Kids say the darndest things. More specifically, a lot of things children say don’t make any sense. That is why you smile and nod as your 5-year-old nephew rambles about the Lion King or Transformers or whatever toy is popular now.
Same goes for children’s drawings. That’s why teachers always say, “Great job Billy. That’s a really nice tree,” even though children are all terrible artists. Maddox might be the only person ever to be honest about children’s art.
But that’s okay. Because why in hell would a kindergartner be a great painter or a master orator? They have no idea what is happening in the world. And that’s why it was completely absurd when a 10-year-old was suspended from school for six days because he unsuccessfully tried to be funny and drew kind of a violent picture in class.
Yesterday, the Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit filed by the boy’s parents five years ago, but the dissenting judge’s opinion showed at least someone behind the bench still understands what it means to be a kid…
The Wall Street Journal Law Blog explains the situation:
The boy, then 10 years old, was suspended after a girl in his class expressed concern about a drawing he made as part of a class assignment. The students were asked to write adjectives to describe themselves or their wishes on a drawing of an astronaut. The boy allegedly expressed a desire to “[b]low up the school with the teachers in it” in his drawing.
U.S. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said school officials, under federal law, have the right to restrict the speech of students if it threatens to cause a substantial disruption at the school, even if it is a joke. However, she said school officials may have overreacted in suspending the boy for six days as punishment.
“Clearly, not everyone at the school thought that the drawing was funny, and for good reason,” the judge said. “But I am convinced that a jury could conclude that this young boy’s crude attempt at humor merely had the potential to cause mild amusement among his classmates — not alarm.”
For crying out loud, do most kids that age know what death means? Can they even fundamentally understand the concept?
As far as I’m concerned, this falls under the same realm, which Elie has written about, of over-involving the justice system in the lives of young people who are just being young people. I understand schools are terrified of school shootings or other types of violence, and many of them have carefully decided to institute no-tolerance policies.
But come on! But it’s not the kid’s fault he hasn’t figured out what sarcasm means. He is crummy at telling jokes. The teacher should have said, “Timmy (or whatever his real name is), it’s not okay to make jokes about killing people. Draw a picture of a pretty house and a kitty instead, please.” Boom, lesson learned.
I mean, I couldn’t tell a decent joke until I was about 20 years old. Some of you might say I still haven’t learned. Whatever. Point is, there’s no reason he should have been suspended for a day, let alone a freaking week.
When I was in middle school — and I’m not that old — one of my friends walked up to my other friend and kneed him in the nuts for no reason other than he voted for the wrong candidate for class president. (If you want to know why SBA elections are so competitive, well, this stuff starts early.) My two friends just sat in the office for the afternoon, and that was it. And their conflict involved literal, physical, and completely pointless violence.
My friends were not even encouraged by an impatient teacher to draw whatever they wanted:
The judge noted that the assignment was open-ended and when pressed by her students the teacher said in frustration, “Don’t keep on coming up to me. When I mean anything you want, anything. You can write about missiles.”
Ostensibly, the children were supposed to be learning how to be creative. Instead, this boy learned that if he’s creative in the incorrect way, he will be punished. I wonder how Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers would have turned if they would have had that teacher as a child.
If schools want to suspend kids in elementary and middle school for every stupid joke they make, we may as well just shut down every school in the country. As far as I’m concerned, the entire point of the fifth through tenth grades is forcing kids to learn how to deal with people who are mean, insecure, and generally stupid. Because, at some level, everyone is all of those things when they are that age. Suspending kids at the drop of a hat doesn’t teach lessons; it only leads to embittered, cynical adults.
Judge Defends Schoolboy’s Right to Make Bad Jokes [Wall Street Journal Law Blog]