RALL: Arm The Wimps -- A Practical Solution to School Violence

You know that school violence has gone over the brink when Winona Ryder, arguably the most adorable woman in America, gets beaten up for looking too butch."I was beat up pretty badly on the third day of school because three guys thought I was a gay boy. I got six stitches in my head, was slammed into a locker, got a fractured rib," the star of Heathers, The Age of Innocence and the upcoming film version of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, recently told The Tennessean newspaper about an incident that occurred when she was 12."I insisted I was a girl. I had really short hair and stuff, and so they beat me up," Ryder said.The Gen X actress' experience was frighteningly generic. For decades teachers and administrators have stood by passively as junior predators maul weaker kids in school hallways and stairwells. The good news is that parents -- many of them former victims of schoolyard thuggery themselves -- recognize the seriousness of the problem. According to an independent survey conducted for the National Parenting Association, the biggest worries for American parents are school violence (30 percent), followed by drugs (21 percent).School violence by a small number of hoods creates an atmosphere of terror in which learning takes a back seat to day-to-day survival. When millions of students go to school every day hoping to come home with nothing more serious than a black eye or swollen lip, it's pretty hard for them to focus on trigonometry. I know -- it happened to me and to nearly everyone else I know, regardless of whether their schools were urban or suburban, large or small, public or private.Unfortunately, the solutions advocated by many politicians and education bureaucrats involve metal detectors and locker searches, options which at worst violate children's civil liberties (yes, they do have rights) and at best leave smaller kids unarmed and unable to defend themselves against bullies.Some schools have moved in the right direction by expelling these diminutive felons, but have later backed down in response to criticism that society is obliged to teach any child, no matter how psychotic, at taxpayer expense.Apologists for the kind of children who beat up Winona Ryder a decade ago have forgotten that human personality is nearly completely formed by age five. We can no more reform these hellions than ask Serbs to get along with Bosnians. Instead, school officials should immediately expel any student, no matter how young, at the first sign of bullying. Far from abandoning children with unlimited potential, expulsion is society's realistic acknowledgment that these little monsters are lost causes unworthy of attention. Failing expulsion, every school district should at the very least establish a special reform school for students who prey on classmates, with no future possibility of reintegration.Until wholesale expulsions and special reform schools become the norm, however, schools should adopt a more pragmatic solution -- equalizing the arms race. As a rule, bullies pick on students smaller, and usually younger, than they are. These disadvantaged students should be given weapons.I recall being terrorized by a guy all throughout seventh grade. We had never even spoken once, but for some reason he had decided my misery his raison d'etre. I was no more than two-thirds of his body weight, so he had no trouble amusing himself by punching, shoving, and throwing me down the stairs without fear of retribution. I tried fighting back, asking teachers for help and reporting him to the principal, but nothing worked. I spent most school days trying to determine what route to my next class would let me avoid yet another painful encounter. Unsurprisingly, this caused my grades to begin falling. Forget those cliches about bullies being ugly kids from the wrong sides of the tracks: this one was good-looking, popular and rich. Anyway, expulsion was out of the question.Finally, I snuck up behind my tormentor in the boys' locker room and let his arms work out our differences with my box cutter. I never heard from him again, my grades returned to normal and I eventually went on to an Ivy League college and what some people might consider success.Students with good academic and disciplinary records should be issued and given proper training for the correct use of razors, switchblades, stilettos and, in cases of particularly troublesome bullying, low-caliber handguns. Eventually bullies would learn that bulk is no longer a guarantee of success in physical clashes with other students. Violence would eventually dissipate, leaving the best students free to learn and the thugs where they belong-under control or in a box.

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