When children—and let's face it, most of the kids who do this kind of thing are boys—are given creative writing assignments and come up with tales that involve dueling, swashbuckling, fisticuffs and—wait for it—decapitation, they are told their imaginations are "not appropriate," and the teacher picks up the telephone to the parents. Across our nation, boys are lagging behind girls in writing and lagging behind boys from 15 years ago. Ever wonder if there is a connection?
A couple of months ago, I was giving a workshop to a group of teachers in New Mexico about how to re-engage boys who are mentally checked-out of school—and if you look at the national statistics, there's an awful lot of them. An art teacher raised her hand and told me about a middle school boy who had created an intricate sculpture out of found objects—bolts, washers, wires and bits of a broken dryer dumped in an abandon lot near his house. "As a work of art, it was amazing," the teacher reported. The problem? The boy made a sculpture of a machine gun. The teacher recognized that he was far and away the most promising young artist in her class. Yet the culture of her school—and their zero tolerance toward anything that might be connected with aggression—made her opt not to display his sculpture on Parent's Night.
But it turns out, perfectly normal children, especially boys, tend to think, fantasize and play a great deal around violence. They sometimes think about guns. They sometimes write about sword-fighting. They think that toting a spork is cool. Are they going to grow up and become Virginia Tech shooters? Psychologists say no. But misguided policies and overzealous school administrators have a different view.
Zachary Christie shouldn't have brought anything with a blade into school. The principal should have taken it away and called his mother. Maybe asked him and her to take a day off to figure out how that blade ended up in a classroom. But making him into an outlaw? Time to rethink what we're really afraid of.
Peg Tyre is the author of The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School and What Parents and Educators Must Do. She can be reached at www.pegtyre.com.
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