Location: St. Vincent & Grenadines

You were driving home in the dark on one glass-slippered heel, window sliced open and bathing in the snowliquor of the night air. We heard you singing, and couldn't bear to wake you.

25 August 2006

Gonna open me up a black gold vein.

So it's been two weeks since I posted. What of it?

Now that we've got that out of the way, let me say this. No, actually, let Steve say this on my behalf. The following items, people and concepts are officially On Notice:

No further comment should be necessary. If for some bizarre reason you feel that no further comment should not be necessary, you can go here to do your whining.


So I've got this weekend and then school starts on Monday. After two weeks of cheek-by-jowl meetings and virtually no time to sit in my room and plan curriculum, my mental state is 85% high-velocity panic, 10% eye-of-the-storm calm, and 5% reedy, hysterical laughter. At this point, I'm relying on centrifugal force to keep all my shingles flying in a formation that resembles some sort of structure.

Speaking of scary school things, read this. I'm on the fence with this one. Intellectually, I'm a gung-ho First Amendment believer, but my gut is singing a different tune here. I think expulsion was overdoing it, but suspension -- and counseling -- would have been entirely appropriate. So much depends upon context; what you say or write matters differently depending on where and when you express it, how you introduce it, what your intention is. I'm an enthusiastic consumer of transgressive art; I think censorship and paranoia are insidious and far more dangerous than fantasy. I think the proper response to bad art is good art. I think if you are testing boundaries, you'd better leave a channel open for dialogue -- or be prepared for a backlash. I think I don't know what I think, really, but I'd like to hear what you think.

Monday. Bright and early. Welcome to English, lads and lassies.


Blogger Wesley said...

With due respect, I think your job puts you too close to this one. (The censorship story, that is.)

The suspension -- let alone the expulsion -- is totally unsupportable. The fact is, she didn't even use the guy's name, as I understand it. I'd wager we not only wrote, but published in multiple media, worse things about a certain English teacher during our own high school tenure (it seemed like that long).

Somebody brings a gun to school? Lock them the fuck up. Somebody writes about bringing a gun to school? In their *personal journal*? Nobody's business.

I just don't buy any grey areas on this one. Post-Columbine, the "defend to the death your right to say it" doctrine seems to have gone down the slippery slope, and case law like this just makes it easier for the principle to be abused. I shudder to think what the authorities would have thought had they gone through my private notebooks at Analy.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Felix Helix said...

Exhibit A: "Mr. Nelkcehs is a shithead. I hope he fries in Hell."

Exhibit B: "Mr. Nelkcehs is a shithead. I raise my gun, aim it at his head, cock it, and pull the trigger. His head explodes, splattering the walls with its contents. Sure enough: feces."

Exhibit A is unkind and in poor taste, but it expresses nothing more threatening than an opinion and a devout wish. Exhibit B describes a violent act.

I had personal journals when I was a teenager, and I wrote all kinds of disturbing, violent, profane stuff in them, but I didn't bring them to class and show them around to my friends. If you want something to stay personal and private, you keep it to yourself. If what you really want is to get a response from someone else, you do what this girl did.

But the problem is not that she portrayed a scene of violence in her writing; it's that the violence in the scene was directed at someone she knew. She had a sixth period math teacher, and she wrote a story about killing a sixth period math teacher, and she brought it to school and showed it around. In my view, that's not just bad taste, that's a threat that deserves to be taken seriously.

Maybe she was just fooling around. That's probably all it was. But what if it wasn't? You say "If someone comes to school with a gun, lock them the fuck up." You bet. Of course, by then someone might have been shot. If there was no way to know the gun was coming ahead of time, that would be an unavoidable tragedy. But what if the shooter writes a story the day before, and shows it to friends at school, and the story says "I have decided to bring a gun to school and kill that dickwad Ian Hentschke"?

A cop pulls me over for speeding. As he's writing the ticket, I say "I'm going to kill you, pig." The cop is taken aback, but he reacts quickly, pulling his gun and telling me to step out of the car and put my hands behind my head. "Goodness gracious, officer," I say, "there's been a misunderstanding. You see, I'm a writer. I'm working on a sequel to Orwell's Animal Farm in which the horses revolt against the swine who oppress them, and I was just going over some dialogue for the next chapter."

What do you think happens next?

Or: "Sorry about that stampede, folks. When I yelled 'Fire!' in that crowded theater, I was just making a spontaneous suggestion to the character of the boss, who was wondering how to deal with his subordinate's embezzlement."

Look, I realize that the person who did this is a kid. I'm not recommending jail time. But a few days away from the location of the incident, and some dialogue with a counselor and parents and faculty about her feelings and the way she chose to express them? Totally.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous ChgoRed said...

I can smell the new school supplies from here. Good luck with the new bunch.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anh said...

Are you going to display flags from other countries like this teacher?
Seriously, have a great school year.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Myke said...

I'm with Sr. Helix on this one. If one of your co-workers writes a story about bringing a gun to work and shooting you, and shows it around the office, do you say, "Way to exercise those First Amendment rights!"? Or do you expect your employer to do something about it?
I think the real after-effect of Columbine is evident in the original punishment - every case of a student doing something wrong seems to get adjudicated with a throw-the-book-at-'em mentality. Maybe the student just made a stupid mistake, but the district won't find out with a knee-jerk explusion.
"Defend to the death..." or not, the school has more responsibility for the physical well-being of the staff and students than it does for protecting First Amendment (or any other amendment) rights.

11:07 AM  

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