The overreaction begins

A few days ago, I wrote about whether violent writing could predict who could become a murderer. Well, 18-year-old Allen Lee of Cary-Grove High School in Chicago, has been charged with disorderly conduct because his essay in his creative writing class was "violently disturbing."

"I understand what happened recently at Virginia Tech," said the teen's father, Albert Lee, referring to last week's massacre of 32 students by gunman Seung-Hui Cho. "I understand the situation."

But he added: "I don't see how somebody can get charged by writing in their homework. The teacher asked them to express themselves, and he followed instructions."

Experts say the charge against Lee is troubling because it was over an essay that even police say contained no direct threats against anyone at the school. However, Virginia Tech's actions toward Cho came under heavy scrutiny after the killings because of the "disturbing" plays and essays teachers say he had written for classes.

This is a roll-your-eyes kind of story, but it angers me beyond belief. A student who appeared to be a straight-A student and apparently didn't freak anyone out like Cho did may spend 30 days in jail and pay a $1,500 fine.

Today, Cary-Grove students rallied behind the arrested teen by organizing a petition drive to let him back in their school. They posted on walls quotes from the English teacher in which she had encouraged students to express their emotions through writing.

"I'm not going to lie. I signed the petition," said senior James Gitzinger. "But I can understand where the administration is coming from. I think I would react the same way if I was a teacher."

Normally, according to the article, disorderly conduct charges apply to pranks gone awry like pulling a fire alarm or dialing 911, but also "when someone's writings can disturb an individual."

There will probably be mixed reactions to this incident. I am a complete proponent of free speech. (I'll probably get a little political here, but you'll deal with it.) I'm black, but I totally support the Ku Klux Klan's right to say whatever racist things they want. Imus can call a basketball team "nappy-headed hos," but not get arrested. That's OK. Of course, the public tends to self-censor themselves on the issue of free speech so he was forced out of a job. People are free to use the "N" word if they'd like, even if I hate it. The only limit on free speech should be if it clearly endangers the welfare of others or incite violence. For example, "Saying I'm going to kill so-and-so" is NOT free speech and can get a person arrested.

I  mentioned in another post that writing can be a safe outlet for people to get their frustrations out. I also said that I tried being creative when writing an essay for Health class that highlighted the positive aspects of suicide instead of the negative ones. (In fairness, I was told to write three negative aspects of suicide and decided to try and be different.) I was sent to a school district counselor for evalution. You can read the entire post for the rest of the story.

I should probably also mention that I took a theater class in which we all had to write a one-act play. Mine clearly disturbed my classmates the most: It was a parallel world in which everyone was gay and anyone who was straight was ostracized. This wasn't revealed until the very end of the one-act. My classmates were horrified and my teacher was cool enough to see it for what it was – creative writing.

Now, for devil's advocate, Lee should have used better judgment in light of the VTech incident and written something else. My main issue is that he didn't specify a person, date, or location in what he wrote. The teacher felt "alarmed and distubed by the content" so she reported it to the correct authorities.

The difference between Lee and Cho is that Cho's behavior gave credence to people worrying about his mental state. If Lee has students rallying around him to return to school, I don't think he's scaring anyone. I'll stand corrected if I hear any stories about him stalking women.

P.S. If the Chicago Tribune tries to get you to register to read the story, here's some log-in info to use (not mine):

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1 Comment

  1. April 27, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    It would be nice if there could be some type of check list of exactly what warrants disturbing behavior, but I bet that will never happen. Still, it would be nice if schools look at the big picture of a student, instead of focusing on one tiny little thing like that.
    If he always wrote disturbing essays or whatever, then yeah, I could definitely warrant a red flag going up, but say he was a perfect student, never any major problems and just happened to write one simple essay that was “off”…that’s going too far. Especially as it doesn’t seem that they made an attempt to talk to him, just doled out the punishment.


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