Something about this recent article in TIME has been bothering me. I first read it because a Facebook friend posted it with a thoughtful comment about the role imagination plays in developing a social consciousness in children. This makes sense to me. Imagination is important. Raising children who want to do good in the world is laudable. But some of the logical leaps the article itself makes do not work for me; in fact, they are really troubling.
For example, after reporting several incidents in which boys were punished for playing games with toy/imaginary guns, the author concludes that, “common sense isn’t the only thing at stake here. In the name of zero tolerance, our schools are becoming hostile environments for young boys.” But the common thread I see here is playing gun games, not being male. I’ve got no problem with children playing gun games, but I don’t think that telling a 7-year-old that she/he can’t play those games at school is the same thing as creating a hostile environment for boys.
To be fair, the authors follows this with statistics on how much more often boys engage in such games than girls. I don’t contest that a correlation exists; I am very interested in WHY such a correlation exists. And that’s where things get interesting. The author suggests that the boys she mentioned above were punished just for “being typical 7-year-old boys.” The only clue I can find in the article as to what “typical boy” means is this: The author asserts that “schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys.” I’m still not really sure what a “typical” 7-year-old boy is or what distinguishes his sociability from girls and–ahem–atypical boys, but I can only guess the authors assumes a “typical boy” is a boy who has been raised to be aggressive, to assume that he is always the “good guy,” to play games with guns. This assumption completely ignores the many 7-year-old boys who are not raised in this way, do not play such games, and/or who just do not have aggressive natures. It also ignores girls who do play those games. I understand that the “typical” boy the authors refers to may include many–perhaps even most–boys in this country. But to pick one type of 7-year-old boy and make it a norm is irresponsible. This article is conflating a behavior with a group of people. I am hard-pressed to make the leap from “schools are punishing certain types of aggressive behavior” to “schools are discriminating against boys.”
At the least, I suppose, I can agree with the author that suspension in some of the examples she mentioned seems awfully extreme. Far more useful might be a behavior plan that involves talking to children about why imaginary gun fights are not allowed at school. Then those children can start to make decisions about the right time and place for certain behaviors, thus developing a useful life skill that also happens to make room for imagination.