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Jewish World Review April 14, 2000/9 Nissan, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports


Boys should be boys, not viewed as criminals in training --
BY TODAY'S ZERO-TOLERANCE standards of child's play, my brother and I both should have been sent to the electric chair decades ago. In fact, every child in our neighborhood and at school would qualify today as a juvenile delinquent at least, a potentially homicidal maniac on average.

We played war; we dug trenches and foxholes; we screamed and cried, raided and rioted, bombed each other with rotten grapefruit, torpedoed with oranges, fake-killed and fake-died, fell from trees, crashed bikes and wiped out on gravelly roads.

We pillaged and plundered until the sun set and a dozen fathers whistled time for supper.

We didn't die from these activities, nor did we kill anyone else. It is more likely that these dastardly playtime drills -- followed by parentally invoked rituals -- kept our little riotous souls in check.

Instead of hurting people, we pretended to. Instead of suppressing anger and frustration, we acted out confusing emotions in innocent play. Instead of toying with real guns, we cocked our fingers and shot imaginary bullets.

Just like the four kindergartners at Wilson Elementary School in Sayreville, N.J., who were suspended from school a few weeks ago for aggressive behavior. For pointing fingers and shouting "bang" at their playmates in a playground game of cops-and-robbers, four boys ages 5 and 6 were deemed dangerous and sent home for three days.

The lunatics don't have to take over the asylum anymore because apparently we've all lost our minds.

To the relief of the few thinking adults hiding in bunkers here and there, the school's action prompted some protest, though not nearly enough. The American Civil Liberties Union -- often estranged from common sense -- rallied to protect the boys' rights to free speech. A few child development experts expressed outrage.

But a discomforting number of parents applauded the school's response, saying the boys' behavior scared some of the other children. In the telling words of one mother: "You've got to teach your kids to watch what they say, especially in school."

Back in my '50s 'hood, no child would have dared admit being scared of other children playing what was then normal. But today is different, we can't help noticing. Children carry real guns to school; children kill and wound other children in what used to be a safe environment.

However, I would like to say as loudly as possible, today is different in other ways too. I'm not talking about the availability of guns. Most of us World War II babies had guns and knew how to shoot without missing. I'm not talking about violent media, either. We watched many a cowboy or Indian cruelly dispatch an enemy.

What's different is that our parents and teachers worked together without undue interference from bureaucrats, social workers and lawyers. A kid who misbehaved in school was dealt with promptly, first by the teacher and then by the dads who whistled at dinner time.

Today we've emasculated teachers and evicted fathers. Most of the boys who've recently carried guns to school had histories that were ignored largely because we don't allow teachers and administrators to "handle" the bad apples. Instead we leave them rotting in the barrel until someone gets hurt. Or, as in this case, we overreact to innocent play.

Our confusion might be eased if we put real discipline back in schools and fathers back in homes. Then might we relax and let the good boys play.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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03/30/00: Duct-taped baby serves as warning
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03/24/00: No 'Great Expectations' when schools shun the classics
03/21/00: It's common sense to restrict Internet usage in libraries
03/17/00: You want to be just a mom? For shame!
03/14/00: Colonoscopy: Important, but bad TV
03/10/00: I made a mistake about trigger-locks
03/08/00: After this school shooting, no easy target for our contempt
03/03/00: Car crash helps bridge our divide
02/28/00: Nasty politics? Americans like it down, dirty
02/14/00: College testing via Lego-building -- yeah, right
02/02/00: Bubba should spare us phony love theatrics
01/26/00: What sets off Those Who Speak for Women
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01/11/00: Who funds these studies!?
12/29/99: Grandparents' rights impinge on family autonomy
12/13/99: When did fathers become fair game?
12/09/99: Don't be stupid about at-risk kids
12/07/99: Pokemon is no substitute for a father
12/02/99: Blaming the victim --- men
11/30/99: Baby-killer's story has less-than-Precious ending
11/23/99: Pendulum swings back toward discipline, responsibility
11/18/99: Put the babies first in this mighty mess
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10/15/99: Bullying boys ... and girls
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09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
09/07/99: A slap in the face of domestic violence
09/01/99: No, ma'am: Legislation on manners misses the mark
08/26/99: For better boys, try a little tenderness
08/24/99:The ABC's of campaign questions
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06/20/99: The voice remains -- as always -- there beside me 06/16/99:Stating the obvious, a new growth industry
06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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