POLITICS
07/10/2013 12:50 pm ET | Updated Jul 10, 2013

Steve Stockman Discovers Some Love For Big Government Intrusion

AP

Here's one for your "GOP small-government fetish is selective garbage" file: Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), endeavoring as always to present himself as the as-seen-on-teevee parody of Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), wants an intrusive and punitive Big Government solution to a problem that, admittedly, everyone really hates. The question is, in solving that problem that everyone hates, do you punish a bunch of people who didn't do anything wrong for no good reason?

The Hill's Pete Kasperowicz reports:

Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) introduced legislation this week to block federal funding for schools that enforce rules which punish students for playing with imaginary weapons.

The Student Protection Act, H.R. 2625, is a reaction to what Stockman says is the zero-tolerance policy at some schools that has led to several suspensions of very young children who engage in these activities, including cases where students pretended their thumb and index finger is a gun.

Now, Stockman cites numerous examples of people being objectively inane. For example, most of you have no doubt heard about Jack Welch, a 7-year-old boy who tried to "shape" his Pop-Tart "into a mountain," and it ended up vaguely looking like a gun, and he got suspended for two days because what might have happened otherwise? The Pop-Tart might have gotten digested, or something. Elsewhere, a 7-year-old Colorado boy "was suspended for throwing an imaginary hand grenade on his elementary school playground."

And I'm with Stockman on this -- this is all quite stupid. These suspensions are stupid. The people who took these actions are stupid, though to be totally fair they may have been simply acting at the behest of other stupid people. No matter what angle at which you examine these incidents, you keep coming up with stupid. And as near as I can tell, there isn't a reporter in the world who covers these stories without enforcing a strong theme of "this is stupid" in these stories. There's no pro-suspend-little-kids-for-this-nonsense faction that stands out in the clear light of day advocating for this stuff, and I would imagine the vast majority of educators would rather spend their days doing anything else in the world than be party to these stupid rules.

The sad fact about incidents like these is that we can't really react to the stupidity of it all until the incidents happen. The question, then, is should these matters be met on the battlefield of policy with a solution that's even more stupid, by an order of magnitude? Stockman seems to think so. Defunding entire school systems because of the errant actions of a few individuals would essentially punish a whole bunch of people who didn't do anything wrong and who probably agree with the premise that these suspensions are stupid. It's not reasonable to react to the stupid punishment of one student by passing a law that would prescribe an even more severe punishment to every other student.

This is precisely the sort of matter that local school boards and school system administrators who are capable of keeping their heads and cutting through the stupidity are basically equipped to handle, and we should let the parents in these communities work these matters out with officials.

But does that approach work? Let's consider one of the examples that has Stockman all bent out of shape -- the curious case of Hunter Spanjer. As Kasperowicz reports, Stockman cited this incident, in which a school in Nebraska "demanded a three-year-old deaf boy change his name because it resembled a gun when expressed in sign language," as one of the events that suddenly animated his surprising disregard for state and local government. But this all went down over a year ago. What happened in the end to Spanjer? Let's find out:

Hunter's parents say that Grand Island Public Schools told them the deaf three-year-old's name sign violates the school district's weapons policy.

However, Grand Island Public Schools is sticking by their statement, released Tuesday:

"Grand Island Public Schools is not requiring any current student with a hearing impairment to change his or her sign language name."

But Hunter Spanjer's father says that isn't what he's heard from the district.

"If they feel like they're wrong, and they're not requiring him to change his name sign, then there's no issue here. And an apology and a, uh, you know, 'we're going to go ahead and proceed as usual' would have sufficed. We kind of felt like at one point, yesterday ... that they were trying to deter, deter the credibility of this story. And I don't feel that's a proper response," Brian Spanjer said.

Yeah, it sounds to me that whatever strain of stupidity led someone to inflict this dumbness on the Spanjer family was isolated and overruled by whoever actually runs the show at Grand Island Public Schools. And, in fact, that story goes on to report that Brian Spanjer offered this statement: "From the family standpoint we have no issue with Mr. Winters, the superintendent, or anyone else involved, personally."

(By the by, the fact that this long-resolved problem keeps being presented as an unresolved problem continues to cause people to report on this matter as if it is currently transpiring.)

In a related story, we learn that the issue at hand wasn't so much that "the kid's sign language name looks like a gun" as it was the fact that the kid was using Signing Exact English at home, a different dialect than the American Sign Language being taught in the school system. Nevertheless, the school system continued to reiterate that no one was going to have his name changed by classroom fiat in any event.

Basically, the situation was this. A really stupid thing happened to a kid. No one was really happy about this. This kid's parents shouldn't have had to deal with this. Feelings were understandably bruised, and the path to resolution wasn't perfect. Nevertheless, the adults worked this out, and this kid will be allowed to go on signing his name the same way, as he should have been allowed to do in the first place.

Now, of course, your mileage is going to vary depending on whether any given school district has a critical mass of stupid parents and administrators or a critical mass of reasonable parents and administrators, and that's too bad. But the more pressing question is this: Does the federal government really need to come in now and suspend all funding for Grand Island Public Schools so that all of the students in that school system receive a substantially more severe punishment than the one that was not actually meted out to Hunter Spanjer? No? Good, because that would be stupid. Moving along, then.

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