Wednesday, August 09, 2006

This Wouldn't Be A Problem If Students Just Quit Having Feelings

That sucking sound you hear is the collective gasp of school age children all around the country as the look at the calendar and realize that the time draws near when they will have to once again form up and march off to the halls of academe. And don't even think about not enjoying the intellectual stylings of your appointed instructional technicians you little ingrates. You know who you are.

A former Fulton County student who was expelled from high school for writing about a dream in which a student shoots a math teacher has failed to convince a federal court that the school system violated her right to free speech. "First of all, what's she doing dreaming in school," said Senior Judge Marvin Shoob. "And writing is for English class, not math class."

In his order, Shoob said the writings were "sufficiently disturbing" to support the school system's 10 day suspension of the honor student. "Having this girl express her frustration through writing sends all the wrong messages about what school is," Shoob said. "When she gets older she can deal with her problems by developing a drinking problem like the rest of us."

After her October 2003 expulsion attracted national attention, the Fulton County school system dropped the most serious disciplinary charge — that Rachel had threatened bodily harm against school personnel — and reduced the punishment from expulsion for the school year to a 10-day suspension. "Originally the principal wanted to have her locked up," said a school district spokesperson. "But then he realized that locking up the honor students would hurt the school's score on the state assessment test so he reduced the punishment."

Shoob found the system's disciplining of the student did not violate her right to free expression because school officials were justified in perceiving the story as a portent of possible future violence. "It's crystal clear to me that this honor student, who had never been in trouble before, who was a model student in every other way, was a time bomb just waiting to go off. Add to that the fact that almost all violence in the schools has been committed by boys and I can see why the school district didn't want to take a chance."

The student said she never meant any harm. "Rather than write a long treatise on the causes of my frustration in his class and try to understand why he made math so boring, I thought I'd just kill him off in a fantasy story. I got the idea from listening to the president explain his foreign policy." she said.

News about the incident attracted support for her from advocates of freedom of expression. At the school system's discipline tribunal hearing, Georgia's poet laureate, David Bottoms, was among those who testified on her behalf.
"As a poet, you don't know how refreshing it is to find a student who can write something besides a test essay these days."

Her suspension recalls George Orwell's "1984," Bottoms said, a novel in which people are prosecuted for thought crimes. "Except in this case it's just plain old thought that got the girl in trouble. Who among us hasn't thought about killing their math teacher at one time or another? I mean come on. They're math teachers for crying out loud."

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