When I was growing up, my little brother would often run around with plastic cowboy guns, him little imagination running wild. Always wearing a sheriff’s badge, he would fight to protect our mother from the bad guys (usually me, the older sister). While this behavior was harmless back in the early 90s, and even though my mother, a strong proponent for strict gun control laws, let him play while always teaching him never to become violent or abuse his toys, these days, the act of my brother’s playfulness would land him suspended from school nowadays.
With heightened sensitivity about guns, more and more schools are taking the “better safe than sorry” approach to a whole new level. Kids can’t even chew their Pop Tarts into the shape of a gun without being reprimanded. I mean, I know those sprinkles can be killer, but let’s be reasonable here. When’s the last time someone shot another person with a Pop Tart?
This week, a Kindergartner who had brought a “cowboy style cap gun” to show his friend was suspended for ten days and questioned for more than two hours without his mother being notified, causing him to “uncharacteristically wet his pants.” The boy was described by his mother as being “all bugs and frogs and cowboys.” The boy’s family and their attorney have asked that the school appeal the suspension and expunge the boy’s record.
The punishments schools are giving are highly counterproductive and damaging to not only a child’s imagination, but self-esteem. Suspending and questioning a five year old boy only makes him scared and confused. If the schools could implement a program or appropriate response team to help children understand that they aren’t in trouble for gun shaped Pop Tarts or plastic cowboy guns and that as long as he does not hurt his fellow classmates, he will not be punished. Schools, after all, should maintain an atmosphere of learning and development, and striking fear into their students doesn’t do any good. Children will respond better to calm, rational discussion, not suspension (separating a child from his or her peers may also do more damage) and two hour questioning.