Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Free Speech For The Dumb & Dangerous

A few years ago the skies turned black, the winds changed, and Miles Christian enrolled at my school.  Every school gets one of these kind of kids every couple years, but Miles was truly an all time great.  By coincidence, he wound up with one my best teachers in the 5th grade and she asked me come observe him after about two days.  "I think he may be psychotic."

There were lots of adventures with Miles that I'll probably share over time, but we'll start with one of his all time greats.  Miles was a very bright boy and perhaps more than most kids his age, he seemed totally desperate for attention from his peers. 

During an American History lesson, the teacher explained to the classroom that there had been several plans to assassinate President Lincoln prior to John Wilkes Booth's successful effort in 1865.  Some time after learning this, Miles (who is Caucasian) calmly announced to the class, "I wish one of those attempts would have been successful because then all of you (signaling the many African-American students in the classroom), would still be slaves."

You can imagine how this went over. The teacher obviously tried to talk to Miles about this, but he wanted no part of it.  "That's just how I feel" he shared and then pointed out the frequently misunderstood student belief about 'free speech.'  Recess was in about 10 minutes and the teacher came running to get me, worried that if he made it outside, he might not make it back inside (Miles was maybe 40 lbs. if you dunked him in water and put ankle weights on him...).

I tried talking to the kid, but got no further.  Being in the Principal's Office rattles most elementary kids, but Miles was as relaxed as could be.  I wasn't entirely certain what I wanted to do here.  We barely knew this kid.  I don't really like suspending students to begin with, and in this instance I couldn't totally be sure of his mental capacity when making a comment like that.  So I decided to appeal to the home.

Mom, who I later learned was both bi-polar and a raging alcoholic (No child left behind...), introduced some new profanity into my vernacular as she ripped me a new one, and accused me of allowing all sorts of privileges to African-American students that I was apparently denying her son.  She added after nearly an hour on the phone, that in addition to Miles having justification for his comment, and the school not challenging him enough, that they were also decedents of Robert E. Lee.  Well why didn't you say so!

At some point, Mom literally dropped the phone and ran off screaming after I told her she could stop with the inequality route because it was unequivocally false.   The receiver was picked up by Mom's boyfriend- Ed.  Ed picked up the phone and very calmly said, "Hello, this is Ed.  I was in Iraq and I've been blown up 5 times.  How can I help you?"

Ed talked & acted like the "Crazy" Joe Davola character in Seinfeld.  He explained that Miles had no racist feelings (there were unconfirmed rumors that swastikas were hung in the house... no child left behind), and at least agreed the comment was regrettable.  Shortly there after we ended the call.  You can imagine my excitement when my secretary let me know ten minutes later that Ed was back on the line asking for me.

"I just want you to know that over Spring Break, Miles will be writing a 25 page paper on Martin Luther King Jr. and will be reading the entire thing in front of his classmates when he returns!" This was so not what I wanted, and on so many levels.  How about talking to him about the appropriateness of his comment?  With what little energy I had left I tried to talk Ed out of this, but he was determined. 

Miles never wrote the paper (or at least never brought it in), but that would not be the last, or biggest adventure we had with him and his parental units...

I hit myself in the head with my phone receiver.  Alot.

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