by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
April 5, 2008
GAMES OF LIFE AND MAKE-BELIEVE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There are neither photographs, names nor ethnic identities associated with the story shocking the nation. About nine third-graders (do I dare refer to them as a "band?") went to schoool carrying a kid-sized bundle of paraphernalia that looked like gear carried by rapists, stalkers, and other mean-street hoods who plan to carry out dastardly deeds.
If we saw pictures of them, they might clue us in to the reasons why they planned what they did, we might toss it off as a racial stereotype, or an Italian name might suggest underworld connections. If they were Hispanic-looking, or from a country where English is not a primary language, then we would dismiss it - we could just blame "them."
As it is, we only know they were third graders.
If parents said, "I don't know what to do with that child," I might lay the blame there, right at home. Poor parenting. As it is, the parents were as shocked as the rest of the nation.
What's getting into our tiny, young kids - now, they are "our" kids - that they could even think in terms of doing bodily harm to a teacher? I haven't heard that they even talked back to the teacher, who had yelled at one of the girls in the group. Maybe she was embarrassed in front of her classmates and an elaborate plan wormed it's way into her consciousness, like the young girl in "Atonement." Her silent seething turned into a devious plan.
Had this plan actually been acted out, I'm confident the teacher would have resorted to the age-old line mothers use: "You try that again and I'll give you such a smack!" The threat is enough for the child to stop immediately. And, yes, I do mean today's kids! The fact that the teacher turned up at school next day tells me she was not afraid of her students.
This particular class was made up of children who were either "slow" or had attention-deficit disorder (a disease caused by television). Others were kids who are lumped into groups but do not belong there and will thrive with a little understanding.
Those a little slow will do better with a little extra attention - not from the overworked teacher but by an aide. Some are slow learners because they're the youngest in the class, some are jumping out of their seats because they are the oldest in the class and want to move on. And, some actually have problems and should be treated accordingly.
But this is not for me to say. This is where the professionals enter the picture. We do have the resources. And, by the way, Center Elementary School in Waycross, Ware County, Ga., not far from me, was named a "Distinguished School."
Sure, this is a wake-up call - not of things to come but things that are here right now. The "reasons" being tossed around range from children being left alone after school while both parents (if there are two) work, to what they see on unmonitored television and rap music. Even cartoons on the Cartoon Network seem created with kill and maim as the theme more often than programs that amuse, much more often. Is that to blame? Are parents too trusting of television programmers who, in reality, are more interested in pleasing sponsors than helping to set standards for parents?
Kids will "play," and more than likely they will play good vs. bad. When two little boys got together in the '40s and '50s, they played street games that always started out with "You-mus and I-mus," meaning you must be the good guy and I must be the bad guy. Good vs. evil. It was always preferable to be the bad guy because you presented a threat to your shivering opponent. "I'm going to hold you down until you cry 'uncle,' (whatever that means) and soon the child on the ground would yell "uncle, uncle, lemme up." Then they'd run away laughing and sweating and kicking stones.
It was called "Make Believe," and it's still that, no more, in the eight-to-ten-year age range. I speak from experience not from any professional background. I no more thought wrapping tinfoil around their torsos would arm them from other Knights with swords made out of tin-foil wrapped cardboard swords but in their make believe world they were knights in shining armor. And the belly-crawling commandos with mud-smeared faces looked every bit like the soldiers pictured in Life Magazine but they were in no danger, they were in the world of make believe. The game in play was "soldiers." In the youmus and imus toss up, they both wanted to be the Marine, not the gook.
To be subjected to jail or juvenile hall is the last step. To be suspended without first being "taken to the principal's office" for inquiry instead of jumping to conclusions is irresponsible on the part of the experts. The kids had an elaborate plot: Toy handcuffs - who bought them? Who were they supposed to fit? My kids could hatch elaborate plots, too. They would draw a treasure map with every tree on the route in place. Blue ink marked secondary paths and then finally X marked the spot. That spot was over in the corner of the yard near where our late rabbit, Lily, was once buried with care, entombed in an old aluminum mailbox.
They dug and dug and the earth yielded nothing. Hiding behind a tree was a pirate in a neckerchief and eye patch, a masking-tape-wrapped "peg leg" just waiting for the treasure hunters to realize he had already dug up the prize. This would take hours on a summer day. Each time they played it, the plot thickened. Finally the players would see the pirate and say: "Curses, foiled again," while the pirate limped off with a wolfish grin and say, "Heh heh."
I'll say it again: "make believe."
I do not take the situation in Waycross, Ga., lightly, if it so appears. Just as their parents were shocked, so was I. But these are not career criminals. They are not even children screaming "Look at me!" in order to be noticed in this world. There is only one indisputable fact: they are children, and children make believe. Were they capable of planning an abduction or murder? Well, maybe. Capable of carrying it out? Hardly. Only the adults around them are capable of turning this event into a crime - and right now it appears they are acting childish.
Was class time ever devoted to the little boy who put his pencil to paper and drew a gun in the margin, and then was brought to the attention of law enforcement for his artwork? Did this young band of desperados understand the idea of consequences? And were they told about the 6-year old boy who kissed a little girl on her cheek and soon learned the meaning of sexual offense?
I doubt if any time has been spent telling them what are punishable offenses; there's been no list like Latin verbs they had to memorize. "We don't want to give them any ideas," is the usual response to that suggestion.
For the parents whose children were not involved, I beg compassion rather than a punishment for those erring students. It could have been your children. Be kind. And, for those parents of the children involved, naturally, take time out to personally explore what might indicate anti-social behavior that could escalate. But beyond that, love them.
This above all, love them - and, more important than giving lip-service to love, let them know you always will.