, it's "one head, two center mass"!

Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 2:47 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

I second all of the above.

Zero Tolerance does not mean Zero Judgement!! The idiots running these schools should be fired for lack of judgement. They must determine if a real violation has occurred, then employ zero tolerance in the application of the penalty. Someone must still determine if there is really a violation in the first place.

All of my kids ( now 22,24,26 ) and my wife have been trained at Front Sight's 4-day defense handgun course. They are all quite capable of putting a controlled pair in the thoracic cavity or a designated head shot between the eyes in the case of a failure to stop. But the .45 will usually do the job with the first pair. I'd let any of them take the hostage shot if I was a hostage. My 8 yo attends the kids camp where they learn situational awareness, personal safety, first aid, kids self-defense, along with tracking, zip lines, climbing wall and using natural night vision. They also ingrain firearms safety while shooting rifle, shotgun, pistol and even an Uzi all with expert training and supervision. There is no mystery. They learn that guns are not toys and are not to be touched without adult direction. The hardest part is trying to explain to an 8 yo why he cannot take an empty shell casing to school. Many teachers would think it is an explosive charge and evacuate the school. You know, Zero tolerance...

Teachers don't have to like guns or carry them, but they should at least know as much about them as a ten year old does.

Also, my kid plays Wii games, including a hunting game, but none of the military shooter games which are simply too violent and too realistic. - but without emotional consequence. As Col Grossman says - they are realistic military training simulators and they are having a desensitizing effect on our kids. Those who are sane can handle it, but for those struggling to find reality - it is a real problem.

Lets' focus on the problem.

Friday, January 4, 2013 at 8:23 PM

Ct-Tom in NC said:

"It's one thing to remove a child, even a very young one, who becomes physically violent and cannot control his or her behavior, therefore interfering with the ability of other kids in the classroom to learn."

Actually, children are rarely removed for such behavior. In 4th grade classrooms, it is common to have a group of three to five students that so disrupt the class that the teacher spends much of his or her time in disciplining rather than teaching. Unless they commit a criminal offense, like finger-pointing and saying "pow," real discipline is rare. This is, no doubt, a major factor in the high number of teacher burn-out cases.

Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 9:56 AM

George Rogers Clark in Ohio said:

60 million armed citizens is a good deterrent to an invading enemy nation. It also is a good deterrent to a would-be tyrant takeover. If we ever succeed at taking all of the aggression out of our young men, before they are men, who will man the guns? If our young men are not taught the proper, safe, and effective use of firearms, how will they help defend the others? Some day a total economic collapse may come and godless men will become predatory animals. Will we want our children defenseless in that scenario?

Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 8:05 PM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Blessed are those who endure, even unto the END; when Christ comes again, with His Angels, and the Heavenly Hosts to gather HIS ELECT. "Remember me, Lord when you come into your Kingdom!"

Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Cal in SoCal replied:

It is said that "social movement" is on a pendulum. I have been waiting many years for it to "swing back (to normalcy)," We are way, way overdue for some common sense!. How long? Lord, how long?

Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Cal in SoCal said:

Daniel Perry in York, SC., has it right: Home schooling. How about private schools?
It would be interesting to see how long the Teachers Union would last with
no public money - and empty classrooms.

Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 1:06 PM

William in Florida said:

Its not the guns that cause the grim thoughts of people but the substance people subject themselves to especally at a young age ! With video games being so violent with steady killings its no wonder people become decensified with the respect to human lives.
But we must be careful not to allow the govt.to mistake "gun control" with "people control"

Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 7:21 PM