Kermit Elementary School fourth-grader Aiden Steward was suspended recently after he brought a ring to school and pretended it was the “one ring to rule them all” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary Middle Earth.
I wish this news was as fictional as the fantasy universe Tolkien created.
Unfortunately, it isn’t.
The Odessa American, a newspaper based in Odessa, Texas, broke the news Friday. The American sums up the incident as follows:
His father, Jason Steward, said the family had been to see “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” last weekend. His son brought a ring to his class at Kermit Elementary School and told another boy his magic ring could make the boy disappear.
Steward said the principal said threats to another child’s safety would not be tolerated – whether magical or not. Principal Roxane Greer declined to comment on the matter.
The New York Daily News (as well as multiple national and international news outlets) picked up the story soon after.
The Daily News reports this is Aiden’s third suspension since enrolling at Kermit Elementary School in August 2014. (The first two suspensions were in-school suspensions.)
The first suspension was doled out to Aiden because he referred to a student as black. The second suspension, his father said, occurred when Aiden’s class was studying the solar system. The 9-year-old took his favorite book, “The Big Book of Knowledge,” to school in an effort to impress his teacher.
Instead, he received another suspension because — brace yourselves — the book contained a segment about pregnancy and contained an illustration of a pregnant woman.
Since when is explaining pregnancy lewd or offensive? “The Big Book of Knowledge” does not go into age-inappropriate detail of human reproduction.
Any person who is not outraged over this must not have a pulse.
A child was punished for possessing a book. A child was punished for having an imagination. These are not acts of terrorism or delinquency. These are the acts of a child who wants to learn. These are the acts of a child with unplugged imagination.
These are the traits we, as adults and as a society, must foster. We must never suppress the joy of imagination and learning. It is from these two elements that all innovation and art springs.
Love of learning and use of imagination are among the very assets that define our humanity.
For a school — a school, of all places — to mute and punish a child for having a book and an imagination is a blood-boiling, teeth-grinding outrage.
The journalist in me wants to withhold judgment. I only have one side of the story; without a statement from the school, I have only half the facts.
The basic human being in me wants to move into that school district, knock on every school board member’s door, and demand the principal and teacher be handed pink slips. No child should be shamed or punished for exercising imagination. No child deserves to be punished for possessing an encyclopedia.
This case is an embarrassment to Kermit Elementary School and public education.
UPDATE: The Kermit Independent School District released a statement to the Odessa American in a news release Monday. The statement says, in part:
Kermit ISD cannot disclose information on the discipline of any KISD student because it is confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). We would, however, like to emphasize that our teachers and administrators are well trained and have properly implemented the district’s policy and student code of conduct, and certainly do not base disciplinary placement decisions on literary or cinematic references as reported by the Odessa American.
Kermit ISD strives to keep all students safe, and to focus above all on providing them with the highest quality of education. There are many good things going on in Kermit ISD that deserve far more attention than this matter, and for that reason, the district will provide no further comment.
The highest quality of education, eh?
Kermit’s high-quality education must not include imagination or a thirst for knowledge.
Yes, Kermit, the many good things in your district deserve attention as well, but the good does not mean we should ignore the bad.
It means the bad should be discussed and rectified so our full attention can shift back to the good.
Want to voice your thoughts or concerns to the administration of Kermit Independent School District and/or the surrounding community? Here’s who to contact:
- Superintendent Bill Boyd, 601 S. Poplar, Kermit, TX 79745; 432-586-1000;
- Principal Roxane Greer, 601 S, Poplar, Kermit, TX 79745; 432-586-1030; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Submit a letter to the editor to the Odessa American. An online form can be filled out here.