Saturday, June 21, 2014

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XXIII: The Wondering About Weapons Edition

An underlying current of unease has been in the atmosphere.  With each new story we hear of mass shootings, we seem to throw up our hands wondering why this is happening.  What is going on with our nation?  There ought to be stricter laws!  Why are mass shootings on the rise?  

Except they're not.

Now, I'm not trying to start a debate on gun control, so stick with me here.  But media venues from left to right, Daily Beast to CNN to TownHall, are all citing Northeastern University criminologist, James Alan Fox's study demonstrating that there is no major increase in mass shootings since 1976 (where he began his comparison).

So, why are we given the impression that such gun homicides are on the rise?  Is it the rapid flow of information these days?  Is it a sensationalistic media that has a 24 hour news cycle they must fill?  Who knows!

One thing is for certain, highly publicized incidents like the ones that took place at Sandy Hook and Isla Vista have done NOTHING to help the way our kids with special needs are perceived.  Sadly, our culture would rather overreact than come to a greater understanding of autism, Asperger's Syndrome, schizophrenia, or childhood depression.  Whatever is most expeditious seems to win out over truly getting to know an affected child, so the knee-jerk reaction is to perceive every one of our special kids as a potential mass murderer.
Case in point, two recent incidents have occurred where children were disciplined by a school because of incidents involving imaginary weapons.

 Are you SERIOUS?!

In the first case, a 13 year old boy in New Jersey was suspended after a student sitting behind him in class blurted out, "He’s making gun motions, send him to (juvenile detention!)" while the boy was twirling his pencil in class.  The school would only allow him to return after a psychological evaluation was done declaring that he was not an imminent threat to his fellow classmates.

Photo image courtesy of sakhorn38 via
In the second case, an 8 year old boy was tossed out of a private special school that helps children with social-behavioral issues in Lower Manhattan after his parents had already paid the school nearly $120,000 in tuition and other expenses, because he had threatened another student with a gun made out of rolled-up paper.  The school said the boy “had a model for physically aggressive behavior in his immediate family,’’ simply because his father had served a tour of duty in the military.  

These are just two publicized stories.  Because of our work with many parents across the nation, I also know other families who go through such things without them appearing in the media.  Many parents feel a sense of wounded shame around them.  I know of one family who endured a suspension for their child because another student had seen this kid write in a notebook a list of names of hated fellow students that had been bullying.  The school involved the police, telling the parents that such writing was considered a "hit list".  Again, the student could not return to school until a psychiatric professional had cleared the child as no risk to fellow students.

I am not professing that any of the kids involved in these situations are angelic.  No child is perfect.  However, I also don't feel comfortable about the way any of these mentioned situations have been handled.  

In at least two of these situations, mere accusation caused an event where the PARENT was required to pay for mental health evaluation in order for their child to return to school (if they are allowed to return at all), not the school calling the child into question.  Families dealing with special needs are rarely like the divorced Manhattan couple that shelled out the $120,000.  They are usually financially pressed families who spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes on doctors and therapists.  These are people who are hard pressed for acceptance and support from extended family, neighbors, churches and the wider community.

I am not sure what the answer is, but I'm doubtful that it is removing a student from school for twirling a pencil or shooting a paper gun.  In fact, I have to wonder if this sort of reaction only ingrains in a child that they are a "bad kid", setting them up for future social issues or trouble with the law.

What do you think?  Is our culture overreacting because of people like Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger, James Holmes and the like?  How do we get the culture to stop recoiling from our children and begin loving them for who they are?

I sure wish I had all the answers...

~ Barb Dittrich

*For further reading, Father claims son was removed from NJ school for twirling a pencil, WPIX News; Toy gun made of paper gets kid tossed from school, New York.

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