Just read in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a local high student was expelled for the rest of the school year for an entry in her private journal. I’m still waking up (only one cup of coffee so far), but I needed to express a little frustration about this decision.
Rachel Boim, a 14-year old freshman, had written a short piece of fiction in which a student dreams about killing a teacher. One of her teachers–an art teacher, no less–confiscated the journal and kept it overnight. According to the article, the piece is completely fictional: no specific teacher is named and the student in the story isn’t clearly identified as the author herself (after all, it’s fiction). Boim, who grew up near Columbine, claims that her story was merely reflecting the violence that many high school students face in their daily experiences. Several prominent authors, including poet David Bottoms, have testified on her behalf, but Boim was still expelled.
I know that teachers and administrators must be pretty sensitive right now to any threat of violence, but this action really disappoints me. In part, I’m somewhat troubled by the action of the teacher. If the student’s sharing her writing with her friends was a distraction, I undertsand the teacher’s choice to temporarily confiscate the journal, but his reading through the student’s private (unintended for him, at least) writings seems a little invasive. From what I understand, there was little effort to place Boim’s story in a context with the rest of her journal.
More than anything, the “zero tolerance” policy is having the effect of silencing her–decding what she should and should not write about. I just happened to graduate from this high school (a long time ago, in a building not too far away), so that only increases my disappointment.