Here’s this week’s “Did that really happen?” quiz. Which of these stories did not take place in the past few days?
A) A 10-year-old boy who brought his Swiss army knife on an overnight school nature trip was isolated from his fellow students for a day and forced to eat his meals alone. He had to sleep separately, too.
B) A high-school girl whose science experiment accidentally exploded a little — no one hurt — was hauled off in handcuffs. She also was expelled from school.
C) A 16-year-old Eagle Scout went to the school office to ask for permission to move his car off premises when he suddenly remembered he still had his (unloaded) shotgun in the trunk after a weekend of skeet shooting. Instead, he was expelled.
D) A 5-year-old who brought a plutonium bomb to kindergarten was reprimanded during show and tell.
If you guessed D, you not only are right but also somehow still possess a functioning brain, which is more than I can say for any of the authorities involved in the other three decisions. Those administrators clearly have sworn to uphold the two new laws governing our land: the law of zero tolerance, whereby adults willfully refuse to recognize any difference between an everyday activity and an existential threat, and what I call the law of increasing incompetence. The latter is the law that treats competence in kids as somehow threatening and actively works to repress it.
Zero tolerance gets the press, but look beneath it and you often will find this new idea that many things children have done since the dawn of time are suddenly too taxing, difficult and dangerous for this generation. Instead, adults must keep kids from the fulfillment — excuse me, the danger — of doing anything on their own.
So if a boy brings a penknife on a camping trip (which is really something everyone should do), it’s immediately snatched away. God forbid he should do something on his own! Instead, the adults will take care of his and all the other kids’ needs. The child is punished for trying to pitch in.
Meantime, a high-school girl mixes some chemicals that go boom. That’s not to be tolerated, because, my goodness, she’s engaging in scientific exploration! Everyone knows where that could lead: more experiments! Maybe even — I hate to even say it — an understanding of basic chemistry. Who needs that when we can tamp down the girls’ natural curiosity by dragging her off to court?
Then there’s that high-school student who admitted to the school authorities — of his own accord — that he had in his trunk an unloaded shotgun for skeet shooting. Not only is that the definition of a non-threat; look at what an upright young man we’re talking about! A guy who goes to the office of his own accord and asks to do the right thing!
For this, he’s treated like a terrorist. The idea that he was demonstrating responsibility didn’t seem to cross anyone’s mind. Besides, responsibility is the last thing we are asking from our kids.
No, our marching orders are to thwart young folks’ natural desire to help. Cauterize their curiosity. Make sure they understand they should not even attempt to pitch in and join the adult world. In other words, stunt them.
We seem to be doing a great job.