FLATLANDER

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The little terrorists that lurk among us...

This from Gloria Reed:

He’s 10 years old. Stands just over 4 feet tall. Dark brown hair and matching dark brown eyes. His name is Austin. According to his school he’s a criminal in the making. According to me he is now armed with the knowledge that a plastic pencil sharpener is a weapon.
Austin was using his ordinary pencil sharpener to do just what pencil sharpeners are supposed to do: sharpen his pencil while sitting at his desk. Unfortunately for Austin the pencil sharpener broke. Being astute and penny conscious Austin put the parts of the broken pencil sharpener inside his pencil/art box. A tattletale happened to see him place all the parts into the art box and told the teacher Austin had a weapon lurking inside the box. I have nothing against tattletales for they are useful at times.
The dutiful teacher examined the art box and lo and behold sure enough a weapon stared her in the face. She reacted. She went nuts. This was intolerable. Right before her eyes was a tiny, not even a half inch, blade made of steel waiting to be used to hold the entire school hostage.
The teacher immediately confiscated the tiny “weapon” and taped it to a behavior report. Yup! She wrote Austin up for daring to conceal a weapon inside his art box.
After taping the blade to the behavior report she immediately filled out the report. “This blade is from Austin’s pencil sharpener. He had taken it apart and had it in his pencil box.”
Poor Austin. He was now branded as a suspicious character carrying a concealed weapon intent upon doing harm to his fellow students and teachers.
Off to the principal’s office Austin went with the behavior report, INCLUDING THE TAPED BLADE, in hand. The principal called him into the inner sanctum of his office. This behavior could not be tolerated. Austin could cause physical harm to anyone in the building.
Austin stood before the principal in total shock. He didn’t comprehend how a tiny pencil sharpener part could cause so much trouble. Not to fear. Austin would not be in the dark for long.
The principal took it upon himself to explain to Austin just how he could use that tiny little blade to inflict harm upon the other students in the school. He told Austin with that little pencil sharpener blade he could take it and slash somebody’s wrist or arm and cause them injury. He told him it was a weapon and with it he could hurt other people and end up in jail for committing a crime. He said the school could not tolerate him having this weapon in his possession.
After lecturing Austin about the dangers and possibilities available to cause harm with a pencil sharpener blade, the principal sent him back to class, minus the blade.
Austin didn’t know what to make of all this. All he wanted to do was take his broken pencil sharpener home so he could fix it and use it again AS A PENCIL SHARPENER.
The next day the letter came from the school. Austin’s mom always get a little queasy when a letter comes from the school because invariably it is about some ridiculous thing Austin has done. The kid stood there gulping, eyes bulging wondering what would happen when it was discovered at home that he had a weapon at school.
Rip!! The envelope was opened. His mom stood there with her mouth hanging open as she read the behavior report. Austin fidgeted. Then she burst out laughing and handed me the report. I stared at it in disbelief. This was ridiculous. This was the sign the world has gone mad.
We both looked at Austin and asked him about this terrible weapon he had managed to have in his art box.
He told us everything. I asked him if before he had talked with the principal did he know he could do harm with it. He said, “No, I just wanted to fix it. But now I know it can be used as a weapon.”
Austin got a lesson loud and clear at the school that day. He learned he was a criminal. He learned he could use a pencil sharpener as a weapon and he learned just how to use it and what it would do to someone if he had the desire to hurt someone.
I think zero tolerance is OK and somewhat necessary, but it should not border on PARANOIA. And children should not be made to feel like criminals or taught how to use a pencil sharpener for a weapon.
My advice to Austin is this. The next time your pencil sharpener breaks or your scissors break immediately raise your hand and tell the teacher to come and get this weapon off your desk before you touch it and get accused of being a criminal.
Oh for the days when being a kid was fun and carefree and not so knowledgeable of worldly grownup things.

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