Linda Chavez
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.


Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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