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“Catch-22” and the Creative Student

January 26, 2010

The news often contains stories about a student bringing an item to school that creates a problem.  Sometimes only involving the student, other times ending with the evacuation of the entire school.  The latter took place earlier this month at a middle school in San Diego, California.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School evacuated students and teachers due to a vice-principle seeing a student with the ubiquitous “suspicious object.”  The object turned out to be a project the eleven-year-old student made in his garage at home.  The project’s housing, a half-liter Gator Aid bottle, has electrical wires and electronics within.  At first glance, it appears the vice-principle concern was valid.  Looking further, there is more to it.

Millennial Tech Magnet Middle School focuses on technology and encourages students’ creativity.  According to their mission statement: “All Millennial Tech Middle School students will cultivate their technology skills to enhance their motivation and curiosity to excel academically in order to become productive citizens that will drastically impact the developing information age.”  In the case of the young man involved, they achieved the goal; he designed and manufactured a motion detector on his own.

While it is understandable for a school official to have concern, the reaction, in this case, is beyond understanding.  Given the horrible events in schools over the last twenty years, ensuring the safety of students is paramount.  Still, for a school that encourages creativity of students, reacting with such force only serves to stifle creativity.  It is passive-aggressive behavior on an institutional scale.

Obviously, the district and school have jurisdiction over what sort of materials students bring to school.  In hindsight, more thought by the student could have prevented this event.  Given that he is eleven-years-old, that type of forethought is unrealistic.  Just as obvious, the school has no policy to address the creativity they cultivate and provide students with a means to bring such projects to the attention of teachers and fellow students without creating problems.  Even if the young man was totally wrong, the school’s must have a policy in place that addresses the matter without the need of the local police and bomb-squad responding.

It cannot be forgotten that the purpose of the school is to encourage this type of behavior.  For school administrators to lack sufficient processes and controls that allow the students to be creative while keeping everyone safe is unacceptable.  Going back to the schools mission statement, they sure “drastically impacted” this student’s creativity, just not in a positive way.

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