here we go already

An honors high school student in Illinois has been arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and moved to an alternative school for his creative writing assignment…

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6 responses to “here we go already

  • Ben T.

    Hey Trevor,
    I think the saddest, scariest and most pathetic part of this lunacy is the assignment’s instructions: “Write whatever comes into your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing. . . . Remember that you can’t fail in free writing. The point of doing free writing is the process not the end result. If you follow the guidelines, your free writing is sucessful. Free writing has these benefits: . . . It can be a valve to release inner tensions. . . . It can be fun.”

    Wheeeeeeeee! Where do I sign up for the same fun Allen Lee is getting to experience?

  • Mark Hanington

    It is a sad thing that I find myself saying… sad to me, sad for some collective “us”… I am old now and the no-holds-barred liberal sixties if-it-feels-good-do-it ethic has worn far too thin….Times aren’t what they were… It used to be that if a kid threatened to kill me I’d clap him on the arm and say, “Alright… why?” And it was in invitation to him (always him, never her) and me to get down and talk, raw sincere bleeding, vulnerable talk. The kind of talk I became a teacher for. Visceral, profoundly important.

    Now enough people are dead that when I hear that some kid wants to kill me, I think maybe it’ll happen but I’ll take the chance. But when I hear he wants to kill other kids, all bets are off. Too many are dead, and I have taught some of the dead. Select your startling pronouncements carefully, son, because I’ll see you in prison before I’ll take the chance that you really will kill a classmate.

    If that seems unfair tough, I gotta go with it. I’m a professional in this business and you don’t get to kill my kids, not even by being one of them.

  • trevor

    Good point, Ben. The instructor shouldn’t be too surprised by the results when the assignment explicitly leaves the door wide open.

  • trevor

    I’m delighted to see you comment here, Mark. Even though we’ve never met, I have tremendous respect for you because I *have* met your children and they are all amazing people. Thanks for dropping by.

    I absolutely understand what you’re saying here, and we certainly need to take these declarations seriously. But we also have to be intelligent about our responses, which involves being able to read our students in the first place and understand where they are coming from. And in those grey areas where it’s not quite clear, it’s our job as their teachers to reach out to them and seek the context for their work when it’s not immediately apparent.

    I think Ben’s on to something by shining the spotlight on the instructor’s assignment. If I understand correctly, the teacher in this case is young and relatively inexperienced; when the assignment came back in for evaluation, the teacher probably decided it was important to be extra-cautious and informed the higher-ups, who in turn over-reached by calling in The Fuzz.

    On your blog, you articulate the firm position of seeking an immediate intervention for the student:

    “If he tells me he wants to kill anyone else, all bets are off. That gets reported right now. We’ll talk as soon as you’re in treatment, which will be within 30 minutes, and we’ll talk as long as you want. But you’ll be in no position to carry out your threats while we’re talking.”

    That seems perfectly reasonable to me. Airports don’t tolerate loose jokes about bombs or guns anymore, either, and that’s for good reason.

    But an airport isn’t a school; getting people from one destination to the next isn’t even remotely the same thing as educating them. To me, what’s unreasonable is for a school administrator to press criminal charges against a student for essentially doing what was asked of him. The charge? Disorderly Conduct. What, pray tell, is “disorderly” here? If, upon receiving this assignment, the student violently refused to write it, one might be able to describe his “conduct” as “disorderly.” No….the student accepted the assignment, wrote something that was well within the boundaries, and turned it in. And for that, he was paid a visit by the local authorities.

  • Debra Di Blasi

    Ben, I disagree with you and Trevor. High school students are sadly and badly indoctrinated on what literature should and should not be — with shoulds = the blockbuster market, and shouldn’ts = exploration of the form, society and mind. Young women who are former meth addicts and/or sexually abused by relatives write about rainbows and butterflies even though they don’t believe a word of it. I work with high school students all over this metro area, from regions that are economically deprived. Their version of the world is significantly different from most published literature and, frankly, most published writers. VTech is an anomaly only in that the guy acted out his imaginary scenarios. The last semester of my teaching at the art institute, there were 10 suicide attempts (out of 600 students). Before that, we had a shutdown because a student brought a rifle to class, hidden under his trench coat. We had arson, vandalism, theft, a homocide threat, nervous breakdowns that led to hospitalization, a guy who masturbated loudly and frequently in the dorm stairwell. Not censoring or editing oneself initially is an *exercise* in possibility, and we writers all know that literature is 80% revision. Let them get it out on paper. Then help them direct it toward introspection and illumination. As one high school teacher told me, “Better the lead from a pencil than the lead from a bullet.”

  • trevor

    I completely agree with you that teachers should help their students direct their efforts “toward introspection and illumination.” Very well said. In Cho’s case, unfortunately, that seemed virtually impossible.

    As for Lee’s, case, it’s not so clear. Take a look at the full transcript of what he wrote here:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0704271261apr28,1,278196.story?ctrack=2&cset=true

    Lee is very clearly chomping at the bit of the assignment and using it to air some gripes he has about the class and his instructor. I believe what he wrote was within the boundaries of the instructor’s assignment; however, the instructor clearly didn’t feel that way and escalated the situation to the school’s administration, who handled the situation by calling the police and charging him with disorderly conduct.

    I respect where you’re coming from and understand what you’re saying, but this Lee kid’s situation is very different. He is a straight-A student in suburban Chicago who had declared and signed an intent to join the Marine Corps fresh out of graduation; to use this individual piece of writing in the aftermath of VaTech to paint him as a potential sociopath is a dangerous leap in logic. Perhaps the instructor has had trouble with him all semester long, and if so, the concerns might be warranted. But I haven’t read or heard anything to indicate that was the situation.

    If my understanding of the case is correct, the instructor left the door wide open for a student to write something like this, and then sounded the alarms at the highest level when she didn’t like what she read. Lee might have shown bad taste by provoking his instructor this way, but there’s no clear or imminent threat in what he wrote. He has a beef with the class and decided to air it where the teacher could catch a strong whiff of it. The kid seems to be suffering from a bad case of senior-itis, not a sociopathic disorder.

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