Saturday, February 5, 2011

A government of laws, not of (school) administrators

In Hammonton, NJ, a few miles south of the Contrapunctal manse, a young fellow was brought up on charges for bringing a weapon to his local establishment of education. As always, MSNBC is on top of gun crime.

The usual folks are outraged by the idea that a seven-year-old child can be arrested for possession of a toy; and there is, indeed, much to lampoon here.

But isn’t this what John Adams had in mind when he advocated “a government of laws not of men”? If the law prohibits toy guns at schools and mandates criminal charges – well, then, that’s what should happen. (We’re assuming that there’s a law at issue and not merely a rule or regulation.)

Now, whether or not the law makes any sense is an entirely separate question. It is possible that there’s a good chance that this particular law would be judged to be less than optimal by the vast majority of Americans. Most of us, when faced with the threat of a pipsqueak armed with a ping-pong-ball shooter, would simply explain to him that he can only play with that toy in certain places and not, for instance, in a classroom.

However, what if a high-school senior brings a more-or-less realistic toy gun to school? This one, say. (OK, it’s not that realistic -- but close enough, I think, especially given the amount of experience the products of our colleges of education are likely to have with firearms.) Is there any question that his only motive (assuming that he’s of normal intelligence and not a “mainstreamed” child) would be to upset and disrupt the school?

So it’s possible that the law/regulation/rule/whatever was written with a real problem in mind. But it’s still stupid.

The offense has nothing to do with the gun, but rather with the effect. No one would object to punishing children who intentionally disrupt their schools – but the offense is the disruption, not the mechanism thereof. There is no need to outlaw toy guns, noisemakers, bullhorns, fire extinguishers, liquid nitrogen, and every other substance or object that could conceivably be used to cause trouble.

Did you notice the weasel word I just snuck in? Who is to judge whether an action is “intentional” or not? Since our public-school administrators are selected such that their chief attributes are subnormal intelligence, limited knowledge, and lack of imagination (yes, I’m serious: have you ever spoken to one? or read the statements of “Dr.” Dan Blachford in the MSNBC article?), granting them any discretion at all is bound to lead to serious problems.

Our problem is not with this particular case, galling as it is, but with the culture of public education in the United States. And that’s a completely different post….

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