EDUCATORS HAVE LOST PERSPECTIVE
ON THE REAL RISKS CHILDREN FACE
A Texas boy was suspended from school for threatening to make a classmate invisible using a ring with magical powers. The boy, nine-year-old Aiden Steward, was inspired by watching “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.”
Aiden’s father, Jason Steward, insisted the whole thing “sounded unbelievable,” but Kermit Elementary School officials took the threat seriously. As reported by the New York Daily News…
“Aiden claimed Thursday he could put a ring on his friend’s head and make him invisible like Bilbo Baggins, who stole Gollum’s ‘precious’ in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series ‘The Lord of the Rings.’”
Well…what can one say?
Where to begin?
First of all, certain aspects of this incident remain unclear.
We can’t be sure, for instance, whether in planning to make his classmate invisible, Aiden wished to harm him or to do him a favor. Did anyone check with the other kid to see if he wanted to become invisible?
Assuming Aiden didn’t have the classmate’s permission, we must ask: Would the boy be rendered invisible only temporarily? Or was there a risk that the transformation couldn’t be reversed?
Then too, was invisibility the only effect possible, or was there a danger that something more extreme might happen?
The father’s cavalier attempt to dismiss this whole matter didn’t really answer those questions definitively…
“‘I assure you my son lacks the magical powers necessary to threaten his friend’s existence,’ …. ‘If he did, I’m sure he’d bring him right back.’”
Maybe that’s what Jason Steward wants to believe. After all, what parent wouldn’t cling to some shred of trust in his child’s good nature? But I think that the very mention of a threat to someone’s existence is rather chilling. It hints at an underlying suspicion that everything might not be as it appears with his precocious little boy.
Consider that in the six months since the Steward family moved into the Kermit Independent School District, Aiden has been suspended three times (twice before this current episode)…
“Two of the disciplinary actions this year were in-school suspensions for referring to a classmate as black and bringing his favorite book to school: ‘The Big Book of Knowledge.’
“‘He loves that book. They were studying the solar system and he took it to school. He thought his teacher would be impressed,’ [Jason] Steward said.
“But the teacher learned the popular children’s encyclopedia had a section on pregnancy, depicting a pregnant woman in an illustration, he explained.
All of this raises disturbing questions about the paths which this child’s imagination tends to follow.
On the other hand…
Maybe…just maybe…there’s a more obvious question to be asked — a question like…
What the hell are the administrators in the Kermit Independent School District thinking?
A threat with a magic ring?
A book with a picture of a pregnant woman?
Calling a presumably black child “black”?
But then, one could ask similar questions about all sorts of absurd incidents that have occurred all over the country. Children and teenagers have been disciplined — even charged with crimes — for acts that are merely kid-like behavior.
Consider the following real headlines that have appeared in recent months…
- “7-Year-Old Suspended, Teacher Says He Shaped Pastry into Gun” [Brooklyn Park, Maryland, March 2013]
- “Boy Suspended for Possession of Imaginary Bow and Arrow” [Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania, December 2013]
- “Ohio boy, 10, gets suspended for finger gun” [which is to say, folding his fingers into the shape of a pistol, as in “Bang! Bang!” — Columbus, Ohio, March 2014]
- “Houston schools discuss child’s ‘Nerf gun’ suspension” [August 2014]
- “Middle School Student in ‘Military-Style’ Jacket Sparks Police Action and School Lockdown” [Southington, Connecticut, September 2014]
- “Mom Says School Made 5-Year-Old Daughter Sign ‘Suicide Contract’” [in which she promised not to kill herself or anybody else after pretending a crayon was a gun — October 2014]
…and numerous other such reports.
Concerns about school violence and our national preoccupation with bullying account for much of this nonsense.
Don’t get me wrong — violence is real, God knows! Precautions are called for. And bullying happens.
Hey — I was bullied as a kid. My children experienced it. It can be a serious problem.
Schools must deal with these issues appropriately.
But that’s the key word: APPROPRIATELY.
According to Yahoo News, Kermit Elementary’s principal, Roxanne Greer, declined to comment on the incident because of confidentiality restrictions. But Jason Steward said she told him…
“…threats to another child’s safety would not be tolerated, even if they were make believe.”
Granted, this recounting of the principal’s words might not be 100-percent accurate. Still, can a make-believe threat with a magic ring warrant a suspension? Does no one with authority in the Kermit Independent School District exercise prudential judgment in matters of student behavior?
Even if Aiden Steward’s magical declaration was motivated by some degree of intent to bully — which I doubt — can anybody believe that what he said he wished to do really put his classmate at risk? Did he follow up on the Tolkien reference by threatening the kid with a punch in the nose?
Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s more going on than the news reports convey.
But given the public record of Aiden’s infractions, it looks like what we have here is an imaginative little boy who probably doesn’t slide smoothly through the prevailing elementary school groove.
Such a kid can make his teacher stretch. True enough. But I would hope that most teachers are up to the challenge.
Look, educators face huge pressures these days. Everybody knows that. Their basic teaching mission is often eclipsed by society’s expectation that schools can somehow correct great moral wrongs, compensate for family collapse, counter parental deficiencies.
But I think we’ve gone way ’round the bend here. We’ve lost our whole perspective on what childhood is about.
Maybe we need a magic ring to help us find our way back to sanity.
Writing on American Thinker, philosophy professor Daren Jonescu believes that there’s a larger agenda behind the Kafkaesque atmosphere of today’s schools where even the most casual reference to a weapon or to any kind of violence can bring down the full weight of authority…
“The psychological aim is clear: you will be punished for imagining guns, until the government (er, I mean your teacher) washes that evil image from your dirty mind forever.”
In its coverage of Aiden Steward’s suspension Yahoo News cites a U.S. Department of Education report on student discipline…
“Suspension and expulsion can influence a number of adverse outcomes across development, health, and education. Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not.”