Shocking news came out of Maryland the other day when it was reported that a second-grader was suspended from his elementary school after he reportedly fashioned his breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun.
What was most shocking of all is that the pastry in question evidently was a Strawberry Pop Tart or some generic equivalent thereof — and those things are almost as difficult to shape into a gun as they are to swallow.
Any 7-year-old who decides not to eat his tart and instead turns it into a pistol must be an art prodigy. Instead of suspending him for this feat, the principal should have called a school assembly and presented the boy with a special award in contemporary sculpture. The boy should also have been given a commendation for making exemplary nutritional choices.
But a two-day suspension? That sounds like the kind of reprimand a kid might get for bringing a real gun to school.
The incident is part of a curious-but-alarming trend we’re seeing in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut. As much as we want to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, disarming second-graders of their breakfast tarts isn’t really going to save lives.
There have been other over-the-top measures taken in schools across the country. In January, a 5-year-old Pennsylvania kindergartener received a 10-day suspension — ten days — for allegedly threatening to shoot a classmate with her pink “Helly Kitty” bubble gun. Granted, a soap bubble in the eye can sting. But what makes the situation worse is that the perpetrator in question wasn’t packing heat, or bubbles for that matter. She didn’t even have the little plastic sidearm with her at the time. Nevertheless, administrators reportedly called the incident a “terrorist threat” and grilled the little girl in a three-hour interrogation. Parents were riled, and attorneys got involved. Reducing the charges and slashing the suspension to two days did not assuage their anger, but several days later the parents’ attorney said they had met with administrators and had “worked it out.”
Also in January, back in Maryland again, a pair of six-year-old boys were suspended for playing “cops and robbers” at recess and using their fingers as guns. Now there’s a crisis that presents a special problem: You can confiscate kids’ Pop Tarts and bubble guns if they are deemed a menace to public safety, but you can’t remove their fingers.
I remember when my wife and I were young parents raising kids of our own. I had played with toy guns as a kid. My brother and I played at war, cops and robbers, even the now-politically-incorrect “cowboys and indians.” But as a fairly new and idealistic parent, I didn’t want my firstborn son to grow up thinking it was fun to shoot at people. So I didn’t get him a toy gun. One day, I saw him running around the yard playing with some friends. These other boys all had toy plastic guns. My son had in his hand a small piece of tree branch and was pretending it was a gun. I thought to myself: No way am I going to raise my boy to be a bigger dork than I am. That apple had better fall a good country mile from this tree. The next day, I bought him a Western-style toy cap gun, complete with holster. I think he played with that almost into high school. So much for apples.
I’m not getting into the whole gun-control debate. And that’s not the only issue worth exploring in light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
Kids who play with toy guns — even kids who fashion guns out of tarts, twigs, or fingers — don’t come up with these shooting games on their own. They certainly don’t develop a fascination with guns from reading the Second Amendment. Once upon a time, kids were exposed early to television Westerns and whodunits, and guns were a staple of such shows. That was relatively harmless and bloodless fare, or what might be called “comic-book violence.” It was stylized and tame, and the good guys always won. Can the same be said for the grisly crime dramas and Quentin Tarantino films that somehow find their way into our living rooms these days? What about video-game violence, which has escalated considerably since the days when Pac-Man used to chase and eat Blinky?
This is not to blame the entertainment media per se. But we just might want to pay closer attention to what our kids are watching, or what they are watching us watch. Kids are impressionable. For that matter, so are many adults. Does the same television or film violence that we find so entertaining also inspire unstable individuals to load their guns and commit acts of mayhem? I would not be at all surprised. What we view as entertainment has a way of getting inside our heads and affecting how we look at the world and the people around us.
A lot can be done even in elementary school to educate children against violence, but cracking down on harmless playground games might not be the place to start. We should look instead at our cultural environment and what it tells us about the use of guns, power, death, and the value of human life.
— Gerald Korson