Just what does the United States School System have against fantasy, science fiction and anything else which entertains and inspires young minds? The term ‘Zero Tolerance‘ has been thrown around in the last three years in regards to schools, children and a “no violence” policy. Personally, I always thought Zero Tolerance was just a name to an X-Men story from the late 90s; ‘Operation: Zero Tolerance‘. In that, Bastion wanted to round up all the mutants through legal means after the events of ‘X-Men: Onslaught’ by using Onslaught as evidence mutants could turn on us at any time without warning. In a way, fiction does mirror real life. Except this time the target is our own children and their imaginations, as well as the material which spark those imaginations.
About a week ago, life for a little girl was thrown askew. Imagine being young again in grammar school. You wake up one morning, your mother packs your lunch in your favorite superhero lunch box. She kisses you on the forehead and sends you off to school. Only to find out that your favorite lunch box has landed you in trouble.
You know the story: a school deemed one little girl’s Wonder Woman lunch box too violent and claimed it violated the dress code. The Internet was ablaze with concern and outrage.
We here at PopCultHQ had reported the story but thought we would take it one step further. I decided to reach out to people whom I knew that were teachers and counselors in actual school systems. I had reached out to a few creators I knew but none have returned the inquiry at this time of writing this. I also decided to dig deeper into this story.
In 2013, an unnamed preschool sent a letter home to parents urging parents to monitor and censor the various media their children watch or read. Evidently the school didn’t care for the students playing superhero or wrestling on the playground. To a degree I can understand but as a whole, I really can’t fathom taking it to that level. I know in the 90s it was popular for kids to emulate the Power Rangers on the playgrounds across America. When I was in elementary school I would pretend to be the Doctor from Doctor Who on the playground, before that it was Grimlock from Transformers.
Again in 2013, a 6-year-old kindergartner from Massachusetts was suspended for bringing a small Lego figure with a mini-gun to school. The Lego accessory was no bigger than a quarter. The same happened to a 7-year old who lobbed an ‘imaginary’ grenade on the playground while playing ‘War’ with his friends. This can only make me wonder what has happened to us?
Well some of my old friends, professionals in the education, world have gotten back to me and they had some interesting and informative words to say on the subject. Shockingly, this is something which has been going on for a long time.
Jennifer Kuntz, a child psychologist for the Philadelphia school system had this to say:
“Many schools across the country have done zero tolerance on all types of “cartoon” and any “graphic” tees because they fear that the colors will equal something bad to happen. It’s unfortunate because if people were more about talking and listening and understanding then we won’t need zero tolerance on everything. It’s unfortunate because many kids for many reasons choose the wrong “role model” and we end up in society of panic and zero tolerance.”
Kuntz went on to add:
“All positive characters and stories get a reaction because of bad events. Cops are evil because we have one bad guy in the streets is an example. Superheroes give false confidence or show force and destruction which if you watch all movies (can’t comment on comic books) about superheroes, they try to solve it by helping local police before the big bad event happens. Also if a child can’t differentiate between fiction and real life that’s an issue. In all honesty, it’s comics with a good moral theme at times and if children can’t see the difference then we as parents or whatnot have failed. I think it is great watching my kids read or watch these movies. But I also sit and talk with my kids about it. Talk about the themes and the fact Superman is a character not real. I truly believe it’s all about the talk and understanding and story telling.“
Dr. Kuntz called it “a village raises a child” mentality which is something I feel I can get behind. So it’s safe to assume this child picked Wonder Woman for her lunch box because she probably related to her, therefore the parents will use that to their advantage to get her to read, to study, whatever; basically playing up to the child’s strength and interests in the way of education.
This is where we have Adam Traeger, a teacher in the New Jersey school system. Mister Traeger has been known to use comic books and superheroes in his teaching assignments. He has promoted after school comic book clubs (which this writer had a hand in a one point) where kids could learn not just about comic books but about the industry and take home the knowledge of they are made with the end result of the semester being the children would make their own comic book either as a group or on their own.
Adam had this to say:
“I believe that the school is overreacting. While every school wants to stay away from violent images, this particular lunch box would be acceptable in other schools. Take the fact that this is a superhero aside, this particle lunch box does not in any way contain any violent images at all. In fact, this lunch box looks like something from the ’70s or early ’80s. The only way this would be acceptable would be an appropriate response is if all other lunch boxes that contain any other superhero, Star Wars, or any other genre that has violence is also banned. This would mean all of the children would be limited to plain lunch boxes or paper/plastic bag.”
That’s the problem with the need to censor such things as comic books and comic characters in today’s age. The schools are indeed overacting with a need to stop the smoke before there is fire. They aren’t stopping there though. It feels as if the United States School System has waged war on everything we and our children take creativity from. Oddly enough, no school has ever been able to be reached for a comment or would just defer you to their dress code. There is never a rhyme or reason to these dress codes.
If it’s violence which the schools are afraid of promoting then what about what our children learn in history class? World War I or World War II. I recall watching ‘All Quiet on the Western Front‘ in 8th grade. A look into the trenches of World War I and the effects of mustard gas is really no different than the battle for New York in ‘The Avengers‘. Teaching children about Hitler and concentration camps of World War II is no different then the story in X-Men called ‘The X-Tinction Agenda‘.Both deal with a madman who rounds up people he considers different and places them in concentration camps. The only difference is one is reality and in reality those poor people couldn’t fight back. The point is, a child is still being exposed to violence. A child is still going to take what he has learned and emulate it on the playground. So instead of two children being Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader… two children become Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler on the playground. Is one form of emulation considered less violent than the other? Or are we skipping over world wars the same some places want to erase the Confederate Flag from American History and all the atrocities and victories which went along with it? Which would leave me to question just what sort of education is our children receiving? Have school systems thrown out the works of Shakespeare or removed all the ‘violent’ content from school libraries? I was able to find graphic novels in my junior high school library. Novelizations for the Star Wars trilogy and even some Doctor Who novels.
I’m not considered privy to these answers because I am not a parent or that was what some of the West Palm Beach schools informed me of when I called to inquire about their curriculum regarding History and English classes. Even though I am a taxpayer, I was given the brush off as if it’s none of my concern because I am not a parent.
If I were a parent, which I hope to be one day, you better believe I’d be at PTA Meetings or visiting the school to know why certain bans are in a dress code for a school. I also urge other parents to do the same. If I couldn’t have had my rolled up copies of Batman and Marvel Universe Update ’89 issues in my locker in 5th and 6th grade, I may not be the knowledgeable comic buff that I am today.
Just how many future writers and artists are we depriving inspiration and potentially their calling because we’ve become a country too afraid of it’s own shadow?