Boys, Guns and School
We have a gun problem in this country. We need more gun control. And we need less gun control. Here’s the thing. I could go on and on about my thoughts on gun control laws. After all, I was proud to stand next to the Republican Governor of Massachusetts, himself an avid hunter, when he signed into law what still stands as one of the strictest gun control laws in this country. At the same time, we need to get our heads around the fact that lots of young boys have a fascination with guns, and that doesn’t make them psychopaths. It doesn’t even make them bad people. A fantastic article in Time explores how our misguided attitudes about guns can make schools too hostile to boys. It’s a must read for parents and educators.
When you look at the imaginative play of young boys, they are often using their weapons to “save the world.” They are also learning to make sense of the world and media around them. They are likely confused by the conflicting messages that tell them that “Where the Wild Things Are” is an award-winning piece of literature, even with its protagonist, a young boy, intimidating the bad guys with a gun, but that using a squirt gun is an evil activity unsuitable for proper young children. Or when we admire their aspiration to grow up to be policemen and yet threaten them with expulsion for drawing a gun, strapped to the hip of every police officer in the US, in art class.
We have gone overboard when we stop young boys from their imaginative play when it doesn’t hurt, intimidate or threaten anyone, simply because they’re exploring their interest in things that go “pop” or explode. We seem to have lost sight of the real issues here. We seem to have no problems with reading books about pirates or glorifying them in costume, TV shows, play and the like despite the fact that they are evil, torturous and pillaging criminals. We have no problem with kids’ movies that so often center around the murder of a parent (Bambi, Finding Nemo, the Lion King, just to name a few). But we cannot accept a boy pretending a stick is a gun that will protect him on the playground.
My daughter’s Kindergarten class last year spent four weeks studying medieval times. Among the things she learned were the torture devices they used, including the Thumbscrew, the Rack and the Guillotine. But in Maryland, a 7-year-old boy was suspended from school for nibbling his pop-tart into the shape of a gun. Even more outrageous, a Nebraska school district forced a deaf preschooler to change his name because the sign for his name, Hunter, looked too much like a gun.
No, we shouldn’t put real guns into the hands of children. No we shouldn’t let kids bully one another, intimidate each other or harass their teachers or friends. But we should also be able to distinguish between a breakfast pastry and an AK-47, an innocent drawing and a threat to commit violence, a healthy imagination and the signs of mental illness. It’s not as easy as saying “we’re better safe than sorry” because too many good, smart and perfectly healthy and well-behaved boys are being caught in the cross-hairs of this simplistic and misguided approach.
E-family news: The Importance of Pretend Play in Child Development