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Randy Cassingham

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bullet  The War on Kids

There will probably be two responses to the first story in this week's issue: 1) I was too hard on the public library/librarian, and 2) I wasn't hard enough on her. To be sure, my tagline was judging her based on the standards of the American Library Association.

But first the story, from True's 10 May 2009 issue:

Freedom of Information

An unidentified 11th-grade student in Pelham Manor, N.Y., was called into the office for a chat with the assistant principal -- and the police. The boy was reportedly researching how to conceal a gun. After interviewing the student, the police and the principal determined that there was absolutely no threat, and in fact the report was wrong: the teen was actually researching the state's laws on guns. A school spokeswoman said the boy was not disciplined, and remains in school. So who turned him in? The Pelham Public Library. "It is not our procedure to notify somebody" about patrons' book choices, said library Director Patricia Perito, but she "had to" look into the matter by informing the school. (White Plains Journal News) ...In other news, Perito has set up a security camera on the library's copy of the Constitution, so she can catch anyone who wants to research their rights as a citizen.

The ALA was founded in 1876 "to provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all." (from their Mission Statement -- emphasis added.)

So Librarian = professional, and it's their job to ensure access to everyone to the vast and diverse information in their custody. Noble goals and a noble calling to be sure.

In 1948, the ALA adopted the Library Bill of Rights, which has been amended several times since, to declare that "libraries are forums for information and ideas" for all, and "not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views."

That "age" bit is discussed quite a bit by the ALA. "The American Library Association opposes all attempts to restrict access to library services, materials, and facilities based on the age of library users," they say in a policy paper. "Librarians and library governing bodies cannot assume the role of parents or the functions of parental authority in the private relationship between parent and child. Librarians and governing bodies should maintain that only parents and guardians have the right and the responsibility to determine their children's -- and only their children's -- access to library resources."

"The ethical responsibilities of librarians, as well as statutes in most states and the District of Columbia," the ALA's Policy Manual (Section 52.4) dictates, "protect the privacy of library users. Confidentiality extends to 'information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired'." Should there be a legitimate legal reason for such records to be given to law enforcement, it is "strongly recommended" that "such records shall not be made available to any agency of state, federal, or local government except pursuant to such process, order, or subpoena as may be authorized under the authority of, and pursuant to, federal, state, or local law relating to civil, criminal, or administrative discovery procedures or legislative investigatory power."

Librarians, perhaps better than all people, should know the importance of reading to the development of responsible citizens. "The freedom to read is essential to our democracy," the ALA says in its Freedom to Read Statement, but "It is continuously under attack." The obvious way to attack it is to ban or burn books in an attempt to suppress ideas. A less obvious way is to make it known that there are people watching what you read, and calling the authorities if you dare to read something unusual. That's called a "chilling effect" and certainly we would rightly be outraged to have government agents watching us in a library. So what in hell was a library professional doing acting in that capacity, informing government agents of what one of her patrons, no matter his age, was reading?

It's different because it's guns, you might say.

I don't particularly care if you're pro- or anti-gun. Let's say you're anti-gun. Do you know for a fact that the kid in the story isn't too? Maybe he was researching a school paper to argue against guns. He could certainly argue his points better if he knew and understood the laws. Let's say you're pro-gun; maybe he was researching the state's laws so he could engage in sport shooting, and ensure that he complied with all legal and safety requirements so he could do it properly. You don't know which is the case here, do you? Neither did the librarian, who violated not just the policy of her profession, but every standard of her profession to inform on the boy to government agents.

And how interesting it is that I wrote that story yesterday, and today I received a DVD in the mail of a documentary that was six years in the making. I was interviewed for it four years ago, and the movie just came out.

"In 95 minutes," the film's promo material says, "THE WAR ON KIDS exposes the many ways the public school system has failed children and our future by robbing students of all freedoms due largely to irrational fears. Children are subjected to endure prison-like security, arbitrary punishments, and pharmacological abuse through the forced prescription of dangerous drugs. Even with these measures, schools not only fail to educate students, but the drive to teach has become secondary to the need to control children."

Strong words indeed. And sure enough, the film starts with zero tolerance, which I've been railing about in True since 1995. My hour-plus of on-camera interviewing was distilled down to just 41 seconds of screen time, but there are plenty of experts interviewed that really flesh things out; a lot of parents will be horrified at what they see, and what has been kept quiet or glossed over. For example, did you know that Columbine High School massacre shooter Eric Harris was taking the antidepressant Luvox at the time of the shootings? He was ordered to, even though it had been shown in pediatric use, a significant number of patients taking it become manic (Source; PDF file). Violent tendencies -- he was ordered to take the drug because of his anger issues -- plus mania is not a good combination. It could lead to -- oh, I don't know... -- say, a frenzy of mass murder?

I don't agree with every aspect of the film, but I can tell you one thing: it sure made me think. And you know how I like that! In any case I believe their bottom line is correct: schools are terribly broken, yet society blames the kids for the problems, rather than even think about reforming the entire educational system. Hence their title, "The War on Kids".

Yes, I realize the irony of the story being about a kid researching gun laws and talking about the Columbine massacre. I don't doubt the librarian had just that scenario in mind when she chose to disregard her professional standards, and it's possible she could have been right, the kid might have been planning such an attack. Well, that's exactly what the film is about: kids are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent, and the education of children "has become secondary to the need to control children." We've seen in my zero tolerance stories so many cases of kids presumed to be guilty until proven innocent -- and even then punished, because the wheels were set into motion. Frankly, I applaud the school and police in Pelham Manor, N.Y., for doing the right thing once they were forced into talking to the kid. They talked with him, got the straight story, and sent him on his way without any disciplinary action.

Yet you can still be sure that he will forever be "chilled" from too much curiosity as to where he as a citizen stands when it comes to the law, since he'll never know who is watching him, and who they're reporting to.

Too hard on the librarian? No way: I was too easy on her.

And keep your eye open for "The War on Kids". It has already won "Best Educational Documentary" at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival. The web site is not quite ready for prime time, but it's at http://www.TheWarOnKids.com.

71 Comments on This Entry

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Posted by David Hakala, Denver, CO on May 11, 2009:

OTOH, the lad may grow up to be a great civil rights activist. Great medical careers have been launched by tragic deaths. Every phenomenon spawns both good and bad karma.

"Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write." --John Adams

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Could be, and I wish the kid the very best. -rc

Posted by wendy, north carolina on May 11, 2009:

Wow Randy. It's a good thing he wasn't doing a research paper on serial killers.

Posted by Charles, McKinney TX on May 11, 2009:

I think Laura Bush needs to be sent up there and "Shush" Ms. Perito.

Posted by Sarah - Melbourne, Australia on May 11, 2009:

It's been said that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing". Although I do not want to try and justify or even excuse this librarian's behaviour (let's face it - she was bang out of line with what she did), I wonder if she was thinking about that quote, or something rather like it, when she went ahead and reported that student. And if that's the case, then do we need to ask ourselves the question - is it better to have situations like this one where sometimes people do speak up and get it wrong, if the alternative is that nobody ever speaks up about things that they think are potentially dangerous etc? I really don't know, but I wonder what others think - can there be a perception of validitiy in her decision, or am I just looking at this from a totally skewed perspective?

As per normal Randy - you've given me something to think about, and I love your column because of it (that and the fantastic laughs!)

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As I noted in my essay, I'm sure she had Columbine (or similar tragedies) in mind. However, the way to fight possible "evil" is decidedly not to commit actual "evil"! That's why there are professional standards, in writing, for her and her fellow professionals to follow. If she wasn't such a coward, she could have talked to the kid herself if she had concerns. But she didn't have the courage of her own convictions, nor the backbone to stick to her professional standards. There is certainly no refuge in trying to pretend that it was her duty to violate the very tenets of her profession. -rc

Posted by Cory, Topeka Kansas on May 11, 2009:

We are a scared people ruled by more scared people. We irrationally fear so many things and so strongly desire our own safety and security that we look beyond good measures and take extreme actions to protect ourselves.

The irony in all of this is that this irrational fear is putting us in more danger than we are capable of realizing.

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Just so. Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -rc

Posted by Jonathan, Ohio on May 12, 2009:

Cory in Kansas hit it right on the nose here. The problem is indeed fear, and as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Posted by Kim, Indiana on May 12, 2009:

The thing that saddens me the most about this is that people like that are the ones who will encourage kids to avoid libraries in the future - or at least regard them with a wariness they didn't have before encountering the Vigilant Librarian.

She has put another stumbling block in the path of that young man's path toward thinking for himself, rather than allowing the predigested "news" on the crawlers and newsburps between vapid "reality shows" to dictate his thinking and opinions.

People like this are the ones who are the real danger - because they try to rule from behind, not having the courage to stand up for their convictions, not having the courage to say, "Hey, are you doing the wrong thing? Maybe you want to re-think that," and not having the courage to find out that they might be the ones in the wrong after all.

By reacting instead of thinking, that librarian has done a massive disservice to Real Librarians everywhere - and to thinking, reading, intelligent human beings.
Think on that, Ms. Reactionary.

Posted by Jorn, Germany on May 12, 2009:

While I think the actions of the librarian were certainly wrong, I would like to take a moment to applaud the school - they did not expel or suspend him immediately on receiving the "tip", they did not strip search him. They talked to him, and then proceeded based on the outcome of their discussion. Wow. Actually talking to kids, and then making a rational decision. Let's hope it catches on....

Posted by John, Pennsylvania on May 12, 2009:

Put me in the anti-gun column, but this is just wrong. I understand "not doing something" when presented with a crisis (which this wasn't) can be a challenge to decide, but big brother (i.e.a librarian) can't remotely have the right to look over anyone's shoulder and decide whether it's "o.k." for them to read about a particular topic.

Posted by Stephanie, Philadelphia, PA on May 12, 2009:

As a librarian I find this upsetting. In library school one of the things that is emphasized, and then emphasized again, is that patron privacy is one of our top priorities. One of the other top priorities is equal service to all, regardless of personal opinion on the materials being read/checked out.

There are times when I totally disagree with the materials a person is looking for but it not my place to tell them, or anyone else, about these materials. I even force myself to purchase books and materials on both sides of issues, no matter how wrong I think one side is.

I agree that you were too easy on the librarian - I can understand where she was coming from with her fear - but she violated the standards of her profession and that is not OK. If people get to decide it is OK to bend the rules and standards for certain things, who gets to decide when we have gone too far? There is always someone who will say it is OK in this one case, no matter what the case is. Are we next going to start notifying parents when teens are looking at books on pregnancy? Where do we stop 'being helpful'?

I'm all riled up. Privacy is an important matter to me.

Posted by Kelly, Virginia on May 12, 2009:

Nothing prevented the librarian from being concerned, but the ALA codes are clear - her duty was to notify the child's parents, as it is solely their responsibility for what he reads, not the school's. As a parent, I would have been annoyed, but appreciated the concern for public (and my child's) safety - had I been the one notified. As a parent, I am disgusted, but not surprised at the school's and the local police department's and the librarian's hubris.

Posted by Don Linthicum, MD USA on May 12, 2009:

I am a paraprofessional in a public library, and there's no question about it: what this library Director did was unprofessional, unethical, and just plain wrong.

Library Directors are always under difficult pressure from the politicians who control the purse strings, and from the public (bless their hearts) who whine to the politicians, and I know that sometimes Directors have to choose their battles -- but that doesn't apply in this case. No one was forcing the Director to violate her patron's privacy; if she had kept quiet the way professional ethics demand, no politican or voter would ever have known. It was her own choice.

She ought to seek a different profession. Perhaps politician. Unless she has learned her lesson, there is no place in libraries for her.

Posted by Mike, Cotati, CA on May 12, 2009:

I've taken to calling "zero tolerance" by what seems to be its more appropriate name: "100% intolerance". Might get me looked at funny at a Parent-Teacher meeting, but so what? :)

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At least you're going to the meetings. It amazes me how many parents don't. -rc

Posted by Kelly, Pennsylvania on May 12, 2009:

I suspect that many Americans will not be too upset at the overreaching librarian, because we have already given up so many of our rights without a fuss. Our online activity in particular is always being spied on, by business and government alike, and to today's teens that must seem normal. So isn't the horse already out of the barn on this? This is not the same country we grew up in. Just look at the current expansion of the federal government! We value security more than freedom, and would rather be the land of leisure than the land of opportunity.

Posted by Alisa, Martinsburg, WV on May 12, 2009:

It makes me so angry the way children are treated these days, though unfortunately the reaction of this librarian did not particularly surprise me because 1) the child was a teenager and 2) a boy. People are so judgmental and fearful of kids, especially teenagers, but how many actually deserve this fear? As the mother of three teenagers and having worked with children of all ages for many years, it seems the rare teenager that would commit a violent crime. I believe children tend to live up to the expectations we have for them, so what does this paranoid intolerance say about our future, especially for those children who have fallen victim to unreasonable zero tolerance policies?

Posted by Mark, Queensland Australia on May 12, 2009:

"Because it was about guns" is definitely no excuse. This same false logic has funded the "war on terror" where every perversion of normal citizens' liberties is justified by "but it's about terrorists". Newsflash: including 9/11, only 5,000 people in the western world have been killed by terrorists. The number of deaths by school shootings must be a tiny fraction of that. Way more children die on the roads outside their schools -- so where is the war on speeding motorists? Fear based illogic that prays on popular paranoia needs to be slapped down as hard as possible. Our society and our freedoms pay too high a price where these stupid memes become popularised and enshrined in legislation.

Posted by Sharon in Connecticut on May 12, 2009:

Kelly, Virginia, said: "... the ALA codes are clear - her duty was to notify the child's parents, as it is solely their responsibility for what he reads, not the school's."

Uh, no. It was not her duty to notify the parents. That would be putting herself between the parents and the child. Her duty was to help the child locate useful information. Instead of focusing on the child's information needs with a good, professional reference interview, she panicked.

Posted by Bo, Indianapolis IN on May 12, 2009:

I agree with all of you who are appalled at this librarian's actions. Randy is right in pointing out that we don't know why the kid was researching those materials. Why didn't the librarian merely ask the boy, in a neutral way, what he was researching? Perhaps by asking him if he needed help locating materials; or, asking if he had what he needed? If she had those "Columbine" suspicions, a few leading questions would have allayed her fears. In other words, give him the benefit of the doubt (presume his innocence) like the Constitution says!

Posted by Byron, Connecticut on May 12, 2009:

I agree, you were too easy on her. For a Librarian to call the authorities because of what a patron is reading says that the conditioning we are receiving is working. Our government and in turn their lapdog media have the public so fearful that they are turning in their fellow citizens for crimes not committed.

And that is just a symptom of a deeper problem. The Patriot Act which was voted into law just a month and a half after 9-11 is allowing our government to engage in actions which go against our constitution on every level. This makes the actions of that Librarian even more distressing.

We are allowing fear to control us and entice us to give up our freedoms.

Posted by Alethea - Michigan on May 12, 2009:

As an ex-librarian, I was of course appalled by the librarian's action. I also wonder where she went to library school - and how she managed to graduate! What she did is against everything we are taught.

Posted by Bill, St. Louis on May 12, 2009:

I experienced this when I was about 11 (1973 or so). Our public library would let you into the grown-up library when you hit 6th grade. So I got a bunch of books about death and dying because I hadn't learned enough at home or in school about it. A concerned librarian called my Mom, and she said, "As long as he's reading, let him read what he wants." I had a smart Mom.

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Smart mom, dumb librarian. -rc

Posted by Stephen, Birmingham (England) on May 13, 2009:

If the librarian had concerns then surely she should have looked into it. She should have had a chat with him to assuage her fears. Maybe, once she knew what he was doing, she would have been able to help him locating references. That is a big part of a librarian's job, helping people to find the information they need.

For a change, it may be that the school acted reasonably in this case, depending on the message they received from the librarian. Without knowing what they were told it's impossible to judge.

With some of the things I've researched in libraries over the years I dread to think what that librarian might have thought. What actually happened was they helped me find references and suggested other texts that were not in their stock but I could get through inter library loans. After a while they even involved me in discussions about purchasing decisions to expand their stock. So far as I am aware they only reported back to my school about my reading choices when the school was doing a reading promotion project with the library service, and that was to say I was reading well above the level expected of someone my age.

Posted by Bill in Denver on May 13, 2009:

"They talked with him, got the straight story, and sent him on his way without any disciplinary action."

Yeah, but did they apologize to the kid???? Did the librarian offer an apology? He certainly was due an apology.

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I agree, but do not know the answer. -rc

Posted by David in Burlington, MA on May 13, 2009:

It is very discouraging to hear when people are judged by what they read. Since when is reading about guns an abhorrence? Does knowledge alone determine a person's personality or intention?

When I was in 7th grade, I got out of my school Library Mein Kampf and read a portion of it. Does this make me anti-Semite? Does it make me a Nazi? Does it make me a War monger? Or, does it just demonstrate that I was curious?

As a teacher, I am very concerned about the rights we have stripped from our youth. How are we as a society to model to our children what freedoms we hold dear to ourselves, if don't also respect those same rights for our youth?

The Librarian should keep her zealous nose out of her patron's affairs, and if she can't she should be told to find a new job.

Posted by Steve, Boulder, CO on May 14, 2009:

I haven't seen "The War on Kids" but I may not have to; I taught middle and high school so I got to see it up close and personal. I finally got out because I was killing myself (way too much work) but not getting much of a chance to actually help kids. Towards the end, I was even telling my seniors that high school was invented to make the rest of life seem like a breeze. BTW, our librarian was a true professional and if she is reading about this incident, I'm sure she is banging her head on her desk. Kids and their parents should hang out in that library and watch the librarian to see what she is up to (if she still has a job).

Posted by Kathryn, Illinois on May 14, 2009:

Yes, you definitely went too easy on the librarian! For generations, those little old ladies have guarded our rights. (Yes, I know I'm using a stereotype!)

Probably with computers it's no longer true, but it used to be that my local library did not even retain records of what you had checked out once it was returned. Apparently on the theory that nobody could demand information which they didn't have.

My favorite librarian protecting us story was from just a few years ago. Since the Patriot Act required that libraries not report when the government got information from them, the librarian somewhere in New England (if I'm remembering correctly!) as part of her weekly reports to the town council always said they had NOT received any requests from the government for information. If she ever left out that part of her report, the council would know that they had received such a request.

Posted by Lauren CA on May 15, 2009:

Rebuttal for Sarah: "is it better to have situations like this one where sometimes people do speak up and get it wrong, if the alternative is that nobody ever speaks up about things that they think are potentially dangerous etc?"

Situations like these can easily get out of control:

As a sophomore, my brother was thought to have a gun at school. A girl near him and his friends heard the word "gun" and panicked. The administration called the police, who sent in 10+ COPS WITH GUNS DRAWN!!!! In the middle of lunch with more than 500 people watching. There never was a gun on my brother or his friends!

Then the principal tried to make HIM write a letter of apology! We refused, and a week later changed schools. My brother very nearly was shot because of one person's stupidity. We have never received an apology.

My brother's reputation was ruined and his life was completely disrupted because of an accusation like the one in the story. He STILL was recognized (3 years later) as "the kid who brought a gun to school" when he went to his friend's graduation.

I fully agree with Randy's statement: "However, the way to fight possible 'evil' is decidedly not to commit actual 'evil'!" We need some real intelligence in the running of our schools.

Posted by Kim, Japan on May 16, 2009:

My husband and I live in Asia and have worked as ESL teachers. Education becoming a "secondary concern" is, sadly enough, not just a U.S. problem. In China we were often under undue pressure to do things for administrative expediency, saddled with extra work that had nothing to do with with teaching, etc. We have friends in the U.S. and in Asia teaching, and all have complained about either massive workload that keeps them from actually teaching well or massively stupid requirements that keep them from teaching well. (ESL teachers in Asia are luckier to have lighter work loads than stateside teachers, though.) When you are too busy doing inane paperwork, being told to "police" students, sitting through pointless meetings, etc., it's awfully hard to actually teach.

I also keep in mind my own childhood experiences. I was thin-skinned as a child, and would blow a gasket when really pushed. Kids enjoyed taunting me to see me fall on my face. I was frequently punished because someone else would start a fight -- consequently, I hate the idea that two kids get equally punished because they aren't sure who started the fight. (I understand why this happens, but I don't like it, and I don't think it's right.) This philosophy is then extended to everything: "We aren't sure, so we'll just mete out the strongest (and most ridiculous) punishment across the board. We won't try to sort the problems out." This is where zero tolerance begins.

Finally, I don't think just kids are stripped of their rights -- their parents are, too. Parents are losing control of their kids. Even mediocre parents are far more aware of who their child is than a teacher typically can be. When you're a teacher, you walk into a classroom with a sea of kids. You may learn who is good and who is bad, who is smart and who is dumb, but you will never know as much about them as their parents do.

I have a son (one year old next month) and I am concerned about what nonsense they will cram into his head when I send him off to school. I'm not worried about subjects as much as I'm concerned about what kind of nonsense about authority, ethics, etc., will creep in. I certainly was terrified of authority when I was a kid, as I was frequently treated as guilty whether I was or not, and some of that discomfort has irrationally continued to this day.

So the question is, what can we do about all of this? What are we going to do all of this?

Posted by Doug, Courtland, VA on May 16, 2009:

"My favorite librarian protecting us story was from just a few years ago. Since the Patriot Act required that libraries not report when the government got information from them, the librarian somewhere in New England (if I'm remembering correctly!) as part of her weekly reports to the town council always said they had NOT received any requests from the government for information. If she ever left out that part of her report, the council would know that they had received such a request."

The Patriot Act requires libraries to lie. This is another reason that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional! Why do we citizens continue to put up with this?!!

Posted by Ray, Hinesburg, VT on May 16, 2009:

If zero tolerance is not OK, then how many times is someone allowed to bring a handgun to school or sell drugs in school?

The first thing that happens when a kid is caught with drugs in school in his or her parents hire a lawyer and threaten to sue the school. The school backs down and the drug dealer is back in school selling drugs.

Until you have actually worked in a school and dealt with all the problems you do not have the understanding to criticize.

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Read the stories I've posted, Ray. Should a 6-year-old boy who shares candy be persecuted as a "drug dealer"? It has happened. Should kids be expelled for having "weapons on campus" because they were playing cops and robbers, holding their fingers in the shape of a gun? It has happened. I've said repeatedly that kids with real weapons and real drugs should be expelled, and that kids who don't shouldn't. Yet you ignore that in favor of straw man arguments that completely and totally miss the point. You can stick your head in the sand and pretend there's not a problem here, but that 1) just makes you part of the problem, and 2) doesn't fool the people who see what's really going on here. Open your eyes! You are personally destroying innocent lives. Is that what attracted you to teaching? -rc

Posted by Tom, Indianapolis on May 16, 2009:

Well, in defense of the school system (I agree it's broken, but WHY?) I have to comment that MANY of the problems we see in our children started LONG before they entered school. At HOME, where the kids were parked in front of a TV at best, or otherwise generally allowed to run wild. I'll grant that some parents actually parent, but far too many are merely caretakers - and some of that's literally true, by the way.

I drive a school bus - and I see far too many children who seem to be raising themselves. When one of them is disciplined, they blame everyone (the parents, that is), instead of the face in the mirror. Perhaps some few parents are trying, but even there, so many have bought into the touchy-feely theory of child development that it's pathetic.

I don't know what the solution is, but the schools HAVE become a prison environment... but often with good cause - NOT "good intentions", but valid reasons! This is Saturday, 5/16 as I write this; yesterday afternoon at dismissal, a young man was arrested at school with several bags of marijuana in his possession. I won't go into the merits of whether or not pot should be legal; that's a whole different topic (and then there's the "at what age", and a whole 'nuther set of blog entries). The young man was cursing, swearing at the officers and administrators, and strenuously attempting to resist arrest and flee.

I'd almost be willing to bet, however, that his parent(s) (if any), will be blaming the school and threatening to sue because their son was manhandled to the ground, slapped in cuffs and hauled off to jail in front of his friends! Definitely a blow to his self esteem! Oh, by the way - this is a MIDDLE school child.

So, yeah. Our public schools have become all too much like a prison - in self defense.

I don't know where the solution is, but I do know where it has to start: at home. Indiana has an approach that shows some promise - charter schools, which ARE public, taxpayer supported schools, but non-traditional in that they're self-contained; they report only to the state and the chartering authority (usually the mayor).

Then there's home-schooling (and those kids still need to meet academic standards as well), and private schools. I noted that most of Indiana's best schools are private; in fact most of them are Catholic schools! (from the last round of standardized test scores)

I guess that's all I wanted to say; our public schools have deteriorated because the parents have ALLOWED them to deteriorate.

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I definitely agree that there are terrible parents doing a terrible job, and that they are part of the problem. So why are the good students with good parents forced to suffer too? "Because some of the kids are bad" (absolutely true) doesn't translate well to "We must slap all kids down." -rc

Posted by Andara - Long Beach, CA on May 16, 2009:

So, Ray, Hinesburg, VT said, "Until you have actually worked in a school and dealt with all the problems you do not have the understanding to criticize."

Has he ever worked in a school? I notice that he conveniently omitted any reference to his own professional experience.

I am not a teacher myself, but happen to know a number of teachers (including one of my cousins), and all of them are disgusted by the things they are forced to do as part of their job that has nothing to do with either teacher or looking out for the welfare of their students.

But that is neither here nor there. The issue at hand right now is the complete disregard of a child's rights and her own professional ethics by a woman who has access to as much information as she could desire and chose instead to be scared, misinformed, and to invade the privacy of a patron in direct opposition to the standards she was taught and charged to uphold.

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Correct. "Unless you've done it, you have no right to criticize" is bullshit. Exactly who pays for this terrible service? You guessed it: everyone, whether they have kids or not. And according to him we mere citizens should keep our mouths shut. I don't think so. -rc

Posted by Jeffrey, Las Vegas on May 16, 2009:

The librarian should be fired without references. It's patently illegal, and if that student should be arrested or charged, I should be charged as well. I like thrillers and mystery novels. Oh, they taught me the best way to steal a car. The Innocents by Harlan Coben gave a great insight... those hide-a-keys are a car thief's best friend. Just go up the local Wal-Mart or other supercenter or mall and run your hands along the wheelwells and find a hide a key, and the car is yours.

I got that information courtesy of the Las Vegas Clark County Library District and, of course, Harlan Coben. Another tip from the USA Network series Burn Notice. If somebody wants to break into your house, a hide-a-key is their best weapon. Rocks which conceal keys are easy -- if the lock is near the key, they know what it opens. If you need a hide-a-key, put it at least a block away from your house, like in a church or grocery store parking lot.

Posted by Ruth from Washingon state on May 16, 2009:

Frankly you were way, waaaayyyy, too easy on that stupid librarian. It is nobody's business to report or even comment on what someone checks out of the library. I worked at one for two years and those were the main things my boss constantly told us. It is none of our business and everybody has the right to read what they want to. When that right goes we just might as well call ourselves England and give up the rest of our rights to the you-must-behave-as-we-say police. Free thought must be encouraged in our children, right or wrong doesn't matter, it's their privilege as citizens of this country. I'm not in favor of frivolous lawsuits, but I would definitely sue her if I was his parents.

Posted by Adrian MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA on May 16, 2009:

I have been receiving the free copy of T.I.True for several years and I generally agree with what you write.

However, in this instance, the Librarian, rightly or wrongly is acting as a Whistle Blower and perceived that a crime might be in the making. I guess it is a situation of Privacy over Prevention of a criminal act which may or may not be in the making.

The real problem in America is the total freedom and access to firearms which is not the case in Australia & England.

Until you legislate that only those people who need firearms are legally allowed to bear them and perhaps that may need change to the American Constitution, Acts of carnage like the Colombine School Massacre will continue to occur on a regular basis.

In any case, the storage of legally owned firearms is also in need of overhaul and prevention of easy access to them by children should be a major issue.

---

We already have legislation that only those who need firearms is allowed to have them. They're called "sane, law-abiding citizens," and those who are not are not allowed to have them. I did already address the concept of the librarian's concern. This sort of concern is exactly why her profession has ethics standards. She presumed the kid was guilty of a crime and called authorities. The standard in the U.S. is that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and we have fought wars to uphold that principle. You suggest that their bloodshed be in vain. I suggest that we honor our hard-won principles. -rc

Posted by Janice in Fort Worth, TX on May 16, 2009:

A quick note to Adrian Melbourne, Australia: I don't have statistics for all 50 states, however when Texas passed the concealed handgun laws, violent crimes dropped significantly. Responsible people can carry weaponry responsibly, and the possibility that your potential victim may pull a gun on you IS a deterrent.

Regarding the story in question: THANK YOU to all who pointed out that if the librarian was concerned, she could have easily asked the young man if she could help him with additional references. That would have been such an easy answer. I suspect that she was scared that she would "offend" him. We have become a nation of people who are more afraid of giving offence than interested in standing up for what is right. "If I open my mouth I may be sued." seems to be our new motto. So sad.

Regarding the current state of schools: While my son is certainly no angel, he has grown into a responsible man of whom I am very proud. While in school, most of the problems we had were due to the "Zero Tolerance" policies. In one instance, I barely saved him from detention for bringing zinc throat lozenges to soothe his throat when he had a cold. In another instance, he was suspended for a week for ALMOST throwing a punch at someone who had picked a fight and had already hit him! I informed the principal that if he had started the fight, I would fully support the suspension, but I do not expect my child to stand there and be a punching bag just to abide by school policies. We spent that week going to movies and playing video games.

Posted by Marjory, Netherlands on May 17, 2009:

Adrian,

I am too from a country where gun ownership is handled much differently from the US. I am not pro-gun (for the country I live in and know).

BUT, regardless of the gun ownership issue, the boy was not reading gun handling, explosive making, or ways to murder. He was reading about laws. Laws on guns, true. But since when does reading about laws make you a bad person? (I'll omit the obvious bits about lawyers here)

So what whistle is this librarian blowing?

With all the facts I see in the story I cannot think of anything why the librarian should call the police. We could discuss the usefulness of a call to the parents, but even that: since when do we want people NOT to know the law? I would be impressed with a son would having initiative and discipline enough to go to the library and read laws (they take a bit more energy to read than comics).

And then, there are some nice comments about the ethics and official policy that a libririan in the US has to adhere....

No, even from abroad, with a possibly broader view on this, I cannot agree that the librarian is in any way right. I vote too for sacking her without reference.

Posted by Dex in CA on May 17, 2009:

Just to be fair to library director Perito, it is not clear from the actual news story that Perito was in fact the person who called the school - as opposed to saying that she needing to "look into" the issue of someone calling the school.

Of course, according to the article, she then stonewalled further inquiries as to explaining the incident, or providing the instructions actually used within the library.

A commenter on another blog claims that someone working in that library raises constant alarms over things being read that supposedly need police attention. If true, Perito is at least guilty of continuing to employ, or to use the volunteer services of, a complete idiot - without taking appropriate actions regarding patron privacy.

Perito also seems to be ignoring the NY law requiring patron information to be kept private: NY CLS CPLR subsection 4509: "Library records, which contain names or other personally identifying details regarding the users [...] shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed except that such [...] shall be disclosed [...] pursuant to subpoena, court order or where otherwise required by statute."

I'm, of course, vastly amused by Pelham Manor school's spokeswoman, Angela Cox, who said that calling police was "a responsible step".

Apparently an ordinary Assistant Principal like Pelham Manor's Lynn Sabia lacks the skills to question an ordinary teen on their book reading habits - and requires a police DETECTIVE to help her determine that the teen was frightened of shootings at colleges and researching laws.

---

On re-reading the story, I see where your uncertainty regarding who called comes from. As you note, my interpretation of "had to look into" the case was that she called personally, but on reflection I agree it's somewhat ambiguous. Good point on that it's against state law for the library to make such a call; perhaps the librarians need to "research the law" a bit themselves! -rc

Posted by Bergman, Seattle WA on May 17, 2009:

Adrian,

It has been established by the courts in the US that the police are not in any way responsible for protecting the citizens from crime, violent or otherwise. The duty of police is to investigate crimes, arrest the perpetrators, and deliver them to court for trial. The sole responsibility for protection from criminals falls upon the citizens themselves. A citizen who lacks access to weapons lacks the ability to defend themselves and their family.

While it's likely that a home invasion robber who slaughters an entire family will be arrested and convicted, that does not do the dead citizens much good. Being able to defend oneself and ones family is a good thing.

Plus, given the preamble to the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments don't grant any rights at all; They merely recognize rights that no government has even the slightest authority to infringe in any way. Changing that portion of the Constitution would not only be dangerous (the same language is used in both the amendment recognizing the right to be armed as in the right to freedom of speech and assembly), it would, in effect, amount to an abdication of authority on the part of the government that did such a thing.

If the government loses its moral authority and has no authority left except that granted by physical violence, why should anyone respect the law at all?

Posted by Catmoves, Albuquerque on May 17, 2009:

For Adrian, MELBOURNE,AUSTRALIA: I lived in Aussie for some years and when my ship docked at Sydney, I was informed that I could not take my English made .303 rifle into Victoria unless I belonged to a "shooting club". So I promptly made up my mind to move to Brisbane, where my "dangerous gun" was not only allowed, but welcomed. I believe customs there might have thought I was going to help shoot out the rabbits.

P.S., my daughter lives there now and she has ranked expert with far more powerful weapons than my old rifle.

I have already written to the head librarian in Pelham, included a link to Randy's email and suggested she might like to read all of his works.

As for the unidentified librarian, I think this is a case of a liberal becoming a conservative. Or maybe the other way around? But the panicked woman seems to obviously need a change of vocation.

Posted by rewinn, Mercer Island on May 17, 2009:

As for Kim's question "So the question is, what can we do about all of this?" I would suggest (to crib an idea from Matt Miller's delightful "The Tyranny of Dead Ideas") our American system of having 50,000 or so local school boards, often staffed by amateurs with little knowledge of education, often massively duplicating work (e.g. textbook evaluation) instead of actually solving schooling problems, may be a luxury we as a nation can no longer afford. Although it's a fine tradition, it's not a system used in many other advanced nations.

Certainly I agree that parents "need" to get more involved with schooling, but it's not gonna happen when so many parents are themselves struggling to get by in a difficult economy. All too often people exercise the inalienable Right to Bear Kids without even demonstrating the ability to handle them safely.

Posted by Ruki, Melbourne on May 18, 2009:

I'm actually a librarian in Australia. I recall reading an article which was either from the US or the UK some years ago (unfortunately I haven't time to check) which suggested that it was going to become the law to report activity which librarians may regard as suspicious. So, it might be that the librarian was actually just doing her job, no matter how much she hated doing what she was doing.

---

I can well imagine such a proposal was discussed, but I'm not aware of any such law in any state in the U.S., let alone federally. And indeed, as "Dex in CA" pointed out in his comment, the law in the state where this happened is that such information "shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed" unless legally subpoenaed by a court of law. She's going against professional ethics, she's going against the honor of her profession, and she's going against the law -- and her actions harmed an innocent person. That's not "doing her job." -rc

Posted by Steve, CT on May 18, 2009:

Though I am not aware of a librarian's responsibilities, I assume from all the responses she acted inappropriately. What, however, would the articles have all said had this student gone to school and opened fire. I'm quite certain the parents of the victims would have been a little upset had they learned this librarian suspected something and kept her mouth shut. Our fears are real people, Columbine was not a one time incident. Wake up.

---

I addressed this specifically in my essay -- please finish reading it. Your fears are NOT real, they're terribly overblown. You're letting your fear dictate that it's appropriate to consider all kids guilty until proven innocent. How sad for the youth of our country. -rc

Posted by Don, Illinois, U.S. on May 18, 2009:

As a pro-gun citizen, I agree that the librarian was in the wrong and should be fired. As a parent, I'm also concerned that the student was called into the principal's office, where police were waiting, without his parents being present. That, in and of itself, could have a chilling affect on his interest in, and good opinion of, the school and its principal. If I were that child's parent, I would be incensed that he/she was subjected to that without me there to help defend him/her. It seems that the student was capable enough to explain what they did and why. Some students are too shy and might not have been able to do as well. Two of mine are elementary students and don't yet have the verbal skills to do this in the face of such a serious concentration of intimidating authority. They've even (incorrectly) gotten in trouble when it's just the principal, because they didn't present all the relevant facts well enough to be completely understood. The schools shouldn't be engaging in this kind of investigative behavior without the parents present.

Posted by beth, washington on May 18, 2009:

This could almost be humorous if it wasn't so darn scary. Big brother is creeping into all facets of our lives and there is no sign of a slow-down, let alone a backtracking on how much people feel the obligation to monitor all actions of individuals.

The idea that a student can be called into the principals office and questioned with police there is truly frightening - a minor being questioned without representation by authorities. Wow, for the average kid, being called into the principals office is intimidating enough, but to have the police there is just over the top. Did this kid understand that he didn't have to say a word to anyone present? Did they tell him that 'they'd go easier' if he answered their questions right then without the opportunity to at least speak to his parents, let alone a legal representative?

Where was Miranda and what happened to her authority and protection? I hope the parents bring this up not only to the school board, but to the state department of education and a revue board at the police department. Even if this kid was plotting another Columbine, there was no proof other than the word of a busy-body librarian who demonstrated no ethics for her job. And on the off chance this kid was up to no good, it seems that following proper procedures (having parents present at the very least) while questioning the kid would have been much more effective to preventing another massacre. Stupid people who want to play at power hungry superheroes. This type of behavior and attitude was why the police & government had such a bad reputation for so many years. These throw-backs to the McCarthy era need to grow up and start demonstrating some uncommon common sense.

---

I indeed wonder why school kids don't seem to have Miranda rights; it's something I need to research when I have some time. But just to clarify, "Miranda" refers to Ernesto Miranda, whose landmark 1966 Supreme Court case confirmed not only that Americans have a right to refuse to speak to police to incriminate themselves, but also that they must be specifically warned that (as police shows usually put it) "anything they say can and will be used against [them] in a court of law." Many other countries have similar laws. -rc

Posted by rewinn, Mercer Island on May 18, 2009:

"Mr. Cassingham, our records indicate you are researching Miranda rights. What sort of crime are you planning?"

---

Exactly. Do we want a tyranny, or do we want freedom? -rc

Posted by Walter, North Conway, NH on May 18, 2009:

When I was in junior high quite a few years ago (late 60's), one of my art projects was to publish a "book" on any subject I wanted. It was to contain pictures and text. I did a book about different forms of torture: the guillotine, iron maiden, maces, the rack, etc. I do not remember the grade I received, but I was not hauled into the office or interviewed by the police. I do remember my teacher liked the book (it was different).

What would they have done to me today?

---

You're obviously a sadistic murderer, Walter. So, it would be for your own good (not to mention the good of society) to be locked up forever. Sorry that your productive, tax-paying life is over, but hey -- it's for the better good. -rc

Posted by Lee, UK on May 18, 2009:

A point that seems to have been missed is that the library is a PUBLIC library and therefore carries books for the general public to read.

If the librarian felt so strongly about the content of the reading material then it should have either been removed from the shelves or perhaps placed in a section for 'age appropriate reading'.

Posted by Tom, California, USA on May 19, 2009:

Personally I'm surprised at the number of people who have suggested that the librarian should have asked the kid questions about WHY he was reading what he was in order to satisfy her fears.

To me that behavior is almost as egregious as telling the school about the incident. It's none of the librarian's business WHY someone wants to research a particular topic. Only that they do.

Posted by Lea, Keyser WV on May 19, 2009:

I find this whole situation to be very disquieting. I was a very diverse reader as a child and I researched numerous subjects. A comment my brother made to me recently was that I had read almost every book in the school library. I expect that was pushing the truth a bit, but in general, I did read voraciously.

To this day I can pull up memories of numerous factoids. I researched anything that caught my fancy, including methods of creating weapons such as spears, and bows and traps. I also researched American history, the American Revolution, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and the US Constitution.

I was not a popular kid and I am sure that if I were in school today, I would probably set off their concerns in their zero tolerance paranoia.
By the way, in high school, my mother worked in the school office and if I so much as made a sarcastic remark, my mother knew before the next period's bell rang. If anything it made me more quiet about my own thoughts. (Yeah, it's the quiet loners you have to worry about.) But, since I never utilized my knowledge in an antisocial manner, I am still among the free. And the only prejudice I will admit to is a prejudice against the stupid and intolerant. Such as the school officials that get concerned about a child researching gun laws and pulling that child in to question him because of what he was reading in the school library. I am so happy I was able to grow up without such foolishness as zero tolerance laws. I worry that the children of today will either be so scared about trying to think for themselves or be pushed into rebelling against any perceived authority.

I do hope the librarian is disciplined for betraying the ethics of her profession.

---

It was actually the public, not school, library -- but that doesn't alter your comments. -rc

Posted by Michelle L Devon (Michy), Texas on May 19, 2009:

You know, I have followed your zero tolerance writings for a long time now. I spent sometimes hours per day at the school with my son, fighting for his freedoms and rights and I lost the battle, but in a sense won it too--I pulled my child out of school and now homeschool. Never had those issues with my daughter; only had them with my son. I have written on zero tolerance many times. I just wanted to applaud your taking a stand on these issues.

As for the issues with the librarian... I am a fiction writer (novelist) who is writing a thriller. I have performed extensive research on weapons of mass destruction, terrorist attacks, biological warfare, conspiracy theories, Zietgist, the Patriot Act, the 'thought crime laws', and much more.

I've joked with my friends and editor that somewhere, on some government list, between my internet searching, telephone communications using 'key words' and my library research and checkout, my name is definitely added to that 'people to watch' roll call.

If we are judged based on what we read, find fascinating, or want to know more about... well, we're all guilty of something then. Reminds me a bit of the story in Minority Report - convict people prior to the crime so that the crime is never committed. We're safe; we're not free.

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Good essay.

Posted by Cam, Baltimore, Md. on May 19, 2009:

Your school years--from elementary school through college--are when you are supposed to learn and develop your mind. Except in a few cases, once you leave school you transition to a life where you are supposed to use your mind to contribute to society, if only to earn enough to feed and house yourself.

I can attest that intelligence is not a factor of age. Granted you do mature and learn (hopefully) to make better decisions as you got older, but Zero Tolerance is a cop-out. It relieves the 'educator' of using his mind to make a decision. Great novels have portrayed the idiocy of a non-thinking bureaucracy. e.g., the fellow who was told he was guilty, but no one would tell him of what? Les Miserables where a man who stole only to feed his starving family, etc.

Posted by Darryl, Toronto on May 19, 2009:

I live in Toronto, ON, CAN and we have some of the most restrictive gun laws, and yet kids are still being shot all the time (last week a 14 yr old boy was shot and killed). Some of your posters have suggested that more stringent laws need to be passed is a farce.

I am glad that I did not grow up in this era. When I was a teenager, I was very interested in Vietnam, from when the British, French and Americans fought there. I read a lot from the North perspective, to try to understand what divided the country. I guess I would have been arrested as a communist.

Last item. I decided to look up Miranda Rights. I only had a bit of time, but Wikipedia will certainly muddle the issue for you a lot further, as that States have different wording, different meanings of when Miranda can be used. For this instance, the specific State Statutes regarding Miranda will need to be researched. But for the most part, Miranda is invoked when they are placed in custody (a custodial situation is one in which the suspect's freedom of movement is restrained although he or she is not under arrest -- Wikipedia). And from my understanding, this is exactly what happened to the boy.

---

Just so, and I'm unclear why Miranda doesn't (appear to) apply here. It bears researching. -rc

Posted by Bergman, Seattle WA on May 19, 2009:

Lee,

The "boy" in question is 17 years old. At 18, he would be considered an adult in the eyes of the law, and the legal system does not consider ignorance of the laws to be a valid defense. So he had best know the laws. 18 is also the age at which one can legally own firearms in the US; Why is it a bad thing to know one's legal rights and obligations?

As for age-restricting knowledge of one's own civil rights, that's an extremely alarming concept. Kids these days are considered by many in authority (incorrectly, by the way) to have no rights at all. If the kids don't know their rights, and their teachers won't tell them, how will they know they're being illegally mistreated?

---

Yet at the same time, prosecutors want to try juveniles as adults at younger and younger ages when they do commit crimes. Sounds like a lose-lose proposition for the kids. -rc

Posted by Ruth, UK on May 19, 2009:

I got in trouble a couple of times at school and the thing I noticed most was that I would be asked for "my side of the story" and then it would be completely ignored and I would be told repeatedly that I was wrong. I lost all respect for my headteacher over one such incident.
I did find that anything I put in writing was automatically public property, so I am still paranoid over security for my personal documents and my writing.

For the record, I'm in the UK, I had good grades and I finished secondary school in 1999. I am also a small, lightweight girl and always have been. It amazes me that I could get into trouble for threatening to hurt someone if he picked on me again (yeah, he was only about a foot taller and a couple of stone heavier), yet the school did nothing when I was being forced to do PE with a broken rib (the rib was actually visibly forcing the skin out; I think I was eventually given a detention because I refused to raise my arm because it hurt too much) and also did nothing during the times I was being bullied. Nobody noticed that I was anorexic for at least three years either.

If anyone had profiled me under zero-tolerance rules, aside from being female, I'd probably have hit all the alarm buttons - loner, quiet, bullied, making threats, writing stories about violence, researching knives/guns/other weapons. However, in my entire school life, the worst I ever did was back-fist someone who was hovering behind me while I was working - and then I didn't actually aim to hit him - I was trying to make him go away, as I'd already *told* him to go away several times. I just didn't realise how close he was. I put my left fist back to shoulder level and his face was there. Needless to say, I got isolation for that. I remember isolation as one of my favourite parts of school - I'd be put in an empty classroom, get all my work for the day at the beginning, finish it all during the first two lessons and then I could draw or write in peace for the rest of the day. It was a nice break from all the horrible people in my year. I don't think that was the actual purpose of isolation, though!

Posted by Mike from Dallas on May 19, 2009:

You mentioned that prosecutors want to prosecute kids as adults for crimes at an increasingly younger age, that it's a lose-lose proposition for the kids. I recommend a speech given by Dick Gregory back in 1970 shortly after the Kent State incident in which the National Guard killed 4 university students.

As Mr. Gregory expressed it, it's a function of the Cowboys & Indians mentality. Unfortunately, the Indians finally were either killed off or ended up on the reservation. So the government needed some new "Indians" to pursue. Not something that people would cheerfully volunteer for. But for a while, the Negro folks took the job since, at least, THEN they'd be able to use weapons to defend themselves. But they caught on quicker than the Indians about forming political groups to influence American society.

So, then, the government was back in a position of needing some new "Indians" again. And then they discovered the perfect "Indian". A group that had no weapons. Didn't know anything about politics. Had been taught from birth by our own educational system to never fight back. Our own kids. The beauty of this new "Indian" for our government to fulfill its mandate to fight was that our kids are continually renewing. We'll never run out.

This, at a time when the legal age of adulthood was 21, yet kids who were too young to legally leave home without parental permission could be drafted by our government against parental wishes and sent to die in a war in which they had no vote. Nearly 50 years later, and we still haven't run out of ideas for ways to kill off our children or otherwise destroy their lives.

Posted by Frank, Charles Town, WV on May 20, 2009:

I'm thinking that a civil rights lawsuit against the library and the librarian who "brought the man" into the life of this innocent kid would be a good idea.

Open and shut case, violation of a FUNDAMENTAL civil right, triple damages. Maybe enough bad publicity to get the librarian fired.

Posted by Ron, Phoenix on May 20, 2009:

I remember back when the Patriot Act was first passed, and librarians protested the provisions relating to the government's right to request library records. The ACLU sued, the ALA protested, and librarians across the country sanctimoniously shredded patron's records so that the government couldn't get them.

I guess their concerns over patrons' reading records were just a bit selective.

Posted by Andara - Long Beach, CA on May 20, 2009:

While this boy was treated poorly, you can see a much more egregious treatment of children in the case of the murder of Stephanie Crowe in 1998. For whatever reasons, the police focused on her brother and coerced a confession from not only him but also two of his friends. There have been some changes to what authorities are allowed to do when dealing with minors, but there is still far too much they are allowed that is completely unacceptable.

Posted by rewinn, Mercer Island on May 20, 2009:

Ron, Phoenix - I rather doubt that the lone librarian in this article was one of the majority who object to our government spying on you.

Rest assured that had the boy in this article been punished for his reading matter, the ACLU and ALA would have been in his corner, as they would be in yours in the same situation.

Posted by Neil, UK on May 22, 2009:

I have several thoughts on this story.

Firstly, my experiences were in many respects similar to those of Ruth in the UK, except that I was upset because I wasn't ever allowed to put anything in writing. I often thought that this was so that there wouldn't be anything in my favour if the matter came up again. Perhaps I was fortunate after all.

Secondly, Ruth in WA doth protest too much in using England as the epitome of restrictions on rights. Yes, it has its faults, but where do you think America got "Innocent until Proven Guilty" from?

Thirdly, I can't follow Bergman's argument. How does "If the government loses its moral authority and has no authority left except that granted by physical violence, why should anyone respect the law at all?" argue in favour of allowing citizens to threaten (and if necessary use) physical violence?

Fourthly, I'll admit that if I happened to hear that someone was reading about concealment of weapons here in the England, I might raise an eyebrow, because that would be an illegal act. In the US, however, of course it isn't. I'm amazed that the librarian (whoever it was) didn't take that into account, even given that they were too stupid to realise that laws themselves were being researched rather than techniques.

Finally, I would hope that this incident would enourage the boy - despite the debacle, his rights have been confirmed. He may know that he was being watched, but he knows that, given that he was doing nothing wrong, he can't be interfered with - the definition of privacy.

---

It's illegal in England to read up on the laws regarding concealing weapons? Because that was what this kid was doing -- not reading about how to conceal weapons. Big difference, although reading about concealing weapons is a far cry from actually doing it, eh? -rc

Posted by Jill, Ontario Canada on May 23, 2009:

Regarding Janice in Fort Worth's comment, "... THANK YOU to all who pointed out that if the librarian was concerned, she could have easily asked the young man if she could help him with additional references. That would have been such an easy answer. I suspect that she was scared that she would "offend" him. We have become a nation of people who are more afraid of giving offence than interested in standing up for what is right. "If I open my mouth I may be sued." seems to be our new motto. So sad."

Having worked in both public and school libraries, I have to say that I suspect that the librarian in this case was not worried about offending this young man. Rather she was, at best, uncomfortable in addressing a teenager directly or at worst (and quite a bit more likely), afraid of initiating a conversation with a teenaged boy who was reading about guns/gun laws.

It has been my experience that librarians, librarian technicians and para-professionals who work in public libraries will talk a good talk when it comes to the ALA's statement on Intellectual Freedom. But when the chips are down these staff prefer to deal with nice middle class senior citizens or young mothers with preschoolers. Teenagers are seen as disruptive and not a little frightening.

When I managed a department in a small city public library, staff were openly resistant to my attempts as a manager and to the efforts of my Teen Services librarian to engage our local street kids in library programing. They were so threatened by the changes that they demanded that a security guard be put in place. They were very happy when this resulted in fewer "rowdy" teens disrupting the daily routine.

In Public Libraries, Intellectual Freedom for kids is great in theory and is trotted out proudly at conferences and seminars, but the actual practice in the real world certainly does not reflect these lofty ideals.

I suspect that this is a case just happened to get press coverage. I am very sure it is less of an isolated incident than one might hope.

---

Sadly, I'm sure that last statement's true. -rc

Posted by David in USA on May 23, 2009:

As far as Miranda and its applications. There are actually very few LAWs about Miranda rights, that is something the Supreme court could change its mind on tomorrow.

But as for how it applies in this case: If you look at much of previous Supreme Court cases involving many children and constitutional rights, the court does not grant children the full rights of adults. They have LIMITED free speech and have been punished at school for exercising it outside of school. They have limited protections against search and seizure, especially at school. In most states that I'm aware of it is illegal for police to question a minor without a parent/adult present, but I believe they could get away with saying that they were there at the request of the school and the principal was the one questioning them.

Posted by alice, battle creek MI on May 23, 2009:

As Benjamin Franklin put it, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Yes. And all the comments about sacrificing someone's rights in order to be safer - You could have been talking about the new Preventive Detention or the old Guantanamo. They're just wrong, too.

Posted by Don, North Carolina on May 23, 2009:

I think the librarian was definitely in the wrong. No matter the child's rights according to some court, the parents should have been consulted in privacy if there was a real concern. The librarian was just a nozy parker, and should be relieved of duties.

Posted by Bergman, Seattle WA on May 24, 2009:

David,

As the act of committing a crime will demonstrate, just because something is illegal, does not prevent someone from doing it.

The US Supreme Court has ruled in quite a few cases on the subject of freedom of speech by minors, and the majority of the rulings, in particular the most recent ones, the court has ruled that a minor's freedom of expression may be curtailed only when the purpose of that expression is to directly disrupt the purpose of education. In other words, the sort of speech that amounts to screaming "FIRE!" in a crowded theater. Time and again, the Court has ruled that unless the school can present a compelling case that the speech is directly disruptive, the school must permit it.

Unfortunately, there are far too many so-called educators who find the slightest dissent to be disruptive. Wearing a t-shirt that opposes the Iraq war? Disruptive. Wearing a t-shirt with a provocative but anti-drug abuse message? Disruptive. Dare to hold an opinion that differs from the mainstream? Disruptive. In almost every case of this nature that makes it to the Supreme Court, the kid wins.

Equally unfortunate, though, is the way school boards seem to fall into a gray area of the law. They are not executive, legislative or judicial. As such, it can be difficult to find someone willing to exercise authority over them, in disputes. The school board is judge, jury, executioner, lawmaker and cop. The people responsible for hearing (or denying) appeals are the same ones who wrote the original decision. This is why attempts to dispute zero tolerance cases tend not to end well for the parents and child. It also tends to cause the schools to act as if they are exempted from the Constitution (both State and National).

When both unfortunate attitudes are combined, the results are such extremes of tyranny that would likely make the founders of the United States bore out the ends of their graves. And what it teaches the kids is beyond appalling. The Constitution is merely a guideline, to be ignored whenever convenient. Authority must be obeyed, even when it oversteps its bounds or acts in ways that its own charter or mandate forbid. Due process is whatever Authority says it is. And there is no appeal, no mercy, and no justice. For anyone.

Posted by Jackie, Tacoma, WA on May 24, 2009:

Thank you to everyone pointing out the recent and disturbing trend to prosecute children as adults for crimes they have committed. It has been awhile since I read up on this, but my understanding was that originally the purpose of the Juvenile Court system was to work with children and teens because people recognized that developmentally they are at a different stage in life. Someone who is seven years old, or ten, or.... does not have the same understanding of the world and ability to make appropriate choices that an adult does. Furthermore, someone who is younger will hopefully have more of a chance to be rehabilitated, at least in theory.

Given this background, I have found recent trends increasingly disturbing. We take away the freedom and rights of kids. More and more, they are not allowed to be alone -- those of you who are older, think of the age at which you were allowed to be unsupervised, and think of the rules for kids now (some would argue that the world is a more dangerous place now; from what I have heard [although this is open to debate], we are more AWARE of the dangers now, but they were still around years ago). Many are not taught "adult" responsibilities in the house until they are much older than was formerly the case. And so on and so forth. Not to say that the old days were always better, but kids did used to have more responsibility. Then after letting them have fewer and fewer rights and responsibilities to learn about the way of the world and their place in it, people demand that they be treated like adults if they have committed a crime that is frightening and terrible. Consequences? Yes. I support consequences for one's actions 100%. But treating them as incapable and incompetent in so many areas of their lives, and then suddenly judging them as an adult because of a crime they have committed... How is this going to protect our people and make it a safer place?

Posted by Richard, Brighton, England on May 27, 2009:

I wonder why the school didn't send the librarian away, telling her to mind her own business. Instead, it responded as if it had the right to judge the child, even though the actions to be judged didn't happen in school. Scary.

Posted by Darrell, Pennsylvania on May 27, 2009:

America lost control of the public school system around 1970 when someone decided school children had rights. Prior to that schools ran very tight ships. Dictatorial leadership upheld strict rules. Teachers could teach and not time manage their pupils. Then the revolution began. Rights were lost but it appeared as though the losses were one sided. Everything has changed and not for the good.

The librarian needs to be taught a lesson in the only way she will ever understand. Actions may have consequences. Her actions should have very straightforward consequences. Termination may not be the answer, but a few week's in the street without pay may do the trick. Perhaps she could write several hundred times in longhand, "I will not violate anyone's right to privacy again." Or perhaps she could read the documents she "protected."

Posted by Mekhong Kurt, Bangkok, Thailand on June 14, 2009:

I love all your work; I *especially* enjoy your crusade against ZT.

Though I got certified when I was studying for my undergraduate degree to teach from 7th grade through 12th grade, I never did so except during my student teaching. I did, however, eventually become a university teacher, and one step removed from K-12 education, I remain greatly interested.

While I believe ZT isn't the only factor in the deterioration of education for our young people, it certainly plays a significant role.

An earlier contributor mentioned we began losing control about 1970 -- and I reckon that may be arguably about right; I graduated from high school in 1969.

Yes, we had some strict rules; violations indeed carried consequences, as they should have (and as I know from experience!). But we were gradually given increasing freedom, as we grew up, to *be* responsible. Blow it, and go to the back of the line. Handle it, and move on along.

I don't know how much of that was influenced by growing up in rural Texas and going to a school with a *total* student population, K-12, of less than 200, in a town of maybe 700-800 by the time I graduated. Heck, when I was younger, but my parents allowed me to ride my bike into town (we lived on a small ranch outside the village), if I messed up, it was just understood that any and every adult had authority to intervene, especially if I was presenting a danger to myself or others. And yessir, I did get a couple of spankings along the way -- nothing serious, mind you -- from adults who were neither my parents nor in any legal sense my guardians. But socially, they *were* my guardians, if they chose to take on that responsibility.

My Sister continues to teach kids with attention disorder in grades 5-9, and she regales me with horror stories of ZT, especially when the program first started. Someone would see one of her students taking a pill, and without investigating, call the police, who of course had to investigate. Fortunately, the local police in that nearby small town have some sense -- but sometimes townspeople, mostly new to the area, would scream "but you have to ARREST that drug addict!" Or whatever. And these kids sometimes need continuing, even life-long, medication.

In two ways, I don't have a dog in this fight: I live abroad, and I've never had kids. But I sure hope American parents take the time to check into their kids' schools, and not just about the quality of teaching (though of course that's critical), but about this dadgummed ZT stuff as well.

Cheering you on from half the planet away...

Posted by Joseph, Canada on June 15, 2009:

I just realized there's a double standard there: kids are taught that their behaviour is unacceptable and therefore they're forced to take pills to act right. But they also can't take those pills to school (or potentially to any other public place) or else they'll be expelled and/or arrested for drug use. Never mind the fact that said pills are prescribed to everyone anyway.

So they're punished for their behaviour, and then they're punished a second time for following through on their first punishment. Is it any wonder that kids lash out?

On a semi-related note, I carry medication with me whenever I travel in case I am ill, feel nauseous, or suffer from a headache. But I don't dare take any of it in public, for fear that the police will apprehend me thanks to some extreme drug law I was previously unaware of in the place I chose to visit. It's a miracle that I don't have to answer for it whenever I go through the mandatory security screening at the airport. I may be paranoid, but in this day and age, it seems paranoia isn't entirely unfounded. I mean, from the looks of it, one can't even do anything about their own ignorance of the law anymore without being arrested for it. What the kid probably should've said (although it more than likely would've backfired on him) was that the reason he was looking up the law on guns is because ignorance of said law is no excuse. See how the police would've liked that.

---

You've realized there's a double standard? Well good: you're starting to catch on! -rc

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