I’m pressed up against a wall, waiting. Hunting. The gun I’m holding is inches from my nose, my two hands folded as if I’m praying. My enemy, James Lyons, is around the corner, and I’m about to spring as soon as he comes into view. I’m secret agent John Lennon, and besides making the greatest music ever, I also work for the government, saving the world. Yesterday, I was Captain Kirk. I’m 12 years old at 6th grade recess, the gun is imaginary, but I did actually save the world. (Things are still going on, right? You’re welcome.)
Let me tell you a little something not about myself: I am not a gun advocate, a gun owner or (liberal alert) a gun tolerator. I am a Tarantino film-lover, but that’s about the extent of it. I m also not the rhythm guitarist/vocalist/composer for the greatest band ever. I was never a starship captain, although I would have been excellent at it. All my life, I loved horror movies and sometimes pretended I was in them, but I did not turn out to be a zombie, a vampire, or a 25 foot mechanical shark. Well, maybe a shark (he said, smirking and dragging on an imaginary cigarette…not a smoker, though).
A friend of mine posted on Facebook an article entitled “School has Become Too Hostile for Boys” which reminded me of my violent schoolyard past. The article makes the point that there seems to be a nationwide effort with school administrations to quash boy-specific play and boy-imagination. Under a “no-tolerance towards violence” mandate, boys are being suspended or expelled for the same activity that helped me save the world when I was twelve 20 years ago. (Yeah, 20 years!) The article describes a Virginia boy expelled for using a pencil to pantomime a gun, another boy in Maryland punished for shaping his pop tart like a gun, and another for lobbing an imaginary hand grenade at “bad guys” in order to “save the world.” According to the article, schools are trying to “re-engineer the young male imagination” and it won’t take.
This attitude is no doubt a reaction to the Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold/Adam Lanza’s of the world who have all of us thinking schools are a war zone. It’s hard to over-react to the horror of events like Columbine and Sandy Hook, but a little bit of common sense would be helpful. What teacher or administrator decides that a kid who points his finger like a gun and makes the ptchoo sound needs to be expelled?
It’s not just that the schools are over-reacting, which they are doing to an absurd degree; it’s that they’re assuming such play nurtures a violent soul and a violent community, which is not likely a theory that finds support in psychological texts. Christina Hoff Sommers, who wrote the article, wrote, “..while violence may be built into the core of a small coterie of sociopathic boys,most boys are not sociopathic.”
Here’s an area where some of that extra-vigilance may be helpful. We still hear once or twice a month about a child who commits suicide after bullying makes his/her life impossible. It’s a complicated issue. My premise assumes that the kids are in fact killing themselves as a result of bullying, as pop culture would suggest, but even if there is an underlying mood disorder which leads the kids to self-inflicted violence, bullies tend to be in there somewhere.
Remember Amanda Todd, the little girl who killed herself a year ago just shy of her 16th birthday? She made a video holding up handwritten signs like Bob Dylan in the video of ”Subterranean Homesick Blues,” hers telling the story of how her peers were making her life miserable and how the pain was too great to continue. There was a backlash to the sympathy that poured out for her; some suggested with a hint of what Dan Savage refers to as “slut-shaming” that the cards did not tell the whole story. Of course they didn’t, but the bullying was real, and no one was paying close enough attention. Now she’s gone.
Kids can be little monsters. They’re often horrible to each other. They circle the weaker among them and pounce. If you’re different, if you’re fat, even if you’re too smart, they circle. If you start to identify as gay, or seem gay, you’re marked. All of us have encountered bullies, and probably most of us have at one time or another been bullies. Nowadays, the bullies follow kids home. In their cell phones, in their Facebook accounts…
Sadly, whenever you hear about these young suicides and the allegations that bullies are to blame (like with Amanda Todd, Audrie Pott, Megan Meier…how many names do you want?), you hear the bereaved parents say they reported the bullying to school officials and tried to get help. Maybe that’s not always true, maybe that’s a guilt-reaction from a distraught parent, but often enough, bullying incidents are reported with little to nothing done.
Maybe we can we focus a little less on the kids paying with imaginary guns and focus more on children in desperate trouble?