Ben’s kindergarten teacher sent me a note. It said, “Ben made an inappropriate comment: ‘Bomb a head off.'” I pulled my little boy aside immediately and asked him, “What did you say to upset your teacher?” He giggled, looking innocent (read: no dimple showed) and explained: “We were making these Hanukkah books, with pictures where the girls walk around with a candles on their heads, and this is like a bomb, the candle is, so I told the girls at the table that I hope the bomb doesn’t blow off their heads.”
To summarize, my kindergartener got over excited and he and some other boy traded stories about exploding Hanukkah candle-bombs exploding in their heads. I received another note later this afternoon alerting me that Ben’s file will include a permanent note marking him as a behavior threat because he used the word “bomb” in a scary way. I am confused by what life is sending me. Indubitably, threats should be taken seriously.
And yet, my son was not making a threat of any kind. The County Guidelines define a threat as “an expression of intent to harm someone that may be spoken, written, or gestured.” My son did not intend to harm anyone. In all cases, including the one at hand, there must be some discretion. What happens when a child is reading from a textbook about a war or an assassination of a President and uses the words “gun,” “bomb” or “killed?” What if a child uses such a word and is overheard and misunderstood by a teacher? Why is my child being singled out when other children were laughing? How could my 40 pound 5-year old constitute a threat to his classmates? Does it not matter that he did not intend to hurt anyone but was in fact concerned that the candles would explode and injure someone else? What if my son now has a permanent stain on his file because he got over excited and giggling over the candle-bombs? How is this his fault? Application of rules without context can result in an unjust legality, as it were.
Kindergarten boys use words. Not all of these words are nice. It’s how they learn. Words matter but they do not bear a magical connotation. The words “bomb” or “gun” or “kill” all require context in order to assume their intended function; moreover, the only way we teach morality to little people is to allow them to use many of these words and to provide the proper context for the words. When a 5-year-old screams, “I hate you,” or “I want to kill you,” this gives a conscientious parent the opportunity to discuss the nature of life and death and love and hate. When a child screams, “I will kill you,” perhaps this is the time (for those of us who believe in the Word), to mention the Ten Commandments and the punishment God exacts upon murderers. And if you’re wondering, I have had all of these conversations with my children and they’re better people for it.
A reader said to me, “It all starts and ends with the parenting. It is not the schools’ responsibility to raise our kids or teach them right from wrong. It is their job to teach them and keep them safe while doing it. If that means they over react and back pedal after proper investigation, then so be it.” I hear what she’s saying but I think when we create policies and procedures for almost-adult students and apply them to 5-year olds, we create more harm than good. Sure, the school covers its ass, and maybe in the long run, that’s all we really care about. We live in a society governed by a legal system that does little to protect the innocent. There is a reason lawyers call it a “legal system” rather than a justice system, and the same sort of blind injustice governs the school systems. Ben’s school is applying rules minus discernment or judgment or that word I used earlier: context. This yields an easier result for the Bureaucrats and teachers but it ignores the needs of the individual child. My child. And this both disturbs and frightens me.