Hoplophobes Terrified of Lego Gun, Boy Suspended

In an absurd display of zero tolerance and anti-gun hysteria, a Palmer, Massachusetts kindergartner was given detention for bringing a Lego gun the size of a quarter onto a school bus. The boy was also forced to write a letter of apology to the bus driver. As much as I’d like to believe that this will instill the child with a healthy disrespect for unwarranted authority, tragically I fear he will be shamed into submissive acceptance of his incompetent overlords.

The 6-year-old boy was playing with the diminutive toy when another student alerted the bus driver about the impending doom of the G.I. Joe accessory. Acting with all of the tact and logic one expects from a public school worker, the driver then put the children in an exponentially more dangerous situation by bringing the vehicle to an abrupt stop. The Old Mill Pond Elementary School then meted out its punishment to the youngster, presumably feeling as wise as Solomon.

Mieke Crane, the boy’s mother, was not thrilled with the schools draconian response:

“I think they overreacted, totally. I totally do…At six-years-old, I don’t really think he understood the zero-tolerance policy and related it to this as the same.”

This is not the first time that school officials have overreacted in the name of zero-tolerance. As I have written about before at Wondergressive, earlier this year a 7-year-old boy was suspended for biting a Pop-Tart into (supposedly) the shape of a gun. Colorado second grader Alex Evans was suspended in February for throwing an imaginary grenade while playing soldier at recess.  First grader Rodney Lynch was actually suspended for making a gun gesture with his hand, pointing it at a fellow classmate and saying “pow.”

Most disturbingly, Honor Student Savana Redding, then 13, was strip-searched down to her underwear under suspicion of possessing prescription-strength Ibuprofen. The humiliating search proved fruitless. The Supreme Court decided 8-1 that the school officials did indeed violate Redding’s 4th Amendment rights by illegally searching her. However, the Justices ruled that the officials could not personally be held liable for their criminal actions.  

All in the name of zero-tolerance for both guns and drugs.

Sanity and reason are not the end-goals of these bizarre, one-size-always-fits-all policies. Instead they serve to protect teachers and union officials from parents who might sue for malfeasance or neglect.

Recite the magic incantation of “Procedures were followed!” and no litigious harm shall befall you! As long as these bus drivers, teachers and principals are not held accountable for their misdeeds, the absurdity will only magnify. Only when they are personally liable for their own actions will they (unwillingly) step away from the Cliffs of Insanity.

Stories like this help to reveal the madness that is currently brewing in American public schools. They also help illustrate the growing fear of firearms in the country. The disconcerting part of this trend is that fear is a rational response to something threatening. The current mania sweeping the nation is more properly described as an irrational phobia of guns, hoplophobia to be exact.

Despite highly visible and tragic events like the Sandy Hook shooting, violent crime has actually been dropping for about two decades. The gun murder rate has almost halved in that stretch. The overall non-fatal violent crime rate involving guns dropped 75% between 1993 and 2011.

Yet despite this good news, when polled by Pew Research Center, a whopping 56% of Americans falsely believed that gun crime had increased over that period. Only 12% correctly responded that crime has plummeted.

As witnessed by the innumerable calls for further gun control post-Sandy Hook, Americans are increasingly frightened of firearms despite the demonstrable reality that the world around them continues to be safer than at any time since the early ’90s. This irrational fear is crescendoing into a palpable phobia for all things ballistic.

This fear of guns is very animistic in nature. In animistic religions, plants, animals, and even inanimate objects are imbued with special powers or spiritual significance. When you look at the irrational hatred of firearms through this lens, the insanity of zero-tolerance begins to come sharply into focus. It doesn’t matter that the Lego gun is the size of a quarter, in the eyes of hoplophobes it is still a gun with magical powers. It doesn’t matter that it’s simply a kid’s Pop-Tart chewed into an ambiguous shape, it looks like a gun, dammit!

The best example of this phobia is poor 7-year-old Rodney Lynch, whom I previously mentioned was suspended for making a gun shape with his hand. He was punished merely for making a representation of a firearm. In more Biblical terms, he was penalized for making a graven image of an unholy object. He had to be punished for this sin, lest he or others repeat the blasphemy.

Another aspect of this irrational fear is that it’s only directed towards everyday citizens, something that doesn’t apply to police officers, who are viewed as a special breed of humans. Famously, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had to walk back gun control legislation because it didn’t exempt police officers from the ban on “high-capacity” magazines.

To clarify the governor’s position, spokesman Matthew Wing said:

“Police officers possessing ammunition clip [sic] with more than seven bullets are not in violation of this law and they never will be, period.”

This special privilege granted to the Boys in Blue seem unwarranted given their behavior.

During the manhunt for former-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner earlier this year, at least seven officers amazingly mistook Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother, Emma Hernandez, 71, for the sizable black fugitive. They fired upon the pair and Hernandez was shot twice in the back. Carranza was injured from flying glass and shrapnel from the over two dozen bullet holes that were found in the back of their pickup truck.

Those officers seem like models of restraint.

More recently, Philly.com reported on a surge in police shootings in the City of Brotherly Love:

“The number of shootings by police in 2012 resulting in death or injury climbed to the highest level it’s been in 10 years. Philadelphia police shot 52 suspects last year while responding to calls for reported crimes. Of those shot, 15 people died.”

These shootings represent a 50% increase over 2011. The police department hasn’t provided a reason for the increase and they have refused to release any information concerning the shootings.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey supported his department’s use of force, saying:

“I think we have a solid policy and consider it best practice.”

Mistakes were made. Procedures were followed.

Another disgusting aspect of this animism manifests itself in the way it’s reported. Almost invariably the passive voice is used to describe police officers shooting a victim.

Three years ago in Detroit, a 7-year-old girl was fatally shot during a raid in search of a murder suspect. The police fired a flash-bang into the house to disorient its occupants and stormed in. Rather than directly blaming Officer Joseph Weekley for killing the girl, amazingly the Associated Press writes that “A gunshot then went off inside, fatally striking [Aiyana Stanley-Jones] in the head while she slept on the couch.”

A human being didn’t pull the trigger. The gun magically “went off.” The writer then reports that “[Weekley] didn’t prevent his gun from firing” and later that “Police have said his gun accidentally discharged.”

Guns don’t accidentally discharge. The safety was off and someone pulled the trigger when it was pointed at a human being. But in the animistic view of firearms, they possess a will of their own and the supernatural ability to impart it on the world.

The hoplophobia of many Americans today has manifested itself in bizarre and increasingly paranoid ways. Pop-Tarts and Legos are viewed as functional weapons by school officials yet the violence perpetrated by police officers is seemingly justified in the eyes of the press and the public. Malfeasance is explained away by triggers with self-determination.

Guns are tools, just like automobiles or hammers or ladders, and they can be dangerous when they are misused. But they are not magical talismans. They are not to be inherently feared. Rather, like with any dangerous device, criminal users of firearms or cars should be held culpable for their neglect or malicious intent.

People need to be educated about guns and their productive uses and also their potential dangers. By outlawing the mere representation of firearms, it ensures that people will continue to reflexively and irrationally fear them, knee-jerking into draconian and pointless legislation.

More education and less bed-wetting terror is needed to end this hysteria. However, I fear that many people deem guns to be too impure and icky to dare challenge their own animistic preconceptions of them.

For the sake of liberty, I hope I’m wrong.
















Public School Failure in America



After my controversial post last week on income inequality in America, I became involved in a conversation about how the government actually helps foster these disparities. One of the main contributors to these dismal scores are the remarkably inept and dysfunctional public schools which trap the poor while the wealthy, as Barack Obama has elected to do, can afford to send their kids to superior private schools.

Other than the empirical failures of public schools, the government education system serves to infantilize children and indoctrinate them to unflinchingly accept the state and its omnipresence and presumed omniscience.

The abject state of US public schools is not in question. The Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD) tests hundreds of thousands of international students from 65 participating nations. America was ranked 23rd in science, 17th in reading and a woeful 31st in math. Americans are also bad at actually completing high school. The US has a graduation rate of about 78%, good for 22nd out of 27 countries. Not too bad for government work?

South Korean students are routinely at the top of the global rankings. Having taught in Korea for three years and counting—and having been subjugated to the US school system for almost 18 years—I can say firsthand that the American system is a complete joke. After public school is over, Korean students are sent to two or three private schools every day to learn English, science or math. For high school students, a typical day of instruction begins at 8am and doesn’t end until 10pm, when homework time begins. I hardly remember doing any homework in high school; a day with 30 minutes worth was certainly rare. In Korea students routinely have 3-4 hours every night and often don’t go to sleep until after 2am. (Sleep is a precious commodity for Koreans. They have a special talent for being able to fall asleep on a dime, a technique often attempted in my classroom.) Students back home have a three month break during which they can forget half of the previous year’s lessons. Students in Korea have two months “vacation,” during which their parents send them to additional private schools. Education is religion in the Republic of Korea.

The Korean system is far too draconian and soul-crushing to possibly want to emulate. I have had students not understand the concept of free time. I tried to explain to one girl further: “What do you do when you’re not at school or doing homework?” She looked confused before she answered “I sleep!” There is absolutely no way American students can compete with fervor like that on a global scale unless there is a dramatic overhaul in the way the United States educates its children, and we don’t have to turn our schools into gulags to do so.

Not only do US schools fail their charges educationally, they have also become a place where logic and sanity have been eradicated and replaced with mindless procedures and an astounding disregard for the welfare of students. Zero tolerance policies for guns and drugs are a large part of the insanity. Schools and guns certainly don’t mix and never have, but the Sandy Hook massacre has intensified the animistic, knee-jerk reactions of school officials to “incidents” that aren’t.


Examples of this detached-from-reality thinking are not hard to come by. Earlier this month a 7-year-old boy in Baltimore was suspended for biting a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. Colorado second grader Alex Evans was suspended in February for throwing an imaginary grenade while playing soldier at recess. In January, a 5-year-old boy at Hyannis West Elementary School in Massachusetts was threatened with suspension for making a gun-like shape out of Legos. Most absurdly, first grader Rodney Lynch was actually suspended for making a gun gesture with his hand, pointing it at a fellow classmate and saying “pow.” Seriously.



Zero tolerance hysteria also extends to the disastrous and failed War on Drugs. Honor student Savanna Redding was strip-searched by school officials under suspicion of concealing illicit substances. The catch is that Redding was being accused of holding prescription-strength ibuprofen, when another student caught with contraband fingered Redding as their source. The 13-year-old girl was forced to disrobe and to pull out her underwear, shake out her bra and expose herself. No drugs were found. The girl was so humiliated that she never returned to the school.

Redding’s parents took the issue to the courts, where the case eventually found its way to the Supreme Court. In a 8-1 decision, with Justice Thomas dissenting, the court decided that Redding’s constitutional rights had, indeed, been violated by stripping her down in the vain quest to uncover the equivalent of a couple tablets of Advil.

The buffoons who sign off on these searches and suspensions don’t belong anywhere near children, let alone be entrusted with teaching them critical thinking skills that the teachers and administrators clearly lack.

One of the biggest problems with public schools is that they are inescapable. Poor Americans can’t afford to Super Size their children’s future through privatized education the way that wealthier families can. People are forced to send their children to the public school in the district that they live in, regardless of quality. In fact, it’s illegal to fudge the truth about your place of residence in order to gerrymander your child into a better school. Kelly Williams-Bolar of Akron, OH learned this the hard way when she registered her children at her father’s house in an attempt to get them into a better school district. Even though the father claimed that the children did indeed live with him, Williams-Bolar was nonetheless sentenced to five years in prison. Although the judge suspended all but 10 days of that sentence, she still had to serve 80 hours of community service and was put on probation for three years. All for the crime of having her children’s best interests at heart.

The overarching and negative issues with public schools largely stem from the fact that they are centrally controlled and they disallow competition. Schools aren’t in a position to customize their curriculum or to innovate in ways that might benefit parents or their children’s education. The most glaring example of this is the disastrous 2001 No Child Left Behind policy, which mandates that schools won’t receive federal funding unless their students demonstrate proficiency in standardized tests. This misguided top-down control is one thing that helps foster substandard public schools: Rather than be able to adapt and adjust to the needs of the students and their parents, schools are forced to play by bureaucratic rules created by Washington that try to create a one-size-fits-all method of education. Private schools, able to exist without federal aid, are largely able to eschew these demands of conformity.

It’s important to note that the problems public schools face cannot be solved by continuing to throw money at them. According to numbers from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the amount of money spent per pupil has tripled since 1970 (see the chart at the top of this post), with absolutely nothing to show for it. Students’ scores in reading, math and science have flatlined. It’s clear that the problems with the system are not financial. The institution itself and the philosophy behind it is rotten. The supposed Tree of Knowledge can no longer bear fruit.

Public schools can be fixed if competition and choice are again injected into the system, allowing parents to freely choose schools that provide the best education to their children. Good schools would flourish and flagging ones would disappear from the market like a restaurant that has horrific service and serves rancid food.

Charter schools and programs like the Washington DC Opportunity Based Scholarship Program demonstrate how these principles can work in practice. Rather than forcing parents to send their children to the nearest public school, parents could be issued vouchers backed by tax-payer money. This voucher would represent the amount of money a state spends on each student per year for schooling, which averages about $11,500 although the figure varies between states. Schools that attract students are rewarded with the money allotted to that student. If a school fails to deliver the service it promises, then the parents are free to find a school that will, just like in any healthy business-customer relationship.

It’s time to completely revamp education in America. It’s a failed system that has been allowed to stagnate and fester like a bad case of trench foot. Institutional monopolies are uniquely capable of being massive while also providing piss-poor service, a reality that is readily admitted when it occurs outside of the public sector. After all, how happy would you be if you were forced to continually pay for a substandard computer that refused to upgrade and respond to market demand, year after year?

Inane bureaucracy and lack of choice are two driving factors to the inadequacies of public school systems in America. By allowing individuals to customize their children’s educational experience, we can dramatically improve their future by dismantling the idea that their place of residence shackles them to the school of nearest geographical convenience.