“The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they’re going to be when you kill them.” — William Clayton
When I was a college professor, I returned to my parents’ home one Christmas to find this quote in the center of the Aberdeen, South Dakota headlines. It was on a button that a girl at Aberdeen Central High School had pinned to her backpack. It was the early 2000’s, and people were very sensitive about terrorism. Plus, not much happens up there. This was a pretty racy topic.
She was a high school junior, and she received a one-week suspension from school for simply having the button. Nobody told her to put it away or get rid of it. Suspension. A full week. Immediately.
When I returned to campus the next semester, my students and I talked about the situation in class. I couldn’t find a college education major who thought this punishment fit the infraction. It felt good to have my thinking validated.
Fast forward about eight years. Health care reform legislation is up in Congress, and the Tea Party are called to a Code Red Rally on the Washington Mall to fight the reform. The signage included this one:
Saturday brought news of a young man shooting Congressman Gabrielle Giffords in the head with an automatic weapon.
Sarah Palin, the de facto leader of the Tea Party movement, had Congressman Giffords in her sites last November with this poster.
When Congressman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head on Saturday, I remembered these two signs. I also remembered that high school junior. How would a principal, parent, or board member take it if a teacher stood in front of a class and said something to the effect that if a Brown can’t do it, a Browning can? Was that button in South Dakota really a terrorist threat?
The pendulum swings back and forth in public discourse. Time for it to come back to the middle.