Stay frosty

Stay frosty

March 25
21:36 2013

Earlier this month, an elementary school student in Baltimore, Maryland, was suspended for “using food to make inappropriate gestures.”

Drawing from our own cafeteria experiences, we guessed the culprit performed some kind of disgustingly creative charades routine featuring dirty combinations of carrot sticks and cottage cheese to catch such serious discipline, but it turns out that 7-year-old Joshua Welch didn’t even try that hard.

The second-grader nibbled a Pop-Tart pastry he was eating into the shape of a gun, brandished the sugary Saturday night special and said “bang, bang.” Park Elementary School administrators described this behavior as threatening to Welch’s fellow students, and suspended him for two days.

We kind of get what’s going on here. In a post-Newtown world, even the most tenuous association between guns and school has most of us reaching for the panic button.

The problem is that for every jumpy educator who sees something shady at the lunch table and calls the Pop-Tart police, another real threat to schools and students goes unaddressed in favor of a well-deserved media circus.

The perpetrators of school shootings aren’t 7-year-old pranksters with a penchant for strawberry pastries. They’re usually mentally disturbed high school and college students, or non-students who attack schools for their large crowds and younger, easier targets.

If shooters are students, they generally experience bullying, isolation or other emotional trauma prior to their rampage.

This abuse—which often goes entirely unaddressed by schools because it’s way more complicated than a pastry pistol—combines with their mental instability and leads them to the breaking point.

This breaking point doesn’t always cause violence against others. That’s why Jadin Bell, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Oregon, hanged himself last January after other students at his school bullied him for being gay.

It’s also why an unnamed, bullied eighth grader in Michigan brought a handgun to school last week, ducked into a boys’ bathroom and shot himself in the head.

These teens both died of their injuries, but they took no victims with them. Somehow, this fact makes their lives less notable, less likely to drum up controversy or ratings on CNN because the only threat they posed was to themselves.

You’d be lucky to see either of them in the headlines for more than a few seconds.

By convincing the public that knee-jerk freak-outs over non-issues like Welch’s “gun” are the only steps being taken against violence, school administrators are inviting us all to believe that they’re completely incompetent—and that when the chips are down, there’s nothing they can really do to stop the next Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris or Adam Lanza.

In other words, they’re doing their part to prop up a paranoid culture of fear surrounding school violence that prevents any real progress from taking place. But hey, it makes for great ratings, right?

It would be pretty easy if we could stop gun violence in schools by slapping handcuffs on every kid with an imagination. Unfortunately, the solution is a lot more complicated.

Until schools dedicate themselves to providing safe space for bullied kids to find counseling and support, until they drop the meaningless sham of “zero tolerance” and start actually addressing why their students go over the edge in the first place, until they start treating students like human beings instead of criminals—this is going to keep happening.

And it will have nothing to do with Pop-Tarts.

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