Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Wedgie Conundrum

Memo to the purveyors of "zero tolerance": YOU ARE DUMB.
For five years now, since Columbine, we've been arresting children for writing poetry. One of the first cases, in California, is set to go before the state Supreme Court. The most recent case happened right around here in Ramsey County. Students with criminal records because they wrote poems with dark or violent imagery, placed in police custody because of "vague, unspecific threats of violence".
ARRESTED. I mean, it's bad enough when the school system abuses its own disciplinary powers of suspension and expulsion to kick kids out of school for art supplies that exceed a certain sharpness, but bringing the criminal justice system into the picture over poetry?
I mean, yeah, we can all admit that high school poetry is a crime against aesthetics. Especially in these troubled times. Gone are the innocent days of yore when students would throw themselves into frenzies of gothy creation while listening to The Cure or Sisters of Mercy. Today's students are reaching back nostalgically for Creed's first album to fuel their adolescent angst. And that just ain't healthy. But it's also not a criminal offense. And if it were, shouldn't we be going after Scott Stapp?
OK, folks, let's try a little experiment in fake interactivity. Every single one of you reading this, raise your hand if, at any point during your school career, you did something, wrote something, or drew something that would have gotten your ass thrown in jail if it had been discovered today. OK. The three of you with your hands still down, WAIT SIX MONTHS.
Now, let's have everyone leave their hands up if they think that all this lockdown, metal detector, clear backpack, dress code, thought police bullshit has fundamentally improved the experience of being a high school student. No, just put your hands down. You don't need to run from the room screaming and setting random things on fire. You've made your point, and, in turn, made mine.
It's still Lord of the Flies in there, people. That hasn't changed. Hordes of little protobastards acting out their primal urges to gain and abuse whatever power they can manage while maintaining a B average. Hell, if the stories are true, the only thing getting our nation's students through each successive, relentless, horrible day is the non-stop oral sex.
Expecting kids to not have violent, dark thoughts anymore because you've placed an elaborate, authoritarian superstructure around them is patently insane. Doing so in the hopes that they'll just repress their violent, dark thoughts until graduation, letting you off the hook, just creates an entire generation of basket cases who'll keep the crime shows in new and interesting headlines for years to come.
And the worst part is, the absolute worst part, is that there's no single person or group of people to point to and say "it's your fault". Obviously, these policies come from the administration, from the system, but it's an administration that is terrified. Not just terrified of the kids, but terrified of what'll happen if some kid does show up, guns blazing, and it turns out he had a drawing of a tombstone in his Trapper Keeper. Ass-covering is Job One, and if that means criminalizing emotion while you extol the virtues of learning and knowledge, so be it.
Can't really blame the teachers. They're completely fucked. 'Cause the teachers are the idealists. They come into the schools full of inspiration, motivated to make a difference in the lives of their students, and once the system has inexorably crushed the last drop of that idealism out of them, they can finally move into administration. Until then, they're the ones that have to make the completely impossible call of predicting whether the snippet of free verse in the notebook means that Jimmy's already loaded the hunting rifle his dad bought him at Wal-Mart, or if it's just the inevitable venting caused by One Wedgie Too Many.
Parents don't want their kids to get shot in the face, and have an astonishingly difficult time seeing beyond "I don't want my kid shot in the face", and for the most part would rather see Jimmy of the Nth Wedgie thrown into jail if there's even the slightest chance he might do something. Which is a shame, but is, I suppose, understandable.
I could blame the media and the government, for, respectivly, sensationalizing and underfunding, but they're on the hook for so many other things right now that it almost doesn't seem fair.
It's almost enough to make you wish they'd blow the whole thing up and start over... hey, wait? What are you doing? I said "almost"! Somebody call the ACLU! Goddammit, that's what I get for watching that Smiths retrospective on VH1.