Has anyone seen the “Hunger Games”? The latest sensation featuring a strong female protagonist dropped into a perverse survival-of-the-fittest contest against other “tributes”? Or maybe “Avengers”, or better yet, “The Lord of the Rings”? All feature a prominent character, all good guys, whose tool of the trade is a bow and arrow.
Ever play Cowboys and Indians as a kid, using make-believe bows to fire make-believe arrows, in a make-believe attack in a make-believe war? Yes? I presume you turned out well-adjusted, in full possession of your faculties, correct? Kids these days, boys in particular, may not have the same luck.
A fifth grade boy in Pennsylvania has been suspended, and faces possible expulsion, for peddling in a school yard arms race by firing an “imaginary” arrow at a classmate. Despite a body count of precisely zero in this bloodless war of the imagination, little Johnny Jones (is that name 50’s Americana or what?) still strayed into the unacceptable, violating the school’s “zero tolerance” policy on weapons, says authoritarian principal-of-the-year John Horton.
The utility (or lack thereof) of “zero tolerance” policies have been discussed elsewhere, and while this case pushes the boundaries of lunacy into heretofore uncharted waters, of greater concern is the effect this case and others has on the maturity and development of boys and young men.
These younger ages are periods where boys start to discover many inborn traits: competition, aggressiveness, and a burgeoning sense to “protect” people, things or ideas. Which is why many start playing team sports, wrestle around the living room with Dad, and will attempt to uphold their own idea of a benevolent social order, even if imagined, when playing Cops and Robbers. Even at a young age, they have a sense of right and wrong, and start enforcing that which is “right” in these games, having taken cues from the values of their parents, and other moral or ethical figures in their lives. Playing out an imaginary game, even one in which they use “weapons” against each other, helps boys cement principles of morality that they’re likely to carry throughout their development into teenagers, into men. Assuming, of course, they have mentors (mainly strong fathers) who can guide their choices and growing competitive natures, and draw the line between reality and the imaginary.
But then we have Mr. Horton and his cadre of Nanny-Staters. Zero-tolerance policies, while otherwise honorable in their intentions, upset a boy’s short window of self-discovery. Rather than encourage a boy to build and give measure to an expansive imagination, these policies instead hamstring impulses he has no control over, punishing rather than directing these feelings into constructive ends. They spend too much time trying to save kids from themselves, instead of letting boys be boys. By all means, make a strong stand against actual weapons, but zero tolerance policies remove any semblance of discretion and confuse boys into thinking that natural and growing male traits of aggression are singularly bad. They are not.
With growing trends like the morally repugnant “Knockout” game, boys need to be reached early. Because boys eventually grow into men. America needs them to be strong, not wussy, boy-men who think it acceptable to deck the elderly, or abandon women they’ve impregnated. Boys need to be inculcated with a sense of responsibility to other people, taught to harness their developing power and masculinity to good ends; to protect values or people they care for. These ideas start right in the school yard when young boys try to “fight” for the “good” guys. Guide them. Help them harness that energy for good, then show them what good looks like. Be a “cop” and run around with them searching for the bad guys. It’ll pay dividends. To do otherwise is to tell them that their imaginations are harmful and need to be reined in. Perish the thought.
And give the kid back his bloody bow and arrow. He needs to go tromping through Middle Earth tomorrow to unseat the Dark Lord, in a quest of peril, adventure and little golden rings.
The Free People’s need him.