In the wake of the latest round of school shootings, the newest cycle of intolerable intolerance has begun. This time, the victim of irrational reaction is a nine-year-old boy in Bunnell, Fla., who drew the wrong thing at the wrong time.
The drawing, released by the Flagler County Sheriff's Office, shows three barely fleshed-out stick figures. One's a shooter saying "Ha." The other two figures are both the same character named "Mitchell" - he's shown first standing and then, presumably having been shot, falling to the ground.
The artist, whom we'll call "Ha" in the absence of a real name, left his drawing on his desk while he went to the restroom. While he was gone, another child took the picture to the teacher, who sent it to the principal, who suspended Ha for 10 days. The suspension began Friday (March 9) and will run into the county's spring break, so that Ha will be away from his classmates for almost three weeks.
As pieced together by school officials, the story is that Ha had been teased repeatedly by Mitchell and acted out his anger by drawing a questionable picture. At least it's a questionable picture in these questionable times.
The boxes where I stashed every scrap of paper my son, John, ever breathed on contain volumes of such drawings, except his were far bloodier and complex. (Read: suggestive of mass destruction.) Doubtless today a helpful school official would have him straightjacketed, doped with mood-altering medications and ordered to psychiatric observation.
But those were saner times. As a reasonably aware parent, I recognized my droll son's drawings for what they were: harmless, even therapeutic, expressions of normal childhood fears, frustrations, anxieties and nightmares. Once committed to paper, they were released, exhausted and under control. John could then direct his thoughts and energies to new preoccupations.
These, however, are not such sane times. Because children as young as nine years old sometimes do kill people, it's probably not unreasonable to question a student who expresses violence in some form. But absent other behavioral problems, questioning is where it should end.
Ha's punishment far exceeded his so-called offense, which is too often the case in our hysterical responses to often innocuous behavior. As a parent, I'd be far more concerned about the consequences of my child being singled out and humiliated than I would be about a drawing containing a weapon. Nearly everything children see today - TV shows, movies, video games and let's not forget history books - contains weapons, yet they're not supposed to notice?
Ha's father, surely a good sport, says he's disappointed but understands the suspension. "Now THE NAME "HA" SHOULD BE IN BRACKETS(Ha) knows he can't draw pictures like that," says Dad. Well, mercy, what kind (ital)can(end ital) he draw? Will we have state-approved drawing guidelines for children before we're through?
There's nothing like saying "Don't" to make children (and interesting adults) want to "do." I see a sign by the airport security check that says "No Joking," and I can barely contain my suddenly roused sense of humor. Tell little boys they can't draw guns anymore, and they'll be locking themselves in bathrooms with crayons and paper. Better they should be smoking cigarettes than drawing a stick figure with a gun.
Our zero-tolerance policies may be understandable, but they're overblown and bereft of common sense. Ha may have needed a good talking-to, but he also deserved a second chance. And, while we're at it, he could use some drawing lessons.