Boys & Violence

Where the Wild Things Are (both the book and the recently released movie) is about a boy who was sent to his room for being, well, wild. The film, which was No. 1 at the box office its opening weekend, has reignited the debate over how parents and schools react to typical boy behaviors. Some parenting experts have even suggested that the book and the movie offer guidance on disciplining kids without squelching their spirits completely.

Back in 1963, when the book was written, it was a time when boys could play Cops and Robbers and shout "Pow! Pow!" without the threat of school expulsion. It's very different today. Recently, first-grader Zachary Christie, 6, of Newark, DE, was suspended and sentenced to 45 days in reform school—um, I mean, an alternative program—for bringing his camping knife, spoon and fork contraption to school to eat lunch with. (He has since returned to school without having to attend the alternative/reform school.)

All of this begs the question of whether our society is trying to "tame" the normal, if rambunctious, impulses of little boys who like to play a bit rough and who sometimes get angry.

Don't get me wrong, anyone who has spent any time in a school as a parent, as a teacher—heck, even as a reporter stopping by to do a human-interest story about a holiday canned food drive—understands that classroom management is the key to running any school. Schools have to be places where all kids, boisterous or shy, can learn. They also have to be safe. Let me state unequivocally that weapons have no place in schools.

And anyone who reads a newspaper, surfs the Web or owns a television set knows that the nightmare of school shootings—incomprehensible tragedies at places like Columbine to Virginia Tech—are rare, but they happen.

But in many schools, zero tolerance for violence policies (which are good) have morphed into zero tolerance for aggression policies, and now, zero tolerance for anything that might even be perceived as aggressive. There are no contact sports on the playgrounds in Cheyenne, WY, and no running on the playground in Broward Country, FL. In one elementary school in Beaverton, OR, Tag has been outlawed.

But it gets worse. Many schools have even banned fantasy violence. According to the Washington Post, an 8-year-old boy in New Jersey was held by police for five hours and forced to make two court appearances for using an L-shaped piece of paper in a game of Cops and Robbers at recess. In Arkansas, another 8-year-old boy was punished for pointing a cooked chicken strip at another student and saying "Pow! Pow!"

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