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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ross Rambles: Children terrify school officials

Monday, November 5, 2007

A recent article in the Sioux City Journal reported that a high school freshman in Sioux City was suspended for writing a story about the murders of 35 classmates and faculty members. The boy's father says the boy is apologetic for his error in judgment.

Back when I was that age, errors in judgment by high school freshmen were so common that they never made the front page of a metropolitan newspaper. It's not that I personally ever did anything foolish, nor did any of my acquaintances, but I was aware that foolish behavior by kids was common back then.

What kind of person writes a story about mass murder? Well, there's Stephen King, Tom Clancy and numerous others who make millions of dollars satisfying the public's appetite for violent death.

All sarcasm aside, perhaps it was school administrators who were being foolish.

Unless the kid is extremely talented in creating vivid prose, his account can in no way equal the graphic detail provided on television and the movie screen on a daily basis.

I personally saw hundreds, if not thousands of killings portrayed before I reached adulthood, although back then, fictional killings were bloodless events. A person would be shot, lie down on his back and then say something sad and profound before signaling death by closing his eyes. He didn't clutch at intestines spilling out from his belly as might be seen in a modern depiction of killing.

So what did this kid in Sioux City do to offend our modern sensitivities? He used real names of students and staff members. Yes, that is indeed an error in judgment, but there is no indication in the article that he defied any expressly stated rule by doing this.

So does this judgment error by a kid rise to the level that he deserves suspension and public scorn? The Journal article did not name the kid, but I assume that his identity is no secret to his classmates and other people who know him. Even if writing the story indicated that this is a troubled youth, discreet counseling would be a better approach than punishment.

Actually, unless there are other factors not described in the article, we cannot assume this is a troubled youth, just a kid who put an unappreciated twist on a writing assignment.

So why didn't this kid write a story about saving whales or about lost pets traveling thousands of miles through the wilderness to get home? For that matter, why don't Stephen King and Tom Clancy dedicate their talents to creating stories about saving whales or about pets traveling thousands of miles through the wilderness to get home?

I can only speculate about what motivates Stephen King and Tom Clancy to deviate from wholesome and inspirational stories, but the Sioux City kid wrote about murder because he was told to do so. He was assigned to write a mystery story using the story "The Most Dangerous Game" as a model. "The Most Dangerous Game" is about a hunter who decides to switch from hunting animals to humans.

The Sioux City high school's hair-trigger sensitivity to any expression of potential violence is nothing new. Back in January of 2004, a Rambles column mentioned that there was a rash of lawsuits against school districts as the result of schools' panicked reaction to Columbine and related tragedies.

One example cited was an even worse overreaction to the same situation as occurred in Sioux City. A middle school boy in Illinois was suspended for six weeks and subjected to psychiatric examination without parental permission after he wrote a murder story as required by a teacher.

This was also a case in which the young author used the names of real people. Obviously, students need to be told not to use real names in violent stories, but school staff shouldn't go ballistic because of a simple error in judgment by a child.

Despite incidents of violence by students, adults need to keep actions of children in perspective. Actually, because we live in a scary era as far as potential lethal violence at schools, it is more important than ever that adults project an image of calm rather than panic.