Friday, April 18, 2008

A sharp statement and a not-so-fine point

A few weeks ago, and 8-year old boy was suspended from his Colorado elementary school, where he is in 3rd grade, for huffing a marker. Eathan Harris was reported to the office by his teacher for attempting to get high with his Sharpie during writing class when he was caught sniffing his shirt after he had written on it. Yeah! Sniffing his shirt! Once in the principal's office, the principal decided to make an example of the young "up and coming" drugee by suspending him for three days, and forbade him from using anything more powerful than crayons in the future.

Naturally, the parents of the young boy were outraged, and eventually had the sentence commuted to a single-day suspension. The principal, however, still stands behind his decision as a warning against the inhalation of solvents, which he deemed as "really, really, seriously dangerous" dude! He's even since eradicated the entire campus of anything remotely resembling a permanent market. OAASSIS (Oversensitive Administrators Against Sniffing Solvents In School) feel the principal's decision, although commended, fails to be entirely effective because of his allowance of semi-permanent markers, which, although don't last as long when written with, still posses the same non-toxic, benign chemicals found in Sharpies.

"Sniffing non-toxic Sharpies is a gateway activity into sniffing other, really, really, more dangerously dangerous things," said the principal. "Next thing you know, they'll be sniffing full-fledged Marks-alots or Highlighters."

When asked why he was sniffing the Sharpie marker, which toxicologists say one can NOT get high from, Eathan simply said 'cause "it smelled good." You've got to appreciate the boys honesty.

Is is quite appalling that a story like this actually takes place. Have we become that paranoid and insecure that we can't take something as innocent as a third grader taking a quick whiff of a maker for what it is? Have we lost all faith in our own judgment? Our histrionic, hyperbolic reactions to the innocuous trivialities have become risible, if not irritable. When I was in third grade, I discovered rubber cement for the first time in my life. You bet I sniffed it more than once, several times, in fact. When the teacher caught me, she told me to stop, and that it was bad for me. That was the end of that.

Long before photocopiers, teachers made class copies of handouts using their blue-line masters on the duplicating wheel. The process required duplicating fluid, which smelled like lacquer thinner---mmmmm good. We couldn't wait for new handouts. We grab them up with two hands, exhale out, then bring the sheet to our nose and inhale as big as we could. Our teachers always asked us not to, but we couldn't resist. Did she expel us? NO! Did we become junkees? NO! Did we hate the Xerox company? Yes.

There are certain things that young people must experience for themselves. It's part of the joy of being a kid, you try new things in an attempt to figure out how things are and how they work. Most of the things that are worth learning cannot be taught. Had the teacher explained prior to the huffing experience, the dangers and perils of the activity, most of the students would not have appreciated the message, and would likely be only more interested in trying it for themselves. By blowing something as jejune as an taking an aromatic sample of a common writing utensil out of proportion, the teacher and the principal are creating an artificial demand for strong-scented markers, and by decreasing their supply, economics dictates that there will now be an underground black market for black markers at their school.

Which reminds me, I'm out of lacquer thinner at home.

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