The Ingenuous 7 Year-old Josh Welch and the Abuse of Power at Park Elementary in Brooklyn Park

–Richard E. Vatz

               Whom would you be prouder to have as a relative: a cute, ingenious and ingenuous 7 year-old who cleverly nibbled a pastry into the shape of a gun (or a mountain, depending on whose artistic judgment you more respect) or a school administrator who maliciously and unthinkingly lowered the boom on a little boy by publicly humiliating him and suspending him for two days.?

Not a close call?

Let’s see if there are any mitigating circumstances:

Was the school forced to act against the child?

No, the school claims that their system’s student handbook outlines the system’s code of conduct and consequences regarding outlawed “look-a-likes”of guns, but the school, of course, had discretion not to act.

Did the school attempt to minimize publicity for the boy? No, the administrator and/or others according to The Baltimore Sun, “sent a letter to all parents explaining that Josh had been ‘removed from the classroom’ for making ‘inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class.’ “

No thought beforehand? Any remorse?  Perhaps at least school administrators explained their actions?

No, again. The school officials refused to discuss their actions — period.

Also according to the Sun, that letter sent to parents ironically encouraged parents to “remind their children ‘of the importance of making good choices.’ “

I ask you, responsible reader, can you think of a school administration in more need of reminding of the “importance of making good choices?”

Let’s get into some of the internals of this appalling abrogation of a school’s responsibility to children: before leveling punishment, the criminal justice system requires the showing of mens rea, or criminal intent by adult suspects. Was there any evil intent evident in very young Josh’s behavior?

The school admits, according to the Sun, “no physical threats were made, and no one was harmed.”

To suspend a little boy for two days for eating a pastry into a, well, shape offensive to today’s morality patrols and then to write about the boy so that the entire school knows about it is close to persecution.

There is a movement currently to stop bullying in schools.

How can it be stopped when the bully is the school administration?

Professor Vatz teaches Persuasion at Towson University and is author of The
Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)

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