Student Arrested for Creative Writing?

Okay, so I can understand that everyone is jumpy because of the Virginia Tech shootings. I’m sure that teachers and school administrators want to do anything they can to ensure it never happens again. I, too, want safer schools and universities.But, I worry that arresting a student for disorderly conduct because of an assignment he wrote for his creative writing class goes a little far.It’s challenging to speculate because the essay hasn’t been made public, but there are a couple of things that bother me about this:1. The charge. Per the Tribune, disorderly conduct is normally prank-related; it’s something that affects the public at large. (Examples include: dialing 911 unnecessarily, as someone could die if the authorities are tied up with nonsense or pulling a fire alarm for the same reason.) How does an essay only written for the eyes of a teacher fit into this?2. I believe in a certain amount of academic freedom, especially in an arts class. I was a high school journalist, so I know that non-college students essentially have no free speech rights in an academic setting. (It’s how schools can expel kids that start underground papers. It’s also why student newspapers are subject to administrative censorship.) There are many reasons why schools have these policies, and for the most part, they make some sense.But, I also went to an arts school for middle and high school. Combine teenage drama with any art form and it can get dark pretty quickly. Part of an artist’s work is to envision himself as someone else, even if that character is vile. Shouldn’t a creative writing course give students the freedom to experiment as artists? Do we want to teach students that they can only create if it’s inside the bounds of good taste?I’m surprised with the teacher’s reaction. Why didn’t this teacher question the writer? Again it’s hard to determine, as the essay and assignment guidelines have not been released, but shouldn’t someone at the school level have considered speaking to the student about the writing rather than just sending in the police to arrest him? Or, does the school hope to make an example out of this student to show how strong it is on student safety?I understand how someone’s writing can be used to make a case against that person. For example, if I’m the main suspect in a homicide case, and after getting a search warrant, the police find a stack of newly-purchased guns and knives in my apartment, leather gloves and other stuff one would use in a murder (pardon the lack of detail here, as I’m not actually a murderer, everything I know is from CSI), books on how to kill people, and my killer’s manifesto, sure that’s the time to question me about my violent writing. But a straight-A student who pens an essay for his creative writing class?It makes me worry about the way we perceive artistic endeavors. Are the actors of the latest slasher film actually murderers? Are the writers? Is the audience for watching it? Is the guerrilla comedy “‘I’m Gonna Kill the President!’ A Federal Offense” really an assault on America? Is Thomas Harris, the author of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS really Hannibal Lector? Where does best-selling author Stephen King fit into this? Would a writer be a terrorist if she wrote a first-person fictional account of 9/11, as told from Osama bin Laden’s point of view?Are the artists actually the perpetrators? Or are we simply trying to understand them?I first heard about this story on Chicago Public Radio.

8 Comments so far

  1. Dan Telfer (unregistered) on April 26th, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

    I saw this on WGN this morning. Yeesh. Yeah, whatever happened to sending these kids to therapy? Did what happened at Virginia Tech really communicate to people that therapy was useless? Jeez.


  2. Marty Gleason (unregistered) on April 26th, 2007 @ 6:28 pm

    If the kid was 16, he would be put on probation. We’d have a full blown clinical exam and all sorts of assessments to determine what needs to be done if anything.

    This case illustrates the systems complete failure in dealing with these kinds of cases.


  3. Joe (unregistered) on April 27th, 2007 @ 6:41 am
  4. Kat (unregistered) on April 27th, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

    The kid who killed people at VA Tech had a history of disturbing behavior. Nikki Giovanni kicked him out of her class because other students were uncomfortable with him. A psychiatrist determined that he was a danger to himself. Two girls reported him for stalkerish behavior. This wasn’t just a one-time thing with him.

    Without knowing anything about the kid in this story, if his other behavior wasn’s suspect, then the teachers went too far. I mean, come on – maybe he wanted to be the next Quentin Tarrantino (who I personally find disturbing, but I don’t think he’d kill anyone). There’s another disgusting movie called “Saw”. Someone wrote that. I don’t think they are truly violent, but the writing is.

    Anything can be taken out of context, and the other commenters are right. If you suspect a problem, get the kid to a counselor, don’t just call the police.


  5. Joe (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 7:25 am

    And here is the essay itself. Knew it was a matter of time to come out.

    http://www.nwherald.com/articles/2007/04/28/news/local/doc46323cf53fd2a594795423.txt


  6. Brandi. (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 8:55 am

    Thanks for posting the link.

    Having read the essay and the free writing guidelines, I’m positive that the school went too far.


  7. Dan Telfer (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 12:06 pm

    Wow! That’s it? The kid wasn’t even trying to be that creative, with his violence, he was just BORED. Wow. They not only overreacted, but they have no idea what to do with the output of a humans imagination. I wrote worse when I was bored.

    Every one of the faculty who said this was over the line and outside the “range” of what is appropriate should be fired or at least severely reprimanded. Its disgusting that they’d give an open ended assignment like that and destroy a kid’s future just because he was freaking bored.

    I wonder how much of the fear was from the actual violent language in the beginning, and how much was from the rest of the essay.


  8. Dave! (unregistered) on April 29th, 2007 @ 3:38 pm

    Wow… I just read his “essay” and this whole thing seems to be blown way out of proportion. It’s certainly no literary masterpiece, that’s for certain. However, it was clearly within the guidelines of the assignment–which even instructed “Do not judge or censor what you are writing”!

    I can’t imagine that there aren’t millions of teenagers that think the same or worse things each day… it’s called teenage angst, and hardly unique to this kid. Seems to me that he was foolish enough to actually *not* censor what he was writing, and in turn, *is* being judged for it.

    I understand the concern of the school, especially in light of recent events. However, this could have been handled by a talk with the student and his parents, and a counseling session, instead of *criminal charges*… for writing! What’s next? Thought crimes?!! Sheesh.



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