George Will: Pop-Tart terrorists
RODNEY FRANCIS is insufficiently ambitious. The pastor of the Washington Tabernacle Baptist Church in St. Louis has entered the fray over guns, violence and humanity's fallen nature with a plan for a "buyback" of children's toy guns. And toy swords and other make-believe weapons. There is, however, a loophole in the pastor's panacea. He neglects the problem of ominously nibbled and menacingly brandished breakfast pastries.
Joshua Welch - a boy, wouldn't you know; no good can come of these turbulent creatures - who is 7, was suspended from second grade in Maryland's Anne Arundel County last week because of his "Pop-Tart pistol." While eating a rectangular fruit-filled sugary something - nutritionist Michelle Obama probably disapproves of it, and don't let Michael Bloomberg get started - Joshua tried biting it into the shape of a mountain, but decided it looked more like a gun. So with gender-specific perversity he did the natural thing. He said, "Bang, bang."
But is this really natural? Or is nature taking a back seat to nurture, yet again? Is Joshua's "bang, bang" a manifestation of some prompting in our defective social atmosphere, and therefore something society could and should stamp out?
While some might enjoy dogpaddling around in this deep philosophic water, Joshua's school, taking its cue from Hamlet, did not allow its resolve to be "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." More eager to act than to think, the school suspended Joshua and sent a letter to all the pupils' parents, urging them to discuss the "incident" - which the school includes in the category "classroom disruptions" - with their children "in a manner you deem most appropriate."
Ah, yes. The all-purpose adjective "appropriate." The letter said "one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures" and although "no physical threats were made and no one was harmed" the code of student conduct stipulates "appropriate consequences." The letter, suffused with the therapeutic ethic, suggested that parents help their children "share their feelings" about all this. It also said the school counselor is available, presumably to cope with Post-Pastry Trauma Syndrome.
By now, Americans may be numb to such imbecilities committed by the government institutions to which they entrust their children for instruction. Nothing surprises after that 5-year-old Pennsylvania girl was labeled a "terroristic threat," suspended from school and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation because she talked about shooting herself and others with her Hello Kitty gun that shoots bubbles. But looking on the bright side, perhaps we should welcome these multiplying episodes as tutorials about the nature of the regulatory state that swaddles us ever more snuggly with its caring. If so, give thanks for the four Minnesota state legislators whose bill would ban "bullying" at school.
They define this as the use of words, images or actions that interfere with an individual's ability "to participate in a safe and supportive learning environment." Bullying may include, among many other things, conduct that has a "detrimental effect" on a student's "emotional health." Or conduct that "creates or exacerbates a real or perceived imbalance of power between students." Or violates a student's "reasonable expectation of privacy." Or conduct that "does not rise to the level of harassment" but "relates to" - yes, relates to - "the actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, age, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, academic status, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined" in another Minnesota statute.
If this becomes law, it will further empower the kind of relentless improvers and mindless protectors who panic over Pop-Tart pistols and discern terrorism in Hello Kitty bubble guns. Such people in Minnesota will be deciding what behavior - speech, usually - damages a "supportive learning environment." They will be sniffing out how students' speech or other behavior has real or perceived - by whom? - effects on the balance of "power" between other students. And school bureaucracies will ponder whether what Sally told Eleanor about Brad's behavior with Pam after the prom violated Brad's, or perhaps Pam's, "reasonable expectation of privacy."
Government is failing spectacularly at its core functions, such as budgeting and educating. Yet it continues to multiply its peripheral and esoteric responsibilities, tasks that require it to do things for which it has no aptitude, such as thinking and making common-sense judgments. Government nowadays is not just embarrassing, it is - let us not mince words - inappropriate.
George Will is a columnist for Newsweek in Washington, D.C., and a commentator for ABC News.