Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Should a high school student be suspended for writing a poem which says she understands Adam Lanza?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) January 3rd, 2013

According to Salon, A 17-year-old high school student in San Francisco has been suspended indefinitely after she wrote a poem in her personal notebook which included the lines, “I understand the killings in Connecticut; I understand why he pulled the trigger.”

The notebook was found by a teacher, and reported to the principal, who suspended the student. The student explained, “I didn’t say that I agree with it, I said I simply understand it.”

What do you think? Is this the sign of a girl who is about to go on a rampage? Or is it just a girl who can relate, but isn’t about to do anything wrong? And if she isn’t about to go on a rampage, does getting suspended make her feel worse? Maybe even make her more likely to do something antisocial?

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40 Answers

Bellatrix's avatar

It seems ridiculous to me. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. I agree if she did have such tendencies, and writing a poem doesn’t suggest that she does or doesn’t, suspending her is more likely to fuel her isolation and feeling of being picked on and excluded.

Perhaps a more sensible reaction is to talk to young people who do feel they can relate to teens who commit these crimes and try to find out what’s going on to make them feel the way they do and what can be done to help them.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Sadly, I think it is typical overreaction to an innocent incident by a school administration. I can even understand why the admin reacts the way it does, if the kid did anything everyone would be suing the crap out of them.

I would have sent the kid to meet with a guidance counselor before suspending the kid.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is appropriate to have her talk to a trained counselor to make sure it simply does mean she understands and not that she is any sort of distraught state. Understanding can mean empathisizing, and I would want to know exactly where the empathy comes from. I don’t think she should be suspended, especially not indefinitely. I would not want her to feel as though she was in trouble. That would just encourage her to stifle her feelings and not reach out for help if she does need help.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

No, I do not think she should have been suspended. But the school had to show ‘it did something’ as usual. Most suspensions are for ridiculous reasons.

zenvelo's avatar

No, they shouldn’t have suspended her. The poem was actually an opportunity for a good teacher to start a discussion on the whole topic of anomie and alienation and what real empathy is about.

DrBill's avatar

no, understanding is a good thing. I would have recommended counseling but no punishment whatsoever

ETpro's avatar

Overreaction. Talk it out. Let a trained counselor or psychologist sort it out. We all said that the Sandy Hook school shootings pointed to the need for more and better mental health counseling. In this action, the school went in the exact opposite direction. They may be doing more to make a monster than to guard themselves from one.

I also wonder at the wisdom of transferring all the surviving students of Sandy Hook Elementary to a school in a neighboring town, then doing everything possible with paint and decor to make it look just like their old school.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Good points @ETpro Kids are more resilient than most adults give them credit for. Closing the Sandy Hook school was a complete overreaction in my opinion, they don’t permanently close roads when a school bus gets hit at an intersection.

Coloma's avatar

@zenvelo Nailed it. Yes, empathy is the word. Having empathy doesn’t mean agreement, it simply means an attempt at looking at any situation from a myriad of perspective.
“Understanding” is NOT condoning.

JLeslie's avatar

@Coloma I don’t think the worry with a teenager is condoning, but rather does the teen understand because they too are feeling alienated or depressed.

Coloma's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, that is a good point as well.

Bellatrix's avatar

@JLeslie, if the school believes the young woman is ‘feeling alienated or depressed’ suspending her seems even more irrational and cruel. All the more reason for them to find out what is happening with this young person and try to help. Not exclude her.

JLeslie's avatar

Do we know they did not try to help her so to speak? They might have taken steps to make sure she is ok.

Bellatrix's avatar

I don’t know @JLeslie. The article doesn’t say.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Add me to the “overreaction” column. Leaving aside that this was a personal notebook, there does not seem to be any punishable offense here. A simple conversation with the girl would have been enough to at least mitigate whatever reasonable fears the teacher might have had. Indeed, the single sentence “I didn’t say that I agree with it, I said I simply understand it” should have significantly reduced anxieties about her state of mind. And if there were residual worries, that’s what counseling is for.

I remember being pulled aside after Columbine because I wore a black trench coat. The media had centered in on this piece of clothing as if it were somehow a causal factor in the shooting rather than a coincidental fashion choice. Overreaction, it seems, is the norm for school administrators.

rojo's avatar

This is bullshit. (The suspension, not the question)

Only138's avatar

She’s an idiot just like him. Just wanting to do or say something to grab peoples attention. I personally am going to do my best to forget his name….but always remember those who innocently lost their lives that day.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Only138 She wrote a poem in her personal notebook. A teacher found it and looked through it without permission or provocation from the student. The student didn’t wave the poem around in anyone’s face. What about her actions, then, suggest that she was “just wanting to do or say something to grab people’s attention”?

rojo's avatar

@Only138 I do not know for sure but it sounds like this was a personal journal, not something put out there for people to find or to ge attention…....... Yea, what @SavoirFaire said.

zensky's avatar

I think the teacher should be suspended and a lesson taught about privacy.

Symbeline's avatar

What @zensky just said. If anything, if I was a teacher or the principal, I would have a talk with her about the poem, or someone else more fitting. To find out why and how she feels she can relate, you know? But to bring it out in the open and condemn her? Okay fine, you read it, maybe you shouldn’t have peeked in her shit, but now the concern is there. Maybe the worries were legitimate, but I really don’t think this was the right way to deal with this at ALL.
From what I read of the small article, the girl seems quite intelligent, and she HAS the right to express herself. I like writing poems, just glad I keep most of them in places I know people won’t find…lol.

And if this girl WAS a potential threat, what’s all this shit about being expelled going to make her feel like NOW? People should try to help, not just plug their ears and eyes. I’m willing to bet a lot of people go haywire because they feel no one is out there for them.

No I don’t think she should have been expelled, and I don’t think anyone had any business peeking at her stuff. Or, as I already said, since someone did, a different approach should have been taken. :/

augustlan's avatar

What a waste of a good opportunity for discussion and empathy. Suspending her does seem like a knee-jerk reaction, and one that would only make the situation worse if she actually had been feeling homicidal.

JLeslie's avatar

@zensky I believe in privacy, but sometimes the private writings and drawings of people tells a lot. Young people tend to have less perspective of life and less awareness of consequences. If something a child is doing gives a clue that they might be very unhappy shouldn’t we do something to follow up? To check on their state of mind?

@Symbeline Did they wind up expelling her?

zensky's avatar

@JLeslie You believe in privacy but that was a blatant invasion of privacy.

wundayatta's avatar

I know that in my kid’s school, they are required to keep a journal and they are required to hand it in to the teachers periodically. I don’t know what the rules are in this example, but it may have been a reasonable expectation that a teacher would read the journal.

I think it’s interesting that, so far, the universal reaction is that the school district went too far in suspending the girl. I wonder what kind of feedback is getting back to them.

In the end, it is usually individuals in school administration who make decisions like this, and they may well be quite inadequately prepared to handle these situations. They may be very judgmental people who don’t think very creatively. Good at following rules, but not good at handling unusual situations.

Hopefully the administrator will overturn their decision (or have it overturned). I also hope they will learn to be more sensitive and understanding.

ucme's avatar

Back at school there was this one tosspot who would pick on almost anyone with a heartbeat, real loser type playing at what he believed to be the “big guy”, I drew a picture of this prick in art class depicting him headless with one of his victims pissing on his rotting corpse.
The teacher praised my work but did suggest a more gentler subject matter next time, maybe a vase full of perdy flowers.

JLeslie's avatar

@zensky I am aware that some schools, maybe all, I don’t know, have the right to search lockers and students belongings at will. @wundayatta raises an interesting point that maybe journals are looked at regularly by teachers. I think we can’t be sure how this is being reported like anything that is reported.

There is a lesson in it, good and bad. You can’t just write or say anything you want and think there may not be repercussion. Don’t talk about bombs in an airport, don’t threaten someone’s life, be careful how you word things to try and avoid misinterpretation. This is a lesson in consequence, in what if. What if someone sees what I wrote in my journal, on the internet, in an email. The negative side of it is what was mentioned already, it discourages people from sharing their inner most thoughts because of fear of consequences.

zensky's avatar

It’s a journal. Privacy is expected.

wundayatta's avatar

Not necessarily. Not in school in the US.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@wundayatta @JLeslie I suppose we don’t know, but it seems odd for the story to refer to it as her “personal journal” if it was any kind of school assignment. It would be properly referred to as her “school journal” or something along those lines were it something she had to keep as part of her education.

jonsblond's avatar

I’ve read a few articles about this story and it doesn’t sound like the teacher was snooping through the student’s notebook and invading her privacy. Also, if the teacher had been snooping, I would think the student would also be complaining about that issue. From Business Insider: But Webb and her mother told NBC News that Webb was merely expressing herself and trying to start a conversation about the issue. The school is overreacting, they argue. source

I do know that many schools do require students to keep a personal journal and the teachers do look at these journals from time to time. They are called personal journals, not school journals. It is also possible that the journal was left behind and the teacher was looking to see who it belonged to. So the issue here is not invasion of privacy. imo

Did the principal overreact? Possibly. I do think there were better ways to handle the situation, as stated above by many. But if this student had gone and done something terrible to harm others, we’d be asking why nothing was done when the journal was found.

ucme's avatar

I watched pictures of those kids going back to a new school, don’t know if it was yesterday or today, very poignant moment.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jonsblond Thanks for the other article. I remember having to keep a journal for school. It was called a personal journal in school, but my point was that it seems like it would be irresponsible journalism to call it that in a news article (at least without a clarification that it was a journal kept for school). Regardless, I agree that the issue is the overreaction.

hearkat's avatar

Sounds to me like her freedom of speech has been violated, since she didn’t make any threats. Does anyone know if she had any history of behavior problems or prior disciplinary record at school? If there is, the school’s reaction might be justified. If not, it’s an overreaction.

FutureMemory's avatar

@ucme I drew a picture of this prick in art class depicting him headless with one of his victims pissing on his rotting corpse.

Did the guy see the drawing you made of him?

ucme's avatar

@FutureMemory Not to my knowledge no, why do you ask?

FutureMemory's avatar

Oh just curious how he would have reacted, and in turn how you would have handled his reaction :D

ucme's avatar

I was never one of his playthings, not that I was a tough fucker, far from it, but he never really bothered me. Would have been interesting to see how it played out had he seen the picture, I can run very fast!

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