Paul Jacob

There's the real world, and there are representations.

I don't want to get into heavy-duty metaphysics, here — I gave that up for Lent years ago, and never took to it again — but some truths are just basic, pie-in-the-face obvious. So, I trust you'll agree: there's reality, and there are various ways of depicting reality, indicating reality.

And (I know this is a stretch) some representations represent nothing, really. They are fantasy.

I draw a picture of, say, a gun. That picture is of a gun; it need not be of some actual gun. It's just a . . . well, as a character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer once once said in response to a witchhunt, "A doodle. I do doodle. You, too — you do doodle, too."

A real gun, now, that might excite some interest. It might, in some circumstances — say, when pointed straight at somebody, fully loaded — constitute a threat. But a doodle?

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

He drew a gun . . . on a piece of paper. He didn't point it at anybody. He scribbled next to it no hit list. He didn't draw a target. He didn't say "Bang." No one even got a paper cut.

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

Actually, if you look at the picture, it wasn't quite a drawing of a real gun. It was supposed to be of a lasergun, that is, a fantasy gun. It looked, well, like . . . let's be generous, barely a weapon at all. A high-tech jet comes to mind. Or maybe a flag. What are the people doing on the gun?

It was, like the kid said, like his parents said, a doodle.

And yet the district spokesman insisted that the doodle was "absolutely considered a threat."

So who feels any safer, now that this threat is no longer in school?

When our teachers and administrators can no longer distinguish real threats from doodles — doodles most boys do, doodles we've all done, since (as has been said) we all do doodle, too — 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 real things?

It's elementary: the map is not the territory, the representation is not the thing represented.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.