A New York school has suspended a 9-year-old boy in the fourth grade for putting a “kick me” sign on the back of a classmate. The suspension was handed down for “bullying.” While I have written about the need for greater efforts against bullying, I hope that this incident is not just limited to a classic school prank.
We have seen a steady stream of these draconian responses to everything from stick figure drawings to unauthorized use of markers. In this case, the boy was spotted putting the yellow post-it on a classmate’s back and was immediately stopped by the teacher. The kicking never ensued.
I can understand if the boy was previously found to have bullied the victim. However, the press accounts suggest that such a prank is enough to force a suspension. Richard Gallagher, the director of the Parenting Institute at NYU’s Child Studies Center is quoted as saying “School authorities might not have the leeway to do things differently.” I am not sure why. If this was just a kick-me sign, the appropriate measure is to simply reprimand the boy and inform the parents.
Yet, psychologist Dr. Joshua Rosenthal is quoted in the article below was raising the 1999 Columbine massacre and saying “it was a wake-up call as to what bullying can lead to . . . in extreme cases.” I think that there is still considerable distance between a Kick-me post-it and a massacre of dozens with high-powered weapons. I don’t recall Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold doing the kick-me prank on the day before and then naturally gravitating to the shooting spree with two 9 mm handguns and two 12-gauge shotguns.
If we want children to learn (and not just fear) rules of civility, we need to guarantee that they are not arbitrary and authoritarian. There needs to be some proportionality between the offense and the punishment. If this was a school bully with a history, so be it. However, that should be made clear as the cause for the suspension and not simply the occurrence of one of the oldest pranks for children.
Source: NY Post