Editorial – Lessons Learned

In early May, a group of sixth-graders set out for an adventure with their teachers–a weeklong trip to a state park in their home state of Tennessee. Like it would be for any group of young kids, the trip was probably high adventure, perhaps the first time that some of them had been away from home. The students? school, Scales Elementary, is part of the Murfreesboro city school system, and according to education officials the campers had been told that their trip would include a ?campfire prank? (1) by their teachers.

As it turned out, the teachers? idea of a prank was to tell the students that a gunman was prowling the area. Lights were turned off, students were ordered to hide under tables, and one of the adults disguised herself with a hood and rattled the doorknobs, presumably to pretend she was the gunman and heighten students? fear. The so-called prank was staged less than one month after the Virginia Tech shootings.

According to one student, ?A teacher told us, ?We just got a call that there’s been a random shooting?? (2).

This incredible lapse in common sense is bad enough, but perhaps the most disturbing thing is some of the reactions to it. Some people are, understandably, upset. But others, namely school administrators, are backpedalling, trying to downplay the incident and claiming that it provided a learning experience for students in the event of a real emergency. (If memory serves, one of the points to an emergency drill is that participants are rational and aware enough to learn from it because they know It’s a drill.)

One parent, referring to the teacher and assistant principal who orchestrated the events (and were suspended), is ?sorry that two good people are being punished for a very tragic mistake? (3).

Unfortunately, those attitudes miss the point of what could be a real lesson learned here: that weapons are not toys, that threats are not a prank, and that the violence so casually displayed in today’s news and entertainment has a much greater significance than harmless amusement.

Too many times, we hear of children bringing weapons to school as a way to impress their peers; of students finding it funny to call in bomb scares. A recent example of the casual acceptance of violence and weapons resulted in the death of a 15-year-old boy. At a Toronto-area high school, three young men were seen ?playing? with a loaded handgun outside the school. From preliminary findings, it appears that the three were friends and the weapon was accidentally fired–but the bullet that hit a 15-year-old’s chest was still real, and he is still dead.

In the case of the thoughtless prank played in Tennessee, the real tragedy is not that a teacher and assistant principal made a mistake and are paying the (admittedly light) consequences for it. The tragedy is that the attitudes of the parents and teachers who defend those actions are teaching children that violence, or the threat of violence, is the stuff of entertainment, of harmless fun. The rest of us can only hope That’s one lesson their children don’t learn.

(1) The Tennessean, 2007. ?School system says students told to expect prank.? Retrieved June 5, 2007, from http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070514/NEWS04/705140348/1018

(2) New York Times, 2007. ?2 Suspended for School Prank That Scared Pupils in Tennessee.? Retrieved June 5, 2007, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/15/us/15scare.html?ex=1181188800&en=833111555de20784&ei=5070

(3) The Fairview Observer, 2007. ?Two suspended in field trip prank.? Retrieved June 5, 2007, from http://www.fairviewobserver.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070515/NEWS04/705150365/1321/MTCN06

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