Terrorism Continues at Home

I’ve been saying — for a couple of years now — that “Zero Tolerance” policies and laws “terrorize” school children. It’s hard enough for adults in America to understand the new way of life as we face true terrorism; imagine how hard it is for kids. Here’s how one child tried to cope — and how the “adults” around him reacted.

From the 7 October 2001 issue:

Zero Tolerance Gets Back to Normal

Fifth-grader Paul Volz, 11, dealt with his fear of terrorism through art, drawing the burning World Trade Center towers. He was proud of his work: he taped the picture up near his study cubicle at school in High Ridge, Mo. “When I asked him why he did this, he just looked at me and smiled,” said North Jefferson Intermediate School principal Jeff Boyer. “This is totally inappropriate and Paul’s behavior has to change,” he told the boy’s parents. Boyer suspended the boy for three days for smiling at the drawing on grounds it was “disruptive physical conduct or speech” and “communication of a threatening nature.” The school district supports the principal, noting “Some drawings can be therapeutic and others can be offensive.” (St Louis Post-Dispatch) …“We have met the enemy and he is us.” –Walt Kelly (1913-1973), American cartoonist and social commentator.

An example of 'communication of a threatening nature'.]
Paul’s Drawing: As we watch out for terrorists, this is the sort of thing school personnel think we should be watching for. This drawing was called a “communication of a threatening nature.” That should scare you very, very much.

Take a good look at Paul’s drawing. Is this a “communication of a threatening nature”? Or is it a child’s attempt to cope with events that even adults have a hard time with? Paul’s school had an answer: it suspended him for three days for making this drawing — and being proud of his effort.

I’ve said it before many times, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to say it again and again and again: “Zero Tolerance” rules do nothing to safeguard our children.

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports that juvenile crime rates have held steady since the 1970s, and the juvenile homicide rate is the lowest it has been since 1966 — yet over the last 25 years school suspensions have doubled.

What is the crisis that the ZT policies is seeking to respond to? There isn’t one. There is no benefit that justifies the huge social cost of ZT.

People with common sense need to point out to those without it that Zero Tolerance really means Zero Justice. That is not a lesson our children need — especially these days.

(My main essay on Zero Tolerance is here.)

11 thoughts on “Terrorism Continues at Home

  1. I think the term used by the quacks, I mean, headshrinkers, or rather the professionals, is “Projection,” the transference of the observer’s fears and biases upon the subject being observed. When I was a kid in the 60’s, my mother never let me stay up late to watch the Friday night “B” horror movies because they’d “give me nightmares.” I never had nightmares from them, but apparently she did. And now there are adults who make pronounced determinations what goes on in a child’s mind because the adult is a “trained professional” and knows more what the kid is thinking than even the kid does. Sadly, most other adults permit it because they also believe a purchased piece of paper known as a Degree confers advanced knowledge upon an uneducated idiot who is now an educated idiot. (Scarecrow in “Wizard of Oz”?)

    For those who defend a Degree, keep in mind that it’s a beginning for seeking knowledge through experience, not a pinnacle of knowledge stored in a head cabinet.

  2. It is a shame that a school would be so idiotic as to blame a child for trying in make sense of his world in drawing. When my daughter did it with her leukemia, it was called “art therapy” and encouraged. As far as I can tell, Paul was drawing what was in the news at the time. Why should he be suspended for that?

    Apparently, because he couldn’t explain what no one else could explain either. -rc

  3. STUPIDIDITY is a word I made up. The definition of Stupididity is when something is so unbelievably stupid you have to make up a new word for it.

    Zero Tolerance is Stupididity at its worst.

  4. “Posted by Butch, Onalaska Texas on October 8, 2011:
    STUPIDIDITY is a word I made up. The definition of Stupididity is when something is so unbelievably stupid you have to make up a new word for it.” – that is a wonderfully recursive definition. It’s not easy to come up with a recursive definition that is actually useful, but this one is. I think this term needs to come into wide use.

  5. What were they afraid of, that the boy would take hostages and threaten to color them all to death? I wonder more about the mental state of the adults who freaked out over this than the kid. Nothing like treating a kid like a dangerous person to start him on the path in that direction.

    @Mike: There are truly excellent counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists out there, but far too many are as useless as teats on a bull, and I’ve dealt with almost nothing but the latter from second grade to the present. I’m 32 now and can count on my right hand with fingers left over the number who’ve truly been helpful and beneficial. One of those diagnosed me with ADHD when I was 23, and seeing as the diagnostic criteria reads like someone took notes on my life, I wonder how all the shrinks missed it when I was growing up.

  6. Knowing a little bit about High Ridge, MO…it’s stereotypically not a haven of quality higher education. I’ve known many who came out of that school district who are fine, upstanding, wonderful people. I’ve known plenty who subscribe to the “Easy Rider Rifle Rack” mentality, though, and undoubtedly that school official, and the board, were caught up in the whole Islam is evil thing (this week’s TRUE not withstanding). I’d bet that state of mind hasn’t changed to this day. Sad.

  7. “Zero Tolerance” is how we ended up losing almost 3,000 people in the World Trade Center disaster, the day all our lives changed. What amazes me is that people don’t get that “zero tolerance” in some of the Islamic states is what ultimately led to that….so who thinks it’s a good idea to start doing that to OUR children?? Senseless and sad, at best….when you remove tolerance for differing ideas {or interpretive drawings} you begin to tell people there is only ONE way to think….and God forbid that involves flying a plane into two fully occupied buildings….or telling a child how bad he/she is…it all adds up eventually….

  8. I’m curious as to how the kid feels about it now, over ten years later — he should be at least 21 years old by now. Did it have a serious impact on his life? Did his parents give him support and defend his position? Are those same instructors and administrators still in positions of authority? Did the whole thing even raise an eyebrow in his community?

    Good questions all. I hope he finds this someday and updates us. -rc

  9. This speaks to the person who mentioned that in the ’60’s watching horror movies was not allowed because of the fear of nightmares for the child by the mother.

    When I was about 10 years old I went (with my older brother) to see the movie “The Poseidon Adventure” in the theater. Going into the movie I had no idea what it was about — no one had told me and if there were ads for it I don’t remember seeing them. My mother and sister were going to the ‘other side’ of the TWIN Cinema to see a different movie and my mother tried to get me to go with her. I was adamant — I was going with my brother.

    I had nightmares! For ONE night. Then I was fine. Today I LOVE watching ‘disaster’ movies! Go figure.

    Like Don In Yonkers I was curious about how this child fared since all of this happened.

    I think the idiots running the school need to have their heads examined. Having children draw after a traumatic experience is a well-recognized and long-used therapy tool to help them express their feelings. We all had plenty of thoughts and feelings on September 11, 2001 and in the days following.

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