Deviant kids vs. dumb grown-ups

Molly Crabapple on the dangers of being a disruptive kid around hysterically risk-averse adults:

In December, a New Jersey schoolboy was arrested for drawing in class. In the post-Sandy Hook rage to blame anything (guns, video games, internet-addicted youth) the easiest thing to blame is always the kid who fails at the blankly inoffensive ideals of childhood. This 16-year-old drew a glove shooting flames. The police searched his house. They found the sort of gutted machines that hint at a proclivity for engineering. He was arrested on December 18, and was still in juvenile hall when papers ran the story on the 28th.

Security theater for kids, with a soupçon of Pink Floydian adult malice.


  1. A high school friend of mine filled a page of notebook paper with cartoons every single day of the school year. They were mostly silly, funny, Far Side-esque things, but there were a few recurring stories and characters. One of them was Goober Jones, who, in going about some normal activity, would manage to get himself blown up, impaled, decapitated, disemboweled, or disintegrated.

    He’s currently a successful actor. I shudder to think where he’d be now if his silly cartoons hadn’t been misinterpreted by hysterical adults.

    1. My friends and I doodled battle scenes and spy missions with snipers and explosives and bombers and the occasional dragon and mushroom cloud and the obligatory dead bodies.

      We played army for hours a day throughout our youth. We probably pretend killed each other a thousand times. “I got you! I got you! You don’t have a head anymore!”

      Our parents gave us aspirin to take with us to school if we had a headache.

      We were never told to seek counseling or had the cops called or were charged with violating drug policies because of this behavior.

      I really hate it when reality hands you a blatant “when I was a kid…” scenario to rant about to make you feel old…and I’m only in my 30’s!

      1. Since you mentioned aspirin that reminds me of my history teacher. Whenever a student would complain of a headache, she’d say, “Well, I’m sorry I can’t give you any of the aspirin that’s IN THE LEFT-HAND DRAWER OF MY DESK. I’m going to turn my back and write on the board now.”

        1. Sort of like my Critical Writing teacher, who just happened to clean out her car in the school parking lot when a student wanted to buy some hash.

  2. Pre-thought crime.  Kid had it coming.  Gutted machines, designs for a fire-breathing glove – it’s clear to me, here, now, where all this was headed.

    He’s a modern-day Luddite.  He’s going to destroy machines with the most effective primitive tool he can imagine.  He’s a danger, and a menace, to himself and his community.  A threat in our midst.  A monster in the making.  Unquestionably twisted and gnarled by awful experiences.

    At least, he is now.  Maybe wasn’t on Nov 30 2012.

    1. All my best teachers acknowledged these bits of “rebellion” for what they were — either kids trying to find ways to carve out an identity for themselves in a Lord of the Flies social environment or a way to deal with the crippling boredom that schools inflict on children.

      The much more numerous bad teachers just wanted a second chance to be cool kids and picked on the goths and other social outcasts because they were easy targets.  (Not the nerds because these teachers know who butters their bread.)

      Good teachers support the kids who are different and aren’t (yet) ashamed of being different.  Bad teachers say “why can’t you just be normal.”

  3. I still have one of my old high school folders, I hang on to it because every possible centimeter of space is covered with offensive doodles and in-jokes. I wonder what kids today would think of it.. I suspect if I were in school today I’d be on the fast track to expulsion.

    Maybe more curiously, I wonder what kind of values these kids will carry on into adulthood and impose on their children. Will it produce the next wave of ultra-conservative thinking, or will there be another mass revolt against stodgy  parents?

    1. Isn’t it ironic that our generation was able to express dark thoughts like that, but now we won’t let the next generation do the same now that we are running the show.  What is wrong with us?

      We also had the freedom to ride our bikes all over town, but we walk our kids to play dates that are just down the street.  Our generation sucks.

  4. If only the school would have the cynical, all-in ballsy courage to try to copyright that kid’s drawing. That would square the vicious circle for sure: inflammatory!

  5. “a poem she had written for herself, that showed too much empathy for Adam Lanza”

    God forbid that we allow empathy, particularly when it’s most difficult.

  6. When I was a school-going young’un back in the Pleistocene, we did nothing BUT draw these cartoons in school.  Particularly relevant to this was a series my buddies and I did called “The School Demolisher Machines”.  With each pic we tried to outdo the others with some crazy armed vehicle (usually with tank treads, for some reason) that was shown destroying the Institute of Our Imprisonment. Guns, bazookas, missile launchers, flame-throwers, lasers!  We could have used a good glove-man.  We thought the Establishment was oppressive then.  Holy Cow.

    1. During my Jurassic childhood, I had a record album which included the song Mine eyes have seen the glory of the burning of the school.

  7. Parents need to take charge.  Get him OUT of there.  Send him to live with relatives in another state, go to school where he will be cared for and loved and allowed to express his rage in creative ways that don’t hurt anybody.  Every kid has some amount of rage.  This kid deserves a chance to go in a field with his friends and blow shit up, or go shoot guns or light off firecrackers or draw horrible pictures and cuss and swear and try smoking a cigarette or *heaven forbid* pot or drink a beer and grow up a little.

    1. What rage? He is a boy drawing flame shooting gloves. Is drawing silly stuff a sign of rage nowadays? In what emotional state I must be then? Writing angry interwebz comments – probably near heart attack inducing, white hot holy fury.

      1. I think you’re taking what I wrote too far.  Anyways, pretty much every teenager is at least a little annoyed at adults and the crap they’re trying to pull.  This kid, if he didn’t have rage before, I am betting that he does now.

        1.  There should be a concerted effort to identify, locate and recruit these persons at increased risk of permanent disaffection due to such situations…

          Oh wait…

    2. “Send him to live with relatives in another state, go to school where he will be cared for and loved and allowed to express his rage in creative ways that don’t hurt anybody.”

      And where does that happen, exactly? I watched my own high school go towards the school-as-prison route while I was still there. And apparently it has gotten worse since I left.

    3. I’m all for what you’re suggesting, but I think part of the problem is finding a school “where he will be cared for and loved and allowed to express his rage in creative ways that don’t hurt anybody”.

      Maybe such schools exist. For all I know they’re more common than the oppressive, reactionary schools we hear about. Hopefully that is the case and it won’t be hard for his parents to find such a school.

  8. If I rob someone with a replica of a real gun, but they don’t know it’s fake, the crime is treated just as if it was actually a real gun.  Anything resembling a real gun counts, but where precisely is the line on the spectrum of totally real looking and totally fake looking do we stop caring?  Or, if I write, “I will kill you,” on a note and hand it to someone, that’s a death threat.  What if I just draw them and gun?  Am I implying I’ll shoot them?  What if I point a gun-finger at them?  Am I implying, “do as I say, or next time it won’t just be my finger?”  Rather than be accused of arbitrary enforcement, or missing some “warning sign” the people tasked with the responsibility to watch for these warning signs will over-apply the rules in the harshest, least arbitrary way possible.  Everyone gets the hammer, no matter what.

    It’s dumb and it shouldn’t be that way, but in a strange way, I understand how it got that way given how our society currently functions.  Fear of lawsuits, job losses, accusations of negligence, etc. will create a system of self-preservation where people will ruin others to ensure they’re never held responsible for anything bad.  Unfortunately, those “others” are kids.

    Part of the problem are helicopter parents who want the school to take action at anything they even remotely find disconcerting that may possibly be a sign that someone will do something bad to their child, no matter how small or trivial that sign is.  Just send them all to court and kick the can of culpability down the road.  Let the police or a judge decide.

    1. Adults need collectively to take responsibility for everybody’s children again. It takes a village, etc. As adults no longer share public space with children (they are all in cars), they have abandoned responsibility for children to professionals. These both have detrimental affects for our relationship with all children.

  9. When I was 17, I was “president” of our erstwhile model rocket club. I was not what you would call a model student; I preferred to read my own curriculum, not the school’s, was fairly bright but didn’t give a rat’s ass about what they were teaching us. I wasn’t bad or even mean; I was just an underachiever. I was also white and lower middle class, so I suppose I had that going for me. 
    Anyway, March 1st, we had a model rocket competition at the field near my house. This field was behind a small department store, and in turn across from a regional airport. We always timed our launches so as not to startle anyone heading in, and even the FAA knew we were there. 
    It hadn’t rained in weeks, and the grass was very dry. After the second launch, a rocket glider, we all ran into the field to find where it had landed. No one stayed at the pad.
    Sparks had landed in the dry grass, and had started a fire.
    We tried to extinguish it, but when it hit the tall grass, it was over. The whole field was soon ablaze, and no fewer than three fire companies showed up. In under an hour, the field was ashy ruins. The few trees in it took little damage, but not a blade of grass remained.
    After the fire, I approached the fire chief  to explain to him what had happened. He said they had been trying to have controlled fires there for weeks (they had). All they did was to keep our fire from spreading. 
    By accident, we burnt the entire field to the ground. He said they should thank us.
    We still launched rockets, but no one was to leave the pad area after a launch. We averted several more fires that way.
    Now, looking back on that event, I wonder at how much real harm we truly did. They had to divert air traffic, there were three companies there, the air was filled with thick smoke for hours. And we got a slap on the wrists.
    And yet they do THIS to kids today? And for THAT?
    I mean, what the hell?!?

    1. Senior  year, buddy and I took part in a model rocket launch as part of a class project. But we were convinced doing it “right” was boring, so instead of a parachute we stuffed the fuselage with toilet paper and small fireworks (a couple black cats, some cheap fizzy sparkler type things, that’s about it). I set up a fuse to make sure the ejection charge would set the whole thing off, and just before launch (and before the teacher had followed us out to the field) we dumped a bunch of lighter fuel into the fuselage for insurance.

      Surprisingly the launch went off without a hitch, despite the fact that fuel was leaking out the bottom of the rocket on the launchpad. A hundred meters in the sky we saw a bunch of sparkles going off which proved ignition had been successful. Was too far away to hear any popping, but I think the teacher knew something was up. He gave us a really funny look (maybe because we were laughing our asses off while the rest of the class wanted to know why there was no parachute), but never said anything.

      Managed to find the rocket remains in the trees, was singed a bit but it hadn’t blown up like we intended. I assume we had underestimated the ejection charge and it pushed the whole payload right out of the top.

      Guess that’s the advantage of being a kid, you don’t take time to imagine what happens if something goes wrong. 20 years on I’m still wondering how we pulled it off without getting caught.

      1. Today, you’d be prosecuted under the homeland security act, waterboarded in some abandonned abatoir in Germany, stored on Guantanamo for a couple of years, then released in Syria where a drone would try to bomb you but hit a wedding party instead.

  10. I know in my case that if they had arrested me for sick drawings at that age we would have one fewer serial pot smokers on the street today. Crime is crime.

  11. I got suspended for drawing racy pictures when I was in high-school.

    My poor dad had to come in and explain that I was not some sexual deviant – I just liked drawing sexy ladies. (I was 14, not to be unexpected.) The school’s ultimate problem was that nudity might be alright in a college setting, but not appropriate for high-school. The handcuffs, dominatrix and depiction of pubic hair might also have been an issue.

    I took the suspension as a 3 day vacation and a compliment. I left that school the next semester for a more liberal arts school that actually encouraged creativity and today make a living being creative. Sadly, I never grew into any kind of a fetishist.

  12. Since the US Government has officially agreed to execute US citizens with drones without due process even if they are not determined to be imminent threats, the next step is to lure these creative children out of the country by giving them fake contest prizes consisting of trips to Mexico and then dropping some drone-fired JDAMs on top of them.

  13. Part of me keeps hoping that some further details will turn up in this story to show that the teacher or cops were exercising good judgment, something that hasn’t been conveyed yet in articles. But I’m not seeing it. One of the articles I read mentioned an earlier incident in which a 15 year old girl was arrested for creating “false public alarm” by writing a text that said she heard a rumor someone was going to shoot up a school. Teacher gets praised for creating a public alarm about a boy drawing weapons. Student gets arrested for similar behavior. Moral of the story is you better be silent about rumors of violence if you can’t make authorities believe you.

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