Journalism Prof Stephen Kimber laments the treatment of Brendan Jones, a grade 12 student at Heart Lake Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.
Jones wrote an essay as part of his final exam for his creative-writing class. The five-page, handwritten essay was titled Schools (sic) Out.
His equally unnamed protagonist is a 16-year-old girl who, at the end of the story, traps her science teacher in the basement of her house, picks up a baseball bat and says, "Sorry, Mr. Adams, but schools (sic) out."
Brendan did not get into serious trouble for mixing up his plurals and his possessives, or even - as his teacher was careful to note in her teacherly way in the margins - for using cliches and violating the inviolate "show-don't-tell" rule of composition.
No, Brendan's real crime, as it turned out, wasn't literary. It was that he'd chosen "inappropriate subject matter."
Sure its too bad that Mr. Jones suffered through a visit from the local police for nothing more than the crime of writing bad fiction. Sure the odds are that he's a fine kid working out a bit of teenage angst through creative writing.
But the world changed when the two above-named kids walked into Columbine High School and murdered a dozen or so of their classmates, and it was later discovered that the massacre had been prefigured in some of their high-school creative writing projects.
Similarly, Seung-Hui Cho's propensity to violence was apparent from his writing projects a year before 2007's Virginia Tech Massacre. If the school had acted on these signals, who knows what might have turned out differently?
Given events such as these, the people at Heart Lake Secondary School would have been crazy to act in any manner other than the way they did. You don't play around with this kind of stuff anymore.