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Author Topic: Sensitive Subjects and Young Writers
Umi-chan
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I am curious if people here have opinions about how society especially school systems treat young writers and readers who write or read about some very touchy topics like violence.
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annepin
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I'm not sure exactly how these kids are treated, so it's difficult for me to answer, but it's an interesting question.

I think in general people would consider those kids to have some sort of psychological issue, especially in the wake of the school shootings that crop up once in a while. That seems legitimate to me.

On the other hand, I think a lot of people might dismiss it as our modern violent society. Kids are exposed to violence from all angles--video games, movies, t.v., their own households, that they can't help but absorb it and use violence as a form of communication, even in their writing. This attitude seems troublesome to me, since I'd rather we teach our kids more productive ways of communicating.

Not having kids and having little exposure in the schoolroom, I guess I'm far from being knowledgeable.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited August 16, 2007).]


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Zero
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I am annoyed by that result but agree with it. I suppose there are/might-be some very psychotic young people who actually are/intend-to-be violent, like at Virginia Tech. However, I think that including violence, or touchy subjects, in fiction, is--at best--only a correlating variable, not a cause-and-effect relationship. The same is true for video games.

I think violence, and any other theme, has its place in fiction. Especially if it encourages an awareness of reality. Otherwise I guess the men in white coats should lockup Quintin Terantino (sp?) posthaste.


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lehollis
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I've read a number of stories about kids being expelled or suspended from school for stories with "dark" themes. I think I remember one kid writing about an assassination attempt on the President, and had the Secret Service show up on his doorstep. (Hopefully, the kid was a good enough writer to use the experience for further stories.)
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Balthasar
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The best thing child-writers can do is to write whatever they want, but only show "authorities" the stuff that won't get them in trouble. It's sad, yes . . . but I'm not sure the consequences are worth it. Unless they have serious problems that will bring the "subversive" stories to light, they have nothing to worry about.

The other thing child-writers (as well as their readers) should understand is that children (and I'm including high-school age kids as well) lack the emotional experience to handle so-called "dark" subjects with any depth. This means that a violent story will probably read more like a glorification of violence than anything else. (Some of my high-school stories were filled with blood, sex, and gore that were only about blood, sex, and gore.) But ignorance on the part of adult readers is sad; they should be encouraging young writers to keep writing what they want to write, regardless of subject matter. Sooner or later, a person's social and emotional maturity will be able to handle these subjects. But to stifle a kid's ambition simply because he or she is writing like a kid . . . that's horrible.


[This message has been edited by Balthasar (edited August 16, 2007).]

[This message has been edited by Balthasar (edited August 17, 2007).]


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SilverFirexz
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quote:
On the other hand, I think a lot of people might dismiss it as our modern violent society. Kids are exposed to violence from all angles--video games, movies, t.v., their own households, that they can't help but absorb it and use violence as a form of communication, even in their writing. This attitude seems troublesome to me, since I'd rather we teach our kids more productive ways of communicating.

I agree with this. It's a sorry state of affairs, but true. I'm just out of high school, and I've seen the sort of things that kids take for granted anymore.

I honestly think that adults need to help young writers express things. They resort to violence because it is simple--you hurt me, I hurt you. It's a way for them to resolve things inside themselves without having to think about the deeper ramifications of it. The ideal thing would be for these writers to be put into a nurturing environment that would help them identify what they are trying to express, and then express it more clearly. Violence can--and sometimes should--still be present in their expressions, but then they would know what they are doing, they would have the ability to portray violence as something to be handled with maturity.

All too often, sadly, such creative minds are the product of what's around--violence is commonplace in their homes and their interactions at school. They aren't nurtured when they express violence through writing, they're punished.

I knew several kids in my sophomore year who lived in constant fear because of a gang war. Over math class, they told me stories about how the previous night they'd bee held at gunpoint, how they never got relief when they went home because their father was an excon or a drug dealer or something. Violence was the only language they really knew, and I can easily see that carrying over to any creative work.

I'm not condoning violence, but I think that when it is expressed, it shouldn't be reacted to with fear. Worry, yes, but I think that writing could easily turn into a way for kids to deal with it. After all, as they progress as a writer, they will learn different ways to communicate. They'll learn to separate themselves from violence, and perceive it in a different light.

Anyway, so what I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't glorify violence, but it does exist and it does have an impact on today's society, and we shouldn't ignore that--whether it comes from a young person or an adult.


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Grant John
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As an English teacher I had to jump in on this.

I let kids write anything they want and never judge their work on whether it has sex, drugs, voilence etc.

However if a student writes a story about suicide or harming people there is the immediate wish to cover one's back, but in my experience normally you can tell if a kid is romanced by the idea of killing themselves (or at least I feel I can) or just mimicing the telivision or movies, or their friends.

The best thing in a situation when you are wondering about what a student is writing or reading (the other day a student told me she was reading a story about incest) is to give the student an opportunity to discuss what they are writing or reading about.

Grant


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theworldinthewords
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I am a young writer (I'm 19 and currently in college, but I've been writing since 4th grade) and I have certainly used violence a number of times in my stories. I tend to avoid sexual themes because I think they are over done by both mature and immature writers (especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres)and they also have moral and ethical issues which I just don't want to deal with in my stories unless the characters themselves are meant to deal with them within the framework of the story itself. The same is true of drugs. Unless I plan on using drugs as a point of conflict in one of my stories, I don't mess with it. Drugs have been overly romanticized since the 60's. Maybe that's just my point of view, but that's how I write at any rate. When I use violence in my stories, I use it to make a point or because that is how I view the world, etc. For example, at one point during middle school, I was being picked on by the "cool" crowd. They were very cruel to me and hence that shaped the way I viewed children my age. This showed up in my stories where children would often do violent things to other children that adults wouldn't ever dream of them doing. Now, was this wrong? I don't think so, because the violence was there to make a point. It was meant to stretch one's perceptions of what individuals are capable of doing. In hindsight, I guess it was very "Lord of the Flies"-esque.

That being said, it is very true that young writers have to be careful about what they write and to whom they show their work. As much as there are some wonderful English teachers out there who really do know how to write and are excited about encouraging their students in writing, there are also plenty of teachers who know how to write prescriptively but just don't have the feel for it. I was lucky. In both middle school and high school, I had teachers who genuinely encouraged me to write while constructively critiquing my work. My younger brother on the other hand had no such luck. His middle school English teacher constantly penalized him for thinking outside of the box in his writing. I've taken a look at some of the things he's written, and although I am no expert and he is only a beginning writer, much of the teacher's criticism was unwarranted and even bad advice that I would never use in my writing and certainly pray that my brother does not use in his own. As far as getting in trouble for controversial writing goes, my brother has been in that same situation with this same teacher. She gave her class a prompt asking them to write about what they would do if they were Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean (the third movie had just come out). My brother took this to heart and wrote about how as a pirate, he would take over the school. It was really a silly thing to write about, quirky even, but his English teacher read it and followed the typical overreaction guidelines calling a parent-teacher conference and more.

I'm sure this teacher felt fully justified in reacting the way she did, and in a sense, "better safe than sorry" is certainly a valid way to approach situations. However, teachers and other authorities can't always be counted on to discern between creativity and actual emotional problems. If Poe (who certainly had issues of his own) had never written the Pit and the Pendulum, and instead a little seventh grader wrote it and turned it in, what kind of reaction do you think they would receive for their work? Probably one very similar to what happened to my little brother (please don't think I'm saying my brother writes as well or anything like Edgar Allen Poe, I'm just making a point). It is sad but true that many young authors have to be careful about what they write and to whom they show their work. But is this something that can be helped? To a degree, yes. Teachers, parents, and others can certainly be more discerning with how they treat the work of younger writers. On the other hand, some amount of caution must always be used, because every so often, such as in the case of the Virginia Tech shooter, a writer's work can give an indication as to preconceived actions.

Anyway, hope this helps.


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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i say if someone has a problome with what i wright i tell them to go F$%* them selves. i write as i wish and get opinion from my close close friends and everyone elts i blow off.

Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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Zero
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...no more accurate way to express your elegant eloquence.
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mfreivald
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II, I don't think Umi-chan was referring to you, but to youths.

Umi-chan seems to wonder when we should be concerned about sinister things popping up in a youth's writing. You certainly aren't implying that a teacher or parent should take no interest in the possible degeneration of a young mind into destructive or self-destructive tendencies, are you?

A few here have alluded to the possibilities that violent writing might indicate a potential murderer, but there is also the possibility that violence in a youth's writing could be a call for help.

Personally, I think the "I do what I want, and no one else can tell me what to do" attitude at least shadows the criminal mind, and I think that is more of a concern to the health of our society than the violence kids might write about. Kids need to learn how they are responsible to society, and they need to understand that things they write--particularly the published things--have an effect *beyond themselves*.

As far as the violence that children produce in their writing, I have some experience with this as a former sixth grade teacher, and I have mixed feelings. For one thing, there is a difference between violence for the sake of a meaningful story and violence for violence's sake. (Gratuitous violence is somewhere in between.) I think violence for its own sake should be discouraged--but I'm not sure it is something to be alarmed about if the kid isn't obsessing on it.

For another thing, I don't think there is a criteria that you can use to identify a truly disturbed youth. Sure, you can have a list of indicators that warrant a closer look, but indicators aren't criteria for a judgment. The more sinister writing is something that is often experienced subjectively. You cannot always point to any one thing that is worse than another student's violent writing, but there can still be a mood to it that reveals a deeper affinity to hateful violence or sadism. (And, of course, these youths should be dealt with in the most charitable and loving way possible.)

All I'm really trying to say is that these kids are human beings--not mathematical formulae. When they write disturbing things--a human judgment needs to be made whether to encourage or discourage it--and discouraging it can be a perfectly reasonable thing to do. We need to deal with them as human beings and encourage them to understand their connection and responsibility to the rest of us as human beings. Another separate judgment might be made regarding the child's psychological, emotional, and spiritual condition--and as responsible adults who love them, we will help them.

Is that helpful, Umi-chan?

ciao,
Mark


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Umi-chan
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Its very interesting to read everyone's responses. For the most part I was just curious about people's opinions on this subject.

I'm 18 myself and just out high school. I was going through some of the writing I had done during my years there and was realizing in just how much trouble I could have been in. For the most part the violence in some of my plots was to make very specific points but I do have to agree that kids absorb violence from the world around them.

I certianly absorbed my fair share of violence, most of it not physical and I found my self expressing that violence as physical violence in my writing because it was simpler.

For the most part I wanted to see what other writer's views on many school's zero tolerance policies were. I think that it is one problem that youth today are facing because they don't seem to be provided a proper outlet to express how they feel and what they think about the violence around them.


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mfreivald
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quote:
For the most part I wanted to see what other writer's views on many school's zero tolerance policies were...

"Zero tolerance" is a bad idea. "Zero tolerance" is just a euphemism for "we have no adults here who will take responsibility for tough decisions."

Don't get me wrong--you can have strict policies and high principles without "zero tolerance," so I am not arguing for permissiveness. But this "zero tolerance" by its nature presents students and parents with a faceless and unmoving bureaucratic system instead of with compassionate and reasonable human beings. (And it turns the human beings in the administration into mindless and heartless automatons.)

ciao,
Mark


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Robert Nowall
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I remember a press report about the guy in the Virginia Tech shootings turning in violent stories in a class...resulting in some discipline behing handed out. (I don't remember the details right now, but I posted something about it the last time it came up.)

I'm forced to see it as censorship. But it's also one reason (of many) why I save my stuff for market and / or criticism. I'd rather not have details of what I write come back and haunt me in some way---not unless I get paid for them first.

(I've worked, on and off, on a school-shooting aftermath ghost story for several years. I like the characters I've dealt with...but I've never been quite satisfied with the story, mostly 'cause I can't get a handle on a memorial service. One of these days I'll dust it off and try again.)

((But I'm not what you would call "young" any more, either.))


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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well mfreivald when i was still in school i got lots of critision from my teachers for my writing.

yet another reason i was expelled.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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Umi-chan
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It's sad. Anything can get a student expelled these days. If school officials had seen some of my writing I would have been.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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i hate the school bords and their libral thoughts on how to control the school population.

that is why i ike the idea of nonfree school. public schools are nothing more than a drain of tax money that can be used eltswere ie new equiptment for the military. and to fund new wars that give crazys such as my self a legal reason to take lives and help controle the Human Population.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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dee_boncci
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slightly off topic, but I have a nephew that was expelled from school in the second grade. He's a very talented artist, and had redrawn some pictures he'd seen when his grandmother took him to the public library and he'd got ahold of an illustrated copy of Treasure Island. He'd drawn pictures of the skull-and-crossbones, and skeleton pirates. They (school administration and counselors) accused him of drawing gang symbols, and then accused my sister and her family of satan worship. I kid you not.

I imagine any young writer that could have been construed to be in violation of one of their "zero tolerance" policies would get dealt with similarly.



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MartinV
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Reading all this, I get the impression of a totalitaristic regime in schools these days...

If these paranoid people are afraid of violence in art, why don't they ban the violence on TV? Give teenagers and younger children who produce 'problematic' stuff a chance to explain their creation to those who are able to evaluate it as it should be - grown and reknown artists (those that describe violence all the time and are praised and paid for that).

I never heard of such cases in my country. The only thing teenagers get expelled for here is physical violence and it doesn't happen too often.


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Umi-chan
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Rommel, just wanted to say that even some of the non-public schools have these "zero-tolerance" policies.

I also think that sometimes its hard for young writers to explain what is behind their peices and its difficult for school officials to understand when a kid just says "I wouldn't hurt anyone in real life."

For me personally, its often not until years later when I look at the writing that I realize what was really behind it.


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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some yes. but privet schools dont drain tax money.

and most are nonlibral.

now drawing pirate flags and getting expeld and in the 2nd grade and being acused of being saintest. is by far the stupisted excuse i have heaard of schools doing.
and vilance in school not so much as it should.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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Robert Nowall
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They brag about how they're here to help the young minds...but, when you look into it, they're just there to babysit the kids until they're adults. I was bright...but if I was helped along because of it, I never noticed.

(I can't recall any encouragement about my writing...but, to be fair, I only showed a teacher a story intended for professional submission just once---and I really didn't care what that teacher thought, pro or con.)


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Umi-chan
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They don't teach kids to write, they teach kids how to produce just enough to get by. This is what our society is obsessed with, how can we be most efficent (pardon the spelling). It makes all the arts suffer and it makes the kids who are interested in the arts freaks, weirdos and losers. Its sad how many just give up. For me I'm sticking through it, I'm a freak, a geek, a weirdo, a loser and whatever else people want to call me and I'm proud of it.
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annepin
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Robert said:
=========
I remember a press report about the guy in the Virginia Tech shootings turning in violent stories in a class...resulting in some discipline behing handed out. (I don't remember the details right now, but I posted something about it the last time it came up.)
=========

I guess I'd see violence in kids' writing as more symptomatic than causal. So expelling or punishing a kid who writes about violence is really a short-sighted approach.

I'm _not_ suggesting that all kids who write violent scenes are disturbed by any means, but it seems like it might be one of those red lights, combined with a series of other symptoms, that might indicate a disturbed personality, and these kids should be given some sort of special evaluation.

Similarly, I could see how a child's writing about violent events could almost have a therapeutic effect for him or her, a way of processing a traumatic situation.


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SilverFirexz
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quote:
I guess I'd see violence in kids' writing as more symptomatic than causal. So expelling or punishing a kid who writes about violence is really a short-sighted approach.

I agree. The Virginia Tech guy was very clearly disturbed; further, I think you have to do more than a cursory glance at his work. If I recall correctly (and I may not be), his work detailed violence against fellow students, which indicates to me a bit more danger than, say, an imaginary teenaged protagonist fighting off Orcs or something.

The thing I really fail to understand is WHY people think a simple expulsion will do the trick. If someone is disturbed enough to be seriously contemplating violence against his or her peers, then expulsion might very well be the thing to put them over the edge. I'd like to see proactive steps taken. If a kid needs help, then help him! If he's a danger to society, then by all means keep him away from society, but don't just say, "Well, he's violent, so we've expelled him, and that's all that's going to happen. He's free to do whatever he wants, as long as our butts are covered."

Edit: My apologies, the VA Tech shooter did not write about violence directed at other students, but he was caught stalking and harrassing two fellow students.

By the way, here's the link to one of his plays, if anyone is interested. It has explicit language and violence, if anyone couldn't guess.

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2007/0417071vtech1.html

[This message has been edited by SilverFirexz (edited August 20, 2007).]


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Zero
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Rommel,

Isn't it sort of a contradiction in ideology to hate schools for having zero-tolerance, and hate them for being too liberal? I mean, doesn't liberal mean free. I think a conservative private school, many of which are religious, would be more inclined (according to ideology) to eject students whose art and ideas don't conform to their culture.

Silver,

I think kicking a person out of school is motivated by liability rather than altruism.

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited August 20, 2007).]


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SilverFirexz
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Either way, I think that someone, somewhere screws up when a kid is expelled as a blanket response to violent writing.

Either extreme--ignoring violent writing as well as knee-jerk expulsion reactions--is reprehensible, to me. How can we expect to have an evolving, changing, civilized society when we throw away exploration of ideas and mindsets in favor of a blanket response?

And half the problem is that kids who have violence in their work are very creative, they just don't know how to portray violence in a mature manner. They don't understand enough about the conventions of writing to know how to do it well. So, their writing comes across as immature and often symptomatic of being "disturbed," when they really just don't know how to convey themselves properly.


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Zero
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I agree. It's just a matter of incentives. How do we motivate "the institution" to behave better?
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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BRAIN WASHING.

it solves all the probloms at once.

and slective breeding. hell if it works for my kind then why not humans.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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hoptoad
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sounds like you come from the 'banjo hills country'
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SilverFirexz
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quote:
How do we motivate "the institution" to behave better?

Oh, pick me!

We use our incredible gift for social commentary in our writing, and proceed to confound modern society with our cynical but accurate view, thereby bringing social reform to pass.

...hey, it worked for Dickens, didn't it?


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Umi-chan
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Sounds kinda like mass brainwashing on the part of the writers. I like it. Let's get every writer in the United States and anywhere else and let's bombard them. Mwhahahah...
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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hoptoad. i dont say this much but, STUPID HUMAN I COME FROM FLA.
Umi-chan you are begenning to frighten me. are you trying to concure the world before i, and the rest of my kind? but good idea.

Rommel Fenrir Wolf II


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NancyE
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I grew up in a household where the rule was "If you're big enough to get the book down off the shelf, you're big enough to read it." I still favor that approach--but then, my kids trust my taste in books, and we've traded good stuff back and forth now for years--they're 20 and 18, now.

Having said that, this whole issue was a puzzler for me as a parent, because I have bright kids--finding materials for them that were challenging to them, but didn't have such adult (and I'm not just talking sex) themes was tricky. Both were reading on a HS+ level by 3rd grade, and much content in adult books simply isn't of interest to a kid that age. I read aloud the chapter where Step confronts Stevie's teacher from "Lost Boys" to my son in 3rd of 4th grade, and he simply took off after everying I had by OSC on the bookshelf--which was fine with me!


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SeraphM
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I am a mother of a 15 year old highschool student and I think zero tolerance policies are certainly an abdication of responsibility. And they don't serve to protect anyone. In fact, though I am no psychologist, I'd hazard to guess that any child who is suspended because he drew a skull and crossbones or because he wrote a story about how he's going to drive a car over the football team is more likely to react with violence later in life than one who was not 'disciplined'.

In fact, writing such themes might be cathartic for a child that is having troubles. And I would prefer that the teachers view such things as a chance to find out more about the child in question. Perhaps he is being bullied mercilessly, and this is his only outlet for his natural anger and frustration. Maybe the teachers need to get out of the staff lounge and watch what is happening on the playground.

I'd have no problem with a teacher that asked more questions about a child that was drawing or writing about violence. If the child does it a lot, even calling a conference with the parents, not to accuse, but to say something like "Hey, Joe has been writing a lot of graphic violence in his daily journal. I thought you should know, and maybe keep an eye out to see if anything is troubling him."

But they rarely do that these days. My son has always drawn pictures of monsters and weapons, because he is a BOY and those things fascinate him. But he certainly doesn't show them around the school.


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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The more Blood, guns and vilonce the better. well in my twisted mind anyway.
Rommel Fenrir Wolf II

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Umi-chan
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Here's an idea, I'm sure someone's thought of it before though, we might see if we could take things that are usually considered villianous and present them in the heroic light. It would be an interesting rather ironic challenge. However not do it in a way that glorifies brutality.
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mfreivald
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Well, if it is truly "villainous" or evil, then it would be exalting (glorifying) evil, and I would never support such an endeavor. (No matter how you present it--Auswitz is never going to be "not so villainous," and I would abhor a work that tried to make it so.)

It might be interesting to explore something that wasn't actually evil, but was generally understood as evil -- but that is a different proposition, and it would probably take a deep dive to reveal why it isn't evil.


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Zero
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And a good brainstorm to figure out what that thing might be.
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Umi-chan
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I was more going along with the lines of the second proposal. Taking something generally understood as evil... I definitely do not have the skill to pull off such a work, but I would love to see it done.
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