Pity Josh Welch. He’s the Maryland second grader who was absent-mindedly chomping on his Pop-Tart at school when he made the mistake of using his imagination in an “inappropriate” way. When he began nibbling away at his snack, he wanted to make it look like a mountain. What eventually emerged, however, was a vaguely handgun-shaped remnant. He picked up his snack and said “bang, bang.” Then the roof caved in on him.
Seven-year-old Josh was suspended from school under the school district’s “zero-tolerance” policy toward firearms. While “zero-tolerance” may sound reassuring to parents understandably nervous in the wake of the recent series of school shootings, it is in fact wildly out of place in institutions that were originally intended to cultivate the life of the mind. Indeed, it is only through a dogged commitment to mindlessness that such absurdities continue to occur in public schools.
The fact is that public schools long ago gave up teaching students how to think and began teaching them what to think. Every parent with a child in public school has heard his child’s teacher say that the school’s objective is to make students “critical thinkers” and “life-long learners.” The evidence is to the contrary.
Josh Welch’s plight exemplifies the public schools’ compulsive need to impose orthodoxy on their charges. Suspending a second-grader for pointing a half-eaten Pop-Tart at another student and saying “bang, bang” is not meant to protect children. It is meant to condition children at an early age that it is wrong to even think about guns, much less to use them.
A school district that really wanted to produce critical thinkers would teach children about the value our founders placed on private firearm ownership, the role that an armed citizenry plays in limited government and self-reliance, the potential tragedies that can arise from the actions of irresponsible gun owners, and the measures that gun owners can take to help prevent such tragedies. In other words, it would expose children to the subtleties of the issue and encourage them to reach their own conclusions.
It is, at a minimum, ironic that today’s educators regularly place entire fields of thought and human experience out of bounds for their students. Neither Western Civilization nor the endemic antipathy of Islam toward the West can be properly understood without a thorough grounding in Christianity and the history of the Christian and Islamic faiths, yet religion is off limits in public schools. Climate change remains a hypothesis, not a proven scientific fact, yet public schools will not even countenance that there can be an informed contrary view on the issue. There is no shortage of examples of this kind of intellectual tyranny.
Any institution that is so hostile to dissenting thought and so committed to creating ideological conformity can no longer make the claim to be “educational.” Whether one agrees with the public schools’ orthodoxy or not, it should be alarming that there is such an orthodoxy. Predictably, our schools are producing graduates without the capacity to engage in rigorous independent thought. And without that capacity, there is no intellectual curiosity. Facts and knowledge are unimportant to those who already know what to think.
There aren’t many seven-year-olds who can go through the kind of ostracism that Josh Welch has undergone without becoming timid and introverted. He has been coerced into conformity, and he has learned that creativity and boyish exuberance can result in shame and humiliation. But I guess that some things are just more important than producing critical thinkers and life-long learners.