Pondering what went on in Ponder

Friday, December 3, 1999

Where do they throw people in jail for what they write? The former Soviet
Union. China. Cuba. Texas.

Texas, in the land of the free where we are supposed to be able to write
what we want.

In Texas they are now throwing children in jail. The governor of Texas, who
is running for President of the United States, so far sees nothing wrong
with a 13-year-old spending five days in jail for doing what he was assigned
to do.

Seventh-grader Christopher Beamon’s essay was so good, his teacher had him
read it aloud to the class. The teacher’s assignment was to write about
being home alone and hearing noises. It seems to be in dispute whether
Christopher earned a 100 for his essay or for reading it aloud.

He wrote that he “acssendently” shot his teacher and that when he heard
noises he “thought it was a crook so I busted out with a 12 gauge and …
this bloody body droped down in front of us and scared us half to death.”
His teacher talked to school administrators, who called the cops, who
arrested the boy and put him in jail. Prosecutors, after five days, decided
not to prosecute the boy. Juvenile Court Judge Darlene Whitten advised
parents to tell their children “not to ever say anything in jest that
implies shooting up a school.”

Gov. George Bush said, “We’ve instructed our school officials to take any
threat to any child seriously.”

Great, George! How about saying: “What? We are putting kids in jail for
doing their English assignments! Have we all gone crazy! What kind of
society are we? Teachers and principals can’t figure out if a student who
writes an assignment and even agrees to read it to his whole class is a
threat or not? A 13-year-old boy has to spend five days in jail! What is
wrong with us?” But George hasn’t said that.

In Ponder, Texas, a little north of Dallas, they are reviewing curriculum
and wondering whether they should assign scary writing assignments.
What we all should be considering is what is wrong with a society that jails
people, even children, for writing an essay.

James H. Smith can be e-mailed at jsmith@record-journal.com.